Roofs 4 Mamas: Rebuilding hope for widows in East Africa

Biola business major raises money online for roofs in East Africa.


Phil Rizkalla, junior, raised over $19,000 — nearly twice his goal — to fund Roofs 4 Mamas, a project he founded in Nov. 2013 to extend physical and spiritual restoration to the livlihoods of widows in East Africa. | Lena Smith/THE CHIMES

Lena Smith, Writer

Phil Rizkalla, junior, raised over $19,000 — nearly twice his goal — to fund Roofs 4 Mamas, a project he founded in Nov. 2013 to extend physical and spiritual restoration to the livlihoods of widows in East Africa. | Lena Smith/THE CHIMES


Nearly 9,500 miles away from Biola’s campus, junior business major Phil Rizkalla is using wood, nails and corrugated sheet metal to rebuild the infrastructure of widows’ lives in East Africa.


His project, Roofs 4 Mamas, raised over $19,000 to repair roofs and houses in Kenya in its first month of fundraising alone. According to Rizkalla, something as simple as a roof has profound social and economic implications for widows and their families.

“If you have a roof that will last you for years with little maintenance, you not only get to save that money, but you get to put it toward something else,” he said. “You can put your kids through school, have more food and struggle much less.”

Rizkalla recognized the significance of a simple metal roof when he was commissioned to repair the home of a widow in Tanzania on his first trip to East Africa in 2011. When it rained at night, Pamela and her four children were forced to wake up, roll up their bed mat and huddle in the corner of their house as water poured through their poorly constructed roof. Once the rain stopped, they returned to their bed. During the wet season, when it rained daily, their attempt to remain dry was a nightly routine.

A simple roof repair allowed Pamela and her children the opportunity to sleep through the night. Rizkalla wanted to bring the same relief to other widows.

“God put it on my heart to do something, to make something happen,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference in the lives of these widows.”

Even before Rizkalla returned to California, he started planning his return to Kenya to continue the project.

“My heart was aching — aching — to go back,” he said. “The building project for these widows felt right. Everything about it was solid. I was in the right place at the right time.”

Rizkalla resolved to not only repair broken structures, but to bring lasting improvements to each home. "Our projects sought to build outdoor kitchens so the smoke wouldn't ruin in the new corrugated sheet metal that made each roof," he said. "And we built a gutter on each house to help the mamas gather water from each rainfall and put it to good use." | Courtesy of Phil Rizkalla



On Nov. 30, 2013, Rizkalla’s 23rd birthday, a family from his church decided to fund his plane ticket back to Kenya. Within days, he booked a flight back to Kenya for winter interterm.

Once his ticket was purchased, he took on the most crucial components of his trip: project planning and fundraising. The name of the project — Roofs 4 Mamas — was determined quickly and casually by Rizkalla and his friends.

“We’re building roofs for widows, and in Africa, mothers are often called ‘mamas,’ so ‘Roofs 4 Mamas’ was a simple and straightforward name,” he said.

Rizkalla had one month to raise the funds to complete the project. His initial goal was to raise $10,000 in the month before his departure.

He created a fundraising website and account through You Caring, which enabled supporters to learn about the project and make contributions online. He shared his vision through every channel of communication he had. Friends and family propelled his online fundraising campaign forward as they shared the website on social media.

Rizkalla also enlisted the talents of his friends to diversify his fundraising campaign efforts.

“It wasn’t just a project for one person to participate in,” he said. “It became an opportunity for many people to join the work with their talents, abilities and willingness to help.”

Anthony Girges was one of Rizkalla’s biggest supporters. Girges first took Rizkalla to Kenya and Tanzania in 2011 and has offered him guidance throughout his journey back to East Africa.

“Phil is genuine, he’s passionate and he’s a visionary,” Girges said. “Nothing he did was for personal gain. God sees all of that, and I believe he proudly opened the doors for him to raise the funds for the project.”

Rizkalla took every precaution possible to ensure he was transparent and honest in his fundraising efforts.

“I didn’t want any chance for misinterpretation or question in the project, especially with regard to finances,” he said.

He partnered with Mission for Christ, a non-profit organization working in East Africa, for accountability and assistