Item(s) for June, 2009

Jun 9,2009

With hammers pounding and a power saw buzzing, people from diverse faiths are building a house on a hillside in Tacoma.

As volunteers sweat on hot spring days, they’re also forging relationships to overcome barriers during the first interfaith build in the 24-year history of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity.

Muslims, Christians and Jews are working side by side during weekends over four months to build the two-story house for a Catholic family.

After nailing down laminate shingles on a recent Saturday, Ali Banani climbed down from the roof for the volunteers’ lunch of Indian food.

“The more we work together, the more we get to know each other,” said Banani, 58, a Muslim who lives in Federal Way. And once people know each other, he said, then they can talk about their faiths and beliefs.

Ali was one of about 15 workers building bonds this day, one nail at a time.

Nillofur Jasani said the interfaith build, called “Under One Roof,” dispels stereotypes. And it’s a way to understand the differences and similarities the faiths have.

“We all worship one God,” said Jasani, with house sponsor One Nation: Liberty and Justice for All. “We have different ways of practicing our faiths.”

One Nation, a Gig Harbor group promoting pluralism and awareness of Muslims, is paying $65,000 for building materials. Founded by local businessman George Russell, the group hopes the project will result in better understanding of Muslims, said Jasani, a Muslim and program manager for One Nation.

“When people get to know each other, they understand each other,” she said.

Building a house – not religious diversity – was foremost on Laurie Lasky’s mind as she cut plywood with a table saw for window frames on May 30.

“We’re here for the common good,” said Lasky, 49, who is Jewish and a member of Tacoma’s Temple Beth El. “There’s one God.”

There are key differences between the three Abrahamic faiths. Jews don’t accept Jesus as the messiah. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not the divine son of God.

Christians believe Jesus is the divine son of God.

There are different groups within each faith as well. Some of those building were Shia Ismaili Muslims. Others were Sunni Muslims.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Muslims have sought to dispel negative stereotypes surrounding Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The biggest falsehood is that Islam teaches violence, Jasani said. “Islam is a religion of peace,” she said.

Henry Izumizaki, a Buddhist who works as chief executive officer of One Nation, said the group hopes to sponsor similar interfaith builds with Habitat for Humanity across the country. They hope to spread their work with a green component; the house under construction will be the local Habitat affiliate’s first with solar panels.

The religious bridge-building for the project involves more than hammers and nails. Muslims, Christians and Jews participated in an interfaith Passover Seder in March at Temple Beth El. An interfaith comedy show was held Sunday in Tacoma. A salmon bake is planned for July.

By the end of July, volunteers are expected to finish building the four-bedroom, 1,295-square-foot house for Patricia and Noe Gabriel, and their four children, ages 4 to 15. The Gabriels will move from their 10-by-50-foot mobile home in South Tacoma where they pay $470 a month for their lot and electricity.

Their house is one of 12 to be built by several volunteer groups in Habitat’s Larabee Terrace project on East Gregory Street Court on Tacoma’s East Side. Monthly mortgage payments will range from $500 to $880 a month, depending on the family’s income.

Three houses already have been completed. The Gabriels’ house will be the 162nd that Habitat, a Christian-based housing ministry, has constructed in Pierce County.

Habitat sells homes at no profit with no interest to people with low incomes. Each family must work a total of 500 hours on its own or other Habitat homes.

Maureen Fife, chief executive officer of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity, said the timing was right for the interfaith project. She said the goal is to build relationships and break down barriers. Over the four months, an estimated 250 volunteers – including some American Indians – will work on the house.

Lan Ma was in the minority on the interfaith building site. She doesn’t have a particular religion.

“I’m none and I’m all,” said Ma, of Sammamish. She wasn’t bothered that people of different faiths were working around her.

“It doesn’t matter so long as they don’t force any ideas on me,” Ma said. “I just want to help.”

One of the ground rules for volunteers is no proselytizing.

