When you lose all of your earthly possessions in the blink of an eye, the one thing you can be thankful for is that you’re still breathing.
It happened to Bulent Kalfa, a native of Istanbul, Turkey, who has even more to give thanks for now that he is living in Canada and has a family, which is about to receive a brand new home in the Leighland Community from Habitat for Humanity.
Kalfa, 48, was living in Turkey when a huge earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, hit the Istanbul area in 1999.
It destroyed his former apartment building, killing all residents, and all his possessions, which were still there. Luckily he had moved to a new building in Izmit, about an hour’s drive away, just four days before that.
The event lasted for 37 seconds, killing about 17,000 people immediately and leaving approximately half-a-million people homeless. In total, rescue teams from 12 countries assisted in the rescue effort.
“I was at the old building just two hours before the earthquake hit to pick up suitcases for my sister,” he said.
His new building also suffered structural damage and most of the other apartments on the street were demolished.
A total of 80,000 eventually people died as a result of the disaster.
Kalfa came to Canada in March of 2000, where he met his future wife Victoria, who is from Colombia. She now works as a mission operator on the production line at Voortman’s Cookies.
The couple have two children 21-year-old Juan, who is studying software technology at Mohawk College, and eight-year-old Valeria, who is in Grade 3 in the French Immersion program at Sacred Heart of Jesus school in Burlington.
Kalfa first worked for Summo Steel as a quality engineer, but had to leave the company when he developed rheumatoid arthritis. He had graduated from Istanbul Technical University as a mechanical engineer.
Since March of 2016 he has been volunteering in the Habitat for Humanity office on Appleby Line.
“We are very fortunate to have this house in Burlington,” he said. “It’s not easy to own a house.”
As a downpayment recipients are required to donate 300 hours of volunteer service. Kalfa already has more than 600 in the bank, working on updating computer files and binders and assembling plaques, which are presented to Habitat for Humanity donors.
“Bulent and his family have gone above and beyond it,” said Sarah Golan, the organization’s manager of communications and marketing.
The mortgage is restricted to no more than 30 per cent of the family’s income. The term is 30 years for the fair market value of the property and no interest is charged.
The Kalfas will still have to operate on a strict family budget. Bulent’s disability benefits were cut by 50 per cent when his wife went to work at Voortman’s.
“We like to say we give people a hand up, not a hand-out,” Golan said.
Kalfa learned about Habitat for Humanity because his son had volunteered there while attending Assumption Secondary School.
So far fhte family has been living in accommodation, subsidized by the Region of Halton, near the intersection of Guelph Line and Dundas St.
In a broad new initiative Habitat for Humanity constructed a 13-unit complex in 2016 at the corner of Plains Rd. E. and Glendor Ave. In the past, the group has normally built one home a year in Burlington.
The Kalfa family will move into the three-bedroom home this month.
The project, named de Jong Lane after community volunteer and former chairman of the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating (CIPH), Case de Jong, was dedicated in a ceremony on December 10, 2016.
Families can apply to the program online at Habitatfamily.ca
There are five stages to acceptance. Applicants first take a quiz about themselves. It’s reviewed and, if they are considered good candidates, they go on a waiting list. A family selection committee then makes the final choice.
Volunteers donate their time to build the houses and the program benefits from the generosity of local business like Whirlpool Canada, which has donated all appliances for its homes, and Sleep Country, which has supplied several mattresses.