The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
I have long been searching for this place called "home" where I too may go, as I am, and not be questioned. Not be questioned by the barrage of gunshots that violently woke me up when I was asleep or by police sirens seeking out yet another perpetrator of crime. I too, longed for home.
Growing up, I knew very intimately the fear of feeling unsafe in a neighborhood I called home. I was four years-old when my family left Nigeria for San Francisco’s Pacific shores. Although I was too young to understand why we were immigrating, I knew our three-bedroom house in the Fillmore was not home.
June 2010 remains one of the most transformative months of my life. It was the month we moved into our Habitat home. I recall the liberating feeling of having a room—my own room. To say my family’s well-being improved is an understatement. Our lives transformed. For the first time in our lives, we had something that wholly and truly belonged to us.
A space where each of us could go and not be questioned and for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I also saw a shift in my mother. The joy she exuded from having a secure, stable place was infectious. My mother brought my siblings and I to America because she wanted us to receive a quality education and be fully empowered to pursue and realize our dreams. Her American dream was a better life for her children. She never imagined that one day she would become a homeowner and she too would have a place to call home.
Nkechi, Ugonma's mother
My mom often says, “...there’s no way to quantify the impact of our home. It’s more about the mindset it creates because when you have a stable home, you have a centered mind, your outlook on life is high, and your energy can be put toward guiding and supporting your children."
While most high-school students react to college admissions offers with excitement—my experience was very different. When I was accepted to Loyola Marymount University, my joy lasted 47 seconds before being overshadowed by guilt. My mother spent years of her life working 16-18 hour days to provide me the best opportunities and now I was going to reward her with a huge tuition bill. I remember the tears in my mother’s eyes as she read acceptance letter after acceptance letter from prestigious Universities around the country. When I asked her how we would afford the tuition, her words were, “remember, we have a home now. We have options.”
As I look to the future, it does not escape me for one moment the tremendous impact Habitat has had on my life trajectory. It’s the reason I was able to attend a prominent Jesuit university and develop my passion for serving others. Habitat is the reason I have developed a keen interest in ongoing refugee crises that plague our world. You see, my family had the choice to come to America and was able to call a secure place “home.” I've seen the multiplying effect that comes from stability and want to give others around the world a place they can call “home” by shaping international policy and global economic development.
Today, I work at Wells Fargo Bank with their International Group as part of the company’s Leadership Pipeline Program. In my spare time I am either studying for the GRE or researching nonprofit organizations that work specifically with refugees to get involved with.
My name is Ugonma, and I hope to make an impact that lasts for generations.