Ten years ago, Pa Kay and Tway Lay made a pivotal decision that would change the course of their lives. After moving back and forth between Myanmar and Thailand and enduring the struggles of daily life within the walls of a refugee camp, they made a move to the U.S. to escape a grim environment and secure their family’s future. “The place where we’re from, there’s a lot of torturing and suffering,” says Pa Kay. “There’s not much education and we had to suffer and earn for our family to feed.”

Upon their arrival in Portland, the Kay/Lay family were set up with an apartment and provided financial assistance to begin their new lives. Soon enough, Pa Kay was offered a job as a shoemaker at Danner. It was a sharp contrast to his time in Myanmar where he would spend his days performing odd jobs just to put food on the table. “Anything to provide for the family,” he says. “Cutting wood, construction, mopping floors, anything.” Pa and Tway’s children, Tun and Aung, were 9 and 3 at the time. “Being parents, protecting children is the most important,” Pa says. “We came here for a better life and to make sure our children have a good education.”

Though the Kay/Lay family considers living in the U.S. to be “the biggest opportunity in {their} lives,” things haven’t always been easy for them. Pa Kay’s job sees him clocking 40+ hours per week and performing tough, repetitive work that has left him with some shoulder and elbow pain. The family have been the victims of neighborhood theft and have encountered difficulties living in their current apartment due to maintenance problems and mold issues that have exacerbated Aung’s asthma. “It has been rough; often people come to our house and if we leave something outside they steal it,” says Tun. “A family friend who lives nearby had their house broken into and they were robbed of everything.”

Last year, Pa Kay applied to the Habitat Homeownership program on the advice of Aung’s healthcare provider and hasn’t looked back. Now Pa, Tun, and Tway spend a few days per month working away their 300 sweat equity hours taking classes, volunteering at the ReStore, helping with office projects, and assisting in the construction of what will be their new home in the Brooklyn Pines community. When on site, they lend a hand with painting, installing insulation, and measuring and cutting wood. They’ve even had a chance to pick their home’s paint colors, carpeting, and roof. It’s been a completely unique experience for them and differs greatly from their living quarters in Myanmar. “Back in our country, we would build a house with tall wood, put a roof up, and then just sleep in the house,” Pa says. “Sometimes we would cut bamboo and make a floor.”

The Kay/Lay family are slated to move into their new home in late 2018 and they couldn’t be more excited. Aung will have a chance to live in a newly-constructed, mold-free home; Tun will be able to focus on his college studies; Tway can start work; and Pa can put more effort into his true passion: cars. “In my heart, I feel very proud, but I also think it’s like a dream – it’s what the sky would look like if you surpassed it,” Pa says. “When we live in our new house, there will be more freedom; we can build a shoe drawer, we can leave Aung’s bike outside.” “If you live in Habitat housing, every month you pay it’s worth it because one day it’s going to be your house.”