Jo Obafemi grew up in Dakar, Senegal—where things there can be hard for an intelligent, ambitious woman like her. In 2007 she moved to the United States, but soon she found that the cards were stacked against her here, too, despite becoming a U.S. citizen and working as a Certified Nursing Assistant. For Jo and her four-year-old daughter Gloria, Habitat’s homeownership program has been a pathway to stability and growth.
I applied to Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program for security, affordability, and a better life. Women in Africa don’t have the same opportunities as in America. They get punished and beaten up; they don’t have jobs or education. I was abused physically, emotionally, financially. A woman in Africa is treated as a second-class citizen. I came to America for an opportunity to pull my whole family up.
In Philadelphia, I’ve rented apartments and homes with bad landlords, like an apartment building I rented in West Philly. If anything in the apartment broke, I would call the landlord and he would just ignore me. But, every year he increased the rent and he would tell me, “Either you take it or you get out.” Another landlord charged me $700 a month for an old, old house with exposed electrical wires everywhere. One winter, the water heater broke—so I didn’t have any hot water at all in the house. I called the landlord and she said “just do it like you used to do in Africa—put the water on the stove and warm it up.” I hung up the phone and spent my own money to buy a new water heater. At the end of the month I still had to pay the full rent.
What does home mean to me? Home is where your history starts, where your story begins. Home is memories: the first day you learned how to cook, the wedding ceremonies, the stories of your background and your ancestors. It’s a place where everyone knows you and loves you and where you can be who you want to be. Home is an escape—a secure and safe place to go and have peace of mind. It’s where you rest after a long day of working hard.
Owning my new home will help me give my family more of the attention that they deserve and need. That’s why I came to America. Everybody should have someplace clean to live—somewhere comfortable and affordable to raise your family—so you can be who you want to be in life. That’s my philosophy. You need somewhere to think and to be open-minded. For my daughter and me, Habitat makes our dreams come true.