OGDEN — Less than a decade ago, the Barobi family endured unspeakable tragedy in their African homeland.
But this week the greater Ogden community gave them a major dose of triumph.
On Thursday, the refugee family from the Democratic Republic of Congo received a new home as part of the Emmy-award winning reality TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Spearheaded by Ogden-based Wadman Corporation and the Extreme Makeover team, several Weber County businesses and institutions combined to not only build the family a new home, but offer up a package of gifts that will fortify their future.
With help from a long list of subcontractors, suppliers and volunteers, Wadman finished the project after just six days of construction. The two-story home was built on an empty lot, donated by Ogden City, near the intersection of 22nd Street and Adams Avenue. Sequestered until construction was complete, the Barobis first saw their new home Thursday afternoon after the large, blue Makeover bus parked in front of the property drove away.
Members of the family screamed, wept and fell to the ground, overcome with joy.
“It means a lot to my family,” said family member Habiba. “It means a lot that our community cares about us.”
The Barobis hail originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At 13, the eldest brother in the family, Ashraf, became guardian to his three younger siblings, who were 12, 10 and 5. Congo rebels killed the Barobi kids’ parents and a younger sister. Ashraf, who is now 20, helped his siblings escape to a refugee camp in Uganda. During the month-long journey, the family had to stay off main roads and out of villages to avoid the rebels. They survived by picking vegetables from gardens along the way.
On their first day at the refugee camp, Ashraf spotted the family’s aunt, Anifah. She had only a small tent and her young daughter, but took Ashraf and his siblings in. They’ve been together ever since.
The family was granted asylum in the United States and with the help of Catholic Community Services, settled in Utah four years ago. Prior to getting their new home, the Barobis shared a small Ogden apartment with three bedrooms, one bathroom and no air conditioning or storage space.
Milan Vasic, a producer with the show, said the family’s optimism in the face of adversity astonished him — so much so, it actually made shooting the casting video a difficult proposition.
“There were six people living in a one-bathroom house ... and we were trying to get them to say, ‘oh this is kind of tough, this is challenging,’” Vasic said. “But those weren’t the words coming out of their mouths. We literally had to say, ‘no, no, no — I need you to make it sound as bad as it is.’”
Wadman President Dave Hogan said witnessing the Barobi way will forever change his life.
“Their ability to overcome things in their life and still have smiles on their faces and stick together as a family has been an inspiration,” he said.
While the Barobis’ week peaked on Thursday with the unveiling of their new home, Friday brought even more altruism.
Several other community organizations, too numerous to mention them all, donated to the family’s cause. America First gave $12,500 to the construction fund. God’s Garage and the Washington Heights Church gave the Barobis a new car. Cleaning products, groceries, restaurant gift certificates and several other living necessities were given to the family.
But Weber State University President Brad Mortensen announced what was perhaps Friday’s most impactful gift: four-year WSU scholarships for each member of the Barobi family. Mortensen said the idea came from a conversation Hogan had with some members of the Wildcat football coaching staff.
“They dredged up this idea of, let’s see if we can not only give them a home, but give them an education,” Mortensen said. “(The Barobis) all have big dreams — from engineering to law school to the FBI. They had goals to get their education before this even happened.”