Lar Seng La Lasham and Maran Roi have been searching for a new home since they fled Myanmar.
As Christians, the couple were persecuted in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and felt they had no choice but to flee.
On Tuesday, six years after they left Myanmar, they stood in the middle of Sundance Square Plaza helping lift the first wall frame of their new home.
For the seventh year in a row, employees from XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., were partnering with Trinity Habitat for Humanity to start building a home in the middle of downtown Fort Worth. Star-Telegram employees are assisting with the project, which continues through Saturday.
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After completion the house will be moved to the Hillside/Morningside neighborhood in south Fort Worth. The couple will move into the home later this year.
I never hoped we could have a house like this.
Lar Seng La Lasham
"It's so great,” Lar Seng La Lasham said. “I never hoped we could have a house like this."
To get a Habitat home, families must put in “sweat equity” during the construction of their home or other Habitat houses, working with volunteers. Families then make monthly payments on a no-interest mortgage held by Habitat.
571 The number of homes Trinity Habitat for Humanity has built since 1989.
Since 1989, Trinity Habitat has built more than 571 new homes and preserved more than 912 existing homes in Tarrant, Johnson, Parker and Wise counties.
A Burmese neighborhood
For the couple, who have a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, the need for more room is critical.
“We’re really glad they're going to have a house,” Lar Seng La Lasham said through an interpreter. “We live in an apartment right now. It's very hard to have people over for birthdays. The kids don't have a lot of opportunity to play.”
They’ll be moving to a neighborhood where 12 Burmese families will eventually live. Last year, 3 of 5 homes Trinity Habitat built were for Burmese families, said Michelle Kennedy, Trinity Habitat senior director of operations.
They came to our country as aslyees.
Michelle Kennedy, Trinity Habitat senior director of operations
“They came out of three villages in Burma that were Christian,” Kennedy said. “Most of our refugees came in 2009, 2010 as part of persecution, a push out by the political regime. They came to our country as aslyees. The ones that applied for our program all have their permanent residence status at this point.”
Lar Seng La Lasham is a chef at Endohana in Fort Worth. Making a permanent home here is important.
“It's great,” he said. “It’s like our country. The weather is hot. I love it.”
‘Slice of the American Dream’
Tarrant County is among the top three counties — after Harris and Dallas — in Texas to resettle families, according to state data. From October 2014 through July 2015, 6,837 people moved to Texas under refugee or special immigrant visas. Of those, 1,122 moved to Tarrant County, and 33 percent are from Burma.
Kennedy said having a home is an important foundation for refugee families.
“They very much have a commitment to putting down roots,” Kennedy said. “When they got here, they felt a need to find a home. Home is incredibly important.”
The ability to adapt and thrive in a new country is a common one among refugees, said Gage Yager, executive director of Trinity Habitat.
“In four, five, six, seven years, they tend to extract themselves and get here, get it figured out, get employed and get into the Habitat system,” Yager said. “This family in six years, they go from Burma Hell to Fort Worth with a slice of the American Dream.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.