Mar. 20, 2023

Breaking Barriers and Building Dreams: A Girls Belong Here Participant's Journey with Habitat for Humanity Canada, by Obiajulu (Obii) Udemgba

Over the past couple of months, I have had both the pleasure and honor of meeting with some of the kindest, caring and most astute individuals that I have ever met, with deep insights into home ownership within Canada and beyond. My experience with Girls Belong Here began in late February, and by the early morning of February 27th, I was thrust into a wonderfully dynamic environment. Through the support of Bianca Jozwiak, a Plan International Canada Girls Belong Here chaperone, I was set up for my first meeting with Julia Deans, the President & CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada. Initially, I was quite nervous going into this first meeting. The idea of speaking with such an accomplished individual was not easy for me to digest, but by the end of our first meeting, I was giddy with excitement. Never would I have imagined that my experience meeting someone like Julia would be so easygoing and natural. I loved speaking with both Julia and Bianca, to whom I owe a large part of this experience, and it was quite an exciting day.

During the next few days, I met with quite a few executives from Habitat for Humanity Canada. One of my first meetings was with Karla, where we discussed Habitat Canada’s International Work & Indigenous Housing Partnership. Karla was delightful to speak to and learn from. Her perspective on Habitat for Humanity Canada’s work and its impact on global housing development, as well as working with Indigenous communities, is one that I truly believe will drive the initiative of the next generation of Canadian leaders.

On Wednesday, I spoke with Lisa, Daryl, and Laurissa about Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore program, which was both an insightful and rewarding experience. It was wonderful to learn from all three of them, and as someone who cares deeply about sustainability, this discussion about Habitat Canada’s contributions and focus on sustainability were invaluable.
I also had a great time speaking with Alana, that same day, on the topic of government relations work with Habitat for Humanity Canada, and she was a wonderfully spoken and thoughtful individual.

On Thursday, I had a great time meeting with Viktoria, and learning more about the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as well as accessibility for the design of Habitat Homes. Viktoria also had a guest come and speak to how accessible homes are built and the approaches they think of before even starting to build, including discussions of reframing our mindsets of where a “front door” should be.

Near the end of day four, I had the opportunity to participate in Habitat Canada’s
Executive Management team meeting, where I met a host of warm and welcoming people, including Lalit, April, Marty, Sarah and Jenn. I regard every single one of these individuals as an excellent mentor that I look up to for both their personal and professional achievements.

On the last day of the Girls Belong Here experience, I spoke with Hava about understanding resource development, as well as fundraising opportunities with Habitat for Humanity Canada, throughout their various initiatives. I closed off the Girls Belong Here experience with a lovely meeting between myself, Bianca and Julia. Julia, being as kind as she is, encouraged me to continue my pursuit of future endeavors related to my passion for architecture and sustainability, as I had done during the Girls Belong Here program. It was incredible to hear such a supportive sentiment from both her and every other individual who contributed towards creating a magnificent week.

My overall experience with Girls Belong Here and Habitat for Humanity Canada is one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I believe that the work that both Plan International Canada and Habitat for Humanity Canada does is integral to advancing the rights of everyone, as well as providing opportunities to women and girls of all backgrounds. In addition to receiving support from Plan International Canada, I must also thank Bianca Jozwiak for her endless support and kindness, as she was my main support during the program and helped me have such an amazing week. All things considered, I loved my experience with Girls Belong Here and Habitat for Humanity Canada, and it was one of the major highlights of my entire year.