Paying it Forward

Saw Khu Soe (pictured above with guitar) is more than a former Habitat Omaha homeowner – he is an advocate and a friend. Saw Khu Soe has spent many mornings volunteering at Habitat Omaha’s office. He’s attended home dedications and translated at workshops and meetings.

“People knew I volunteered at Habitat, so they would call me and say, ‘Saw Khu Soe, can you help me apply for a Habitat house?’” he says.

Saw Khu Soe was happy to help since he was familiar with the Homeownership Program. He and his wife, Naw Paw, applied and became Habitat Omaha homeowners in 2009. They heard about the program through an uncle who was the first among the Karen community in Omaha to apply to the program. Saw Khu Soe’s experience helped him explain the process and requirements to others for whom English was also a second language.

“I would tell them that the houses were brand new or remodeled and that they had to work the sweat equity hours and take classes,” Saw Khu Soe says.

Saw Khu Soe and Naw Paw lived in their home for three years and then sold it back to Habitat Omaha. Naw Paw’s parents were living in a big house, so they decided to move in with them. When her parents decided to sell their house, Saw Khu Soe and Naw Paw purchased a new home. One morning while volunteering, Saw Khu Soe told staff about having to replace all of the doors and windows of his home.

“When I told them about the doors and windows, they said, ‘oh, we have the home repair program, you can apply,’” Saw Khu Soe says.

He applied to Habitat Omaha’s Home Repair Program and was happy that “Habitat took care of everything.” Now, their home is a place where his family can feel safe and free. It’s where Saw Khu Soe and his family record songs in their small vocal studio and where he teaches his children to play the guitar.

“All three are interested, so I teach them guitar every night when I come home for my break,” Saw Khu Soe says.

All of his family enjoys singing gospel music. They have recorded albums and uploaded videos on YouTube. Due to Saw Kue Soe’s busy schedule, he hasn’t been able to record more albums but hopes to work on one soon.

During his free time, he continues translating at doctor appointments and helps families fill out paperwork. He hopes to support others the way that Habitat Omaha staff supported him throughout his homeownership journey.

“Every time I needed help with something about my house, staff checked for me and told me how to do it, who to contact, and gave me a phone number,” he says. “So I try to help others.”