For Mu and Hsar, the journey to becoming first-time homeowners was a long and challenging one, taking them from Myanmar to Milwaukee and requiring perseverance, hard work and great pride.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia that is bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, Thailand and Laos to the east, and China to the north. From 1962-2011, the nation was under military dictatorship that eliminated many personal freedoms and enacted gross human rights abuses, prompting international condemnation and sanctions. As a result, Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, suffering from decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation. The conflict has resulted in a large number of both civilian deaths and refugees with over a million people displaced since 1996. Refugees left behind a country that was burning down villages, planting landmines and using civilians as slave labor. While the nation has seen some improvement since the arrival of democratic leadership in 2012, the military remains a powerful political force making it a continually unstable environment.

Mu and Hsar were among the thousands who fled Myanmar, eventually finding refuge in Milwaukee. They had to endure unsafe living conditions, learn a new language and integrate into an unfamiliar culture. Mu is employed at a cleaning company while Hsar is a stay-at-home mother, caring for their four children. Prior to connecting with Habitat, the family lived in a cramped two-bedroom rental. A partnership with Habitat meant they would realize the dream of owning their own home with room for everyone.

Construction on the home started in September. Mu and Hsar were at the build site every day working alongside Komatsu employees. While there was a language barrier, it was evident that Mu and Hsar took great pride in what was taking place.

“Build sites are messy. There is sawdust all around and nails on the floor; you have to keep your eyes open. We were coming up on the end of the day and I was walking around the site taking pictures of employees. I stepped into the house in time to see Hsar sweeping the floor” recalled Cathy Stagmer, Manager-Social Responsibility. “I’ve never seen a build site so clean. It struck me in that moment; I knew how proud they were in their home, even before it was complete.”

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Construction on the home continued throughout the fall and into winter. Komatsu employees returned to complete dry wall and paint and, by March, the home was complete in record time. It was time to move in.

As with every home sponsored and built by Komatsu, we were there for the dedication. Gathered inside the front room, volunteers, friends and family came together to celebrate Mu and Hsar’s journey to homeownership. The children ran from bedroom to bedroom with excitement, smiles graced everyone’s faces, and Mu and Hsar graciously welcomed others to their home for the first time. Words of congratulations were shared by Greg Elliott, Executive Vice President-Human Resources, along with members of the Habitat team who worked alongside Mu and Hsar.

Mu and Hsar were one of six refugee families that built new homes with Milwaukee Habitat in 2017. Five of the families had fled from Burma while one family was from Somalia.

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“Burmese and Somali refugees certainly have been the most prevalent of the refugee families we've served in the last few years” said Jake Brandt, Director of Marketing and Communications for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity. 

“All of the families we've worked with had previously settled in the United States, but were living in unaffordable, unsafe, and/or overcrowded housing. Habitat homeownership gave them an opportunity to be able to put roots down in their new community, while making owning a safe, stable home affordable.”

While there is often a language barrier Milwaukee Habitat has been successful in working with refugee families to prepare them to become first-time homeowners.

“The language barrier can be difficult, but not insurmountable. We have utilized translators to help with the mortgage and agreement process. We've also been fortunate to have current Habitat homeowners, who are also former refugees, help spread the word throughout their communities about our program” commented Brandt.

Komatsu Mining Corp is proud of the impact Milwaukee Habitat has made in the Milwaukee area. Empowering individuals like Mu and Hsar to become first-time homeowners helps improve the stability of the neighborhood, strengthen the local economy and offer a foundation for the next generation.