Ma took turns pounding one nail at a time with Habiba Karim, a Muslim from University Place. Ma pounded once, then Karim pounded the same nail.

Amir Abdul-Matin said a blessing at lunchtime for more than 80 volunteers working on several houses in Larabee Terrace. He thanked God for an “environment that is conducive to inclusion.”

Abdul-Matin, 59, said the interfaith project unites people to work together.

“A Muslim isn’t going to hammer a nail any different than a Jew or a Christian,” said Abdul-Matin, president and imam of the Islamic Education and Community Center in Tacoma. Sonja Miller, of Agnus Dei Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor, called the build a miracle as she swept up sawdust inside the framed house.

“We have these differences but we won’t let them divide us or make us anything less than God’s family working together for the common good,” said Miller, 70.

“To me, this is what life is all about: just helping to make life better for other people,” Miller said. “It’s what makes you rich.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

Jun 1,2009

Families saving for their children’s futures and that of aging parents find little is left for their own golden years

They have yet to tackle Grade 8 science, but today Seliya dreams of being a teacher or dermatologist and Rahim wants to be a surgeon or an astronaut.

With that in mind, their parents, Al-Karim and Mina Mawani, have been saving as much as they can – for Seliya’s and Rahim’s university education, but also to care for Ms. Mawani’s aging parents, who live two blocks away from their home in Richmond Hill, Ont.

When it comes to socking away money for their golden years, the Mawanis are no different from others in the so-called sandwich generation.

“My husband and I think of that as a third priority,” Ms. Mawani said.

“We have to sit down and say to ourselves, ‘Okay, it’s still going to be another 20 years of working life.’ And right now the priority is that in nine years my daughter will go to university, in less than nine years my parents may need more support. When you look at the time frame, we keep thinking these are the first two priorities.”

Al-Karim Mawani and Mina Mawani are shown in their Richmond Hill, Ont., home with son Rahim and daughter Seliya. The Mawanis are trying to save for their children and care for their elderly parents, but they don’t have pension plans and their RRSPs have been hit hard by the market meltdown.

Ms. Mawani, 42, an executive officer for the Aga Khan Council for Canada, and her 44-year-old husband, a family physician, are by no means struggling. But they don’t live lavish lives, either.

Neither have pension plans, and like other Canadians, their retirement investments have been hit hard by the market meltdown.

Their story, echoed by many others, is worrisome to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his provincial counterparts who have launched a study on retirement savings that some hope could lead to a new savings scheme for Canadians.

The Mawanis began building their RRSPs soon after they graduated from university. They still set aside money, but other priorities have taken hold.

Ms. Mawani’s parents, at the age of 70 and 66, live off their retirement savings, but they don’t have medical insurance.

In Ms. Mawani’s Ismaili-Muslim culture, children look after their parents, and so her siblings do as much as they can to contribute.

The Mawanis live closest to the retired couple and take care of a good portion of the expenses, which are bound to keep increasing as her parents grow older.

They could be looking at nursing help down the road, for example.

The other worry is the rising cost of a university education.

The couple took out RESPs for Seliya, 9, and seven-year-old Rahim, but know it will not be enough.

She believes that the working group should also examine the cost of a university education and how children can enter the knowledge society “without having all us parents break our backs to do that.”

She also believes that programs for seniors should be discussed, which, in turn, would help the sandwich generation and encourage people like her to keep saving for their retirement.

“If they were to help out more with the seniors, then I wouldn’t have this heavy heart thinking that I need to make sure that I have enough money to support my parents, and make sure I have enough money when I hear about how much university will cost in 10 years,” Ms. Mawani said.

“It’s not like we have millions saved up. We’re saving and we say to ourselves that we’ve got another 10, 15, 20 years of working life. We base our entire premise on that. If I were to become disabled, or he were to become disabled, or something were to happen to one of us, that’s what we worry about.”

“If that were to happen, I think it would be a really bad situation.”