Photo by Chung Chow
At the official launch of Richmond’s Habitat for Humanity last week, Sharon Rai, the mom of the family of five going into the house in the middle of the development, spoke about what the project means for her family.
“It’s overwhelming. The children are really overjoyed, especially Caleb.”
Caleb, a Grade 11 student at Cambie Secondary School, has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. At birth, he was a typical child. Today, at age 17, he’s in a motorized wheelchair.
Originally from Singapore, the family chose Richmond for its weather.
“I was pregnant with Caleb when we moved here in 2000 from Ontario,” says Sharon, “but that was just when housing prices started to go up so we couldn’t afford to buy.”
Caleb is their middle child. Aged 24, James is the oldest. He helps with Caleb, goes to school while also working at a homeless shelter.
“James plans to stay at home long term so he can keep helping me out with Caleb,” Sharon says.
At 15, Ruth is the youngest of the family.
“All three of my children have a really strong bond with each other,” says Sharon.
While father, Jeff, is now on disability, Sharon works full time at the BC Cancer Agency in the Radiation Therapy Division.
Through no fault of their own, they’ve had to move 11 times since Caleb was born. Each time the Rai family settled in to a new home in Richmond, it was sold for redevelopment and they had to move.
In one instance, they’d signed a one-year lease but the landlord gave them notice to move after six months because he had family arriving who needed the home.
The places that the Rai family could afford presented challenges.
Their home in 2014 was less than advertised. Not only did the landlord not put in the promised ramp for Caleb, basic maintenance wasn’t done.
“It turns out, the deck was broken, my 12-year-old daughter fell through and hurt herself,” says Sharon.
Calling Caleb “the sunshine, the brightness in our life,” Sharon sought more physical help for Caleb at school when he was eight.
Sharon made the circuit of all the people who might be able to advise her on what to do. Along the way, someone suggested her MLA, Linda Reid, a former teacher.
Sharon says Reid told her, “you are his voice. You have to fight for him.”
Reid taught Sharon how to advocate even more effectively for Caleb to get the help he needed.
Later, with Caleb in a wheelchair full time, when there was no adequate nor affordable housing for her family, Sharon sought advice on a government loan so she could afford to buy a home Caleb could get into and have a bathroom he could use.
Far from a drain on the family, Sharon says Caleb “Is the family’s inspiration. He’s always so happy, so positive. When I come home he’s the first person I want to hug. Just seeing him makes me brave, makes me really fight for my rights, fight for him and makes me be strong every day. He is truly an inspiration. It’s because of him that I do the things I have to do.
“So I went to MLA Linda Reid, not asking for a handout. We desperately need a proper home so we can provide for Caleb.”
It was Reid who told Sharon about Habitat for Humanity.
“I applied. It’s been three years. It’s very exciting, very emotional--by next year we’ll finally be in our own place.
“This home they are building is going to be all wheelchair accessible, the bathroom with the wide doors and the ramp. Caleb will be able to shower, to use the toilet. Everything will be designed for his access,” she says.
Speaking of the value of the community pitching in, Sharon says: “There are so many more people who need a hand up so they can come up.”
“I’ve always taught my children, it’s all about making a difference in the world. When you touch one life, and they touch another…that’s all we have. If we can help each other out, that’s all we can do.” As the family looks on at the forms for their new home’s footing, Sharon says: “You kind of have to pinch yourself. Is this really happening? Is this real?”