Habitat for Humanity's Women of Faith Build drew 44 women to help build a home in Scarborough. Photo by Ena Goquiolay

Women building a solid faith foundation

  • November 2, 2017
Gina Valle’s two teenage sons did not believe her when she told them she was going to build houses.

On Oct. 26, women from across the Greater Toronto Area came together as part of Habitat for Humanity’s Women of Faith Build. Valle, a Catholic, was one of 44 women from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu faiths who worked on the 140 Pinery Trail housing project in Scarborough. This is the third faith build this year. A collaboration between Habitat for Humanity GTA and Cardus as part of their Faith in Canada 150 project, the builds celebrate the role of faith in Canada’s past, present and future development.

“We had a build for faith leaders and one for people of faith in general, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to bring women together while promoting women in faith as well,” said Hayley Lockrem, development coordinator with Cardus. The Women’s Build encourages interfaith dialogue and bonding for women of all religious beliefs.

“We’re women, it doesn’t take too long for us to get talking! We share stories about our kids, our families and our faith,” said Judy Csillag, a Jewish woman and organizer. “A lot of bonding happens, especially because we have a lot of young people here today. There are eight 16-year-olds here who probably don’t have much experience with interfaith work so there’s a lot of wisdom to be shared.”

Ten of the volunteers were students from Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto, including Noor Baloch, Karishma Faizi and Ambreen Khan, all of whom belong to the Muslim faith. The three women worked together laying topsoil at completed homes.

“It’s awesome to meet people from other faiths and build those friendships,” said Khan, 16. “Our faith teaches us to help others so it’s great to be a part of something that does that.”

The Women in Faith Build was inspired by a group of women who began interfaith community outreach in 2008.

“It was the most incredible bonding experience,” said Csillag. “We still meet to this day. Collectively, we are sponsoring a Syrian refugee who will be staying with one of us while she adjusts to her new home. Today’s build in particular is dedicated to Tanya Khan. She built with us in 2008 and died of a brain haemorrhage in 2013 at age 38. She said to us on that day that coming together as women of faith is a holy thing to do. She said working together was like praying together.”

As they hammered in a wall foundation, women spoke to each other. Valle told Marilyn Grace, a fellow Catholic and volunteer with the Mary Ward Centre, about her deceased father’s passion for building.

“I feel like he is here with me today,” said Valle, who belongs to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Toronto. “If he could see me now he would probably say ‘What? My daughter is building a house? She doesn’t even know how to hold a hammer!’ Which I didn’t when I came here but I am learning.”

Grace and Valle talked about their families; about everything from biker safety (Grace’s daughter is a kindergarten teacher who bikes to work) to coping with the death of a parent.

The build is about more than building homes and making friends, said Valle. It takes a hit at the stereotypes surrounding women’s charitable events.

“It’s not all luncheons and fundraisers anymore,” said Valle. “We still do those, but activities like this are just as important. It’s still out of the norm to have women on a construction site. I am proud that we are breaking away from that stereotype.”

“Women aren’t afraid of hard labour or getting their hands dirty,” said Csillag. “Especially when it is for such a good cause.”

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