Housing Ugandan families through inspiration & innovation

Housing Ugandan families with inspiration & innovation

It was more than a decade ago that Kenneth Wafula first contacted The Fuller Center for Housing’s Vice President of International Programs Ryan Iafigliola about the possibility of becoming a partner in The Fuller Center’s affordable housing ministry.

He had found The Fuller Center as many do — through a Google search. He liked what he saw, but he had contacted The Fuller Center not long after the passing of founder Millard Fuller, and expansion was not a pressing issue at the time.

But Wafula and his Uganda Baptist Convention team were insistent that they would do the heavy lifting of getting their international covenant partner up and running. Though Uganda is rich in natural resources, about 40 percent of its 50 million people live on less than $2 a day, and poverty housing is a persistent problem — a problem they were determined to address.

With little fanfare, The Fuller Center for Housing of Uganda quietly and officially formed.

With a little help from The Fuller Center and friends in America, they began to acquire land and resources, and homes began going up. They began to send Iafigliola photos of their progress. The homes were simple and decent, but also beautiful. Most striking, though, were the smiling and grateful faces of the partner families.

Iafigliola finally got a chance to see the homes and meet some of the families and leaders of Fuller Center Uganda earlier this month. What he found exceeded even the positive updates he had been receiving from Wafula and his team.

“This is a project that started very small, like the mustard seed,” Iafigliola told a crowd assembled for the dedication of a new hardware store that will help raise funds for Fuller Center Uganda’s work (one of many such initiatives by the team) on the afternoon of February 3, exactly 15 years to the day of Millard Fuller’s death. “We offered a small opportunity, and, to the credit of Uganda Baptist Convention and Kenneth, you all took it and have run with it and done something.”

Watiti Godfrey and his family endured many obstacles in their pursuit of a simple, decent place to live.

Of the 28 families Fuller Center Uganda has housed so far, perhaps no one had a more difficult build than Watiti Godfrey, his wife Lydia and their five children.

Watiti had purchased part of a man’s lot in 2017 so that he could someday build a home for his family. They set up a temporary shelter under an avocado tree on the land but then chaos ensued when the original owner told his neighbors that Watiti had not purchased the land, calling him a thief despite the family’s legal documentation and witnesses.

The original owner blocked access to the property to thwart construction of the family’s home, and then neighbors harassed builders, going so far as to throw stones at them as they worked.

Finally, Watiti was arrested on charges of trespassing and malicious damage. He was not granted his initial court appearance and sat in a dirty prison cell for four months during the pandemic. His family was homeless and not allowed to visit him as he ate food infested with maggots and slept among bed bugs.

Living area of the Watiti home

When he finally had his day in court four months after his arrest, the accuser did not show and the original charging documents were “missing.” He was freed immediately, and the court cleared the way for he and The Fuller Center to resume building the home.

Today, the family is safe, healthy and thriving — even as the man who had them thrown into prison lives remains their neighbor. Iafigliola was moved by the family’s efforts to forgive rather than to seek retaliation.

“They’re trying to make amends with their neighbor,” he said. That’s an ongoing issue when you live next to the person who did that. But they’re very dedicated Christians, and they want to try to forgive and have a better tomorrow with him.”

This busy car wash is one of multiple initiatives raising funds for Fuller Center Uganda's work.

The capacity of Fuller Center covenant partners — around the world and in the United States — grows with each new home built. That’s because families repay the construction costs with zero-percent-interest, no-profit-made mortgages on terms they can afford into a local fund to help other families in their local community get the same hand-up into simple, decent homes.

As more families make repayments into that fund, more homes can be funded. It takes time, though, for that snowball effect of paying it forward to gain momentum. Donations and house sponsorships (currently $5,500) help get the ball rolling. But the entrepreneurial spirit of Fuller Center Uganda’s leaders have generated other sources of income — some quite different from other Fuller Centers.

Fuller Center Uganda is raising money through a car wash, an exercise facility, a barber shop and more. The biggest addition to their own fundraising capability, however, is the new hardware store that Iafigliola helped dedicate.

Dedicating the hardware store on February 3, 2024 — 15 years to the day after Fuller Center founder Millard Fuller's passing.

“Most places there are mom and pop shops,” Iafigliola said. “This isn’t much bigger than that, but it is larger. The advantage that will give them is that they will be able to buy directly from the factories. Most of those mom-and-pop stores are buying through brokers who have quite a bit of mark-up, and that gets passed along all the way down the line. So their vision for this hardware store is to be able to buy factory-direct — at least some crucial items like cement and metal — and be able to make that more available to the community.”

That, Iafigliola says, would benefit other homeowners, not just those who are partnering with The Fuller Center.

“So, even with some of the families that The Fuller Center might not be able to build with, they could get a discount on building materials for their own homes.”

Meanwhile, the store will boost Fuller Center Uganda in both fundraising and in keeping its construction costs down.

“They’re going to be selling to some other retail stores as way to raise funds for the work of The Fuller Center so that they continue to build homes with families there,” Iafigliola said. “They will use this to make their own costs lower as they build homes.”

Iafigliola added that the building, while nice, is empty.

“They do have a problem — the initial capital, the funds to stock the building,” he said, noting that they are close. “They need $30,000, and we have $22,000 toward that effort. So they’re looking for that last $8,000 so they can make these bulk purchases. Since it’s bulk, they can’t just half-stock the store and continue to fund it. That’s on their urgent list right now, and I’d just love to see that come out of this trip, to be able to help them get this store up and running so that it will have an impact for years to come.”

(If you would like to help the store get up and running, contact Ryan Iafigliola at ryani@fullercenter.org for more information.)

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