Nobody said building a house would be easy

In his own words, an interview with a GiveDirectly recipient

George, a 42-year-old Village Elder and father of six living in Western Kenya spoke to GiveDirectly about the process he went through when deciding how to spend his transfer. George’s village and George himself were randomly selected for this interview. The interview has been shortened for clarity and length. You can read the full transcript here.

It is worth noting that Village Elders tend to be among the better educated and connected people in their communities. Therefore, George’s level of sophistication in planning and gathering information may not be typical. We’ll know more as we speak with more randomized recipients and share their experiences — content we plan to have soon.


George in front of his new home
George: When I knew that I was going to get the transfer, I spoke to my father and informed him of my decision to construct my new homestead. The most important thing I did with the money was to build this house…my entire mind was concentrated on this house.

Why was a big house so important to you?

The reason why I wanted a big house was that I had foreseen a situation where I needed space to keep my household. As a farmer, I need enough space to store my produce. I also have relatives whom would have enough space to stay in when they come visiting. If you came here earlier before, almost half of my living room was filled with maize. At present, this house still appears small for me. I will still expand the front veranda when funds become available and create a store at the back. Therefore, the living room will just remain for the chairs and a few household items.

Now when you buying these things, whom did you talk to or consult?

When I was going to buy the building materials, I was with my wife. However, more so, I consulted my father in most of the processes that involved constructing my new home. He has been my pillar for a long time. My elder brother also advised me to build a new home since it was difficult putting money together and putting up a home. He encouraged me to pursue that line of getting an independent home. I also spoke to the hardware store owner, who is my good friend and comes from Ngiya. He even advised me that the most important thing is to build a house where family can stay, could keep my property, and could host my guests. In addition, he even provided me with the workforce that helped me in constructing…

When you were consulting these people, did they advise you on the cost that you were going to incur in this project? On the other hand, did you know the prices yourself? Did you go to find out, for example, the price of iron sheets, mattress, blankets?

Costs of items are never static. When I first built my house at my father’s compound, I bought iron sheets at KES 800 each piece. A year later, I got the cash transfer. [This house on his father’s compound was his first home. When he received the transfer, he moved out of his father’s household and established his own.] When I went to find out the price of the iron sheets at Ofula’s store, he accepted to give me a piece each at KES 750. I consulted many people who had constructed houses the size that I was interested in. I even inquired about the total, spoke to about six people who gave me their opinions and costs they incurred, including labour for construction. I got a lot of information that enabled me to have an idea of the kind of costs I was going to incur. Some people told me the building contractors would charge them KES 6,000, 7,000, or 8,000. I also inquired about how many kilograms of nails I would use. All these, I just inquired through stories [peoples’ experiences] to find out if I would manage to do my own…

What difficulties did you face when you wanted to make a decision?

It was difficult making a decision since most of the people were never telling me the truth [about how much they paid]. They never disclosed the truth. This is because people were always apprehensive when being asked for information on their expenditures.
[A second challenge was] the fact that I had money in the house made me spend on unplanned expenses. You would end up spending, for instance 500 KES [$5.5 USD] on something that you had not planned. One should just direct money on a project that he had planned immediately. People from other villages who did not receive the transfer would come and request for assistance.

Did this happen to you?

Yes, it did happen. A friend of mine from Apuoche village came to borrow some 10,000 from me to sort out an emergency. It will force you to deny him because you have a plan you are targeting with this money. This was a tricky situation for me as I had to balance between my plans and our friendship. I ended up assisting him in another way. I gave him a cow to sell and raise the money he needed. He later refunded the money as promised. He needed to raise school fees for his child who had been sent away from school and needed school fees immediately…
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