Finding Paradise

Perseverance is a familiar quality to Mon, who after spending decades living as a refugee from an early age was finally able to place roots in Iowa and succeed in building a life for his family. Born in Bhutan in 1980, Mon and his family fled his home country amid the outbreak of civil war, arriving in Nepal in 1992. He proceeded to live in a Nepali refugee camp for almost 24 years before being approved for relocation and coming to the United States in 2016.

Mon says they chose to come directly to Iowa because many of his friends and relatives who had been previously relocated already lived there.

“I like this state,” he says. “I feel safe. The traffic is not as crowded as other big states, so to learn to drive here was easier than in other places.”

He started working in the production sector of Pine Ridge Farms in 2016, which has been the primary source of income for his family ever since. His wife, Pravita, cares for their two children.

Upon arriving in Iowa, they moved directly into a tiny apartment, where they remained until very recently. But the single room was not sufficient for their family – especially once their youngest daughter was born.

Mon had heard about Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity through other friends and relatives who participated in their homeownership program, which helps qualified families purchase new construction or previously owned homes at an affordable mortgage rate. He decided after almost four years of living in a cramped, thin-walled apartment that he was also interested in securing housing through this organization.

Mon completed the several-month application process and was selected to participate in the Habitat for Humanity program in 2019 for a new construction home. During the initial phases of the program, his case manager referred him to LSI’s Individual Development Account (IDA) program, which puts clients on track to saving and earning money towards a specific goal – in this case, becoming a homeowner.

He was enrolled in the IDA program in January of 2020. With the guidance of LSI staff, he was able to open a savings account and develop a monthly savings plan for the remainder of the year.

“I saved the money I own. I saved $4,000, and then got $4,000 matched for $8,000 total,” he says.

Later, during closing time on the house, Mon covered these costs using the $8,000 he accumulated through the IDA program.

He and his family moved into their new home in December of 2020 and are busy enjoying the many new perks that have come with it. Their house is in a neighborhood where several other Bhutanese families and relatives also live, and it is in close proximity to the middle school and high school their children will someday attend. With their new space offering separate rooms and two bedrooms, they now have a better place for the kids to play and to host guests. They are also excited for the little joys, too, like decorating the house. Becoming a homeowner will open up future opportunities for Mon and his family that were previously unavailable while living in an apartment.

“When I have the house, then I can pay the mortgage, and then later, that property belongs to me,” he says. “But in an apartment, you can pay and at the end, get nothing.”

Mon learned a lot about using the money he makes wisely through his financial classes with Habitat for Humanity and LSI’s support of his savings needs, lessons that will pay off during his journey as a homeowner. The family is currently focusing on saving money.

One of LSI’s Bilingual Community Associates and a fellow member of the Bhutanese community regarded that it was a big achievement for Mon to be able to set aside $4,000 of his own money within a short timeframe as the single breadwinner in a house of four people.

“I felt very sad when I left my country,” Mon shared during a virtual homeownership ceremony in early January of 2021. “I felt as if I lost my paradise. But when I got the key and when I entered the house, I felt that I regained my lost paradise. So that was the happiest moment in my life and right now, I, my family, and kids are super happy to live in this new house.”

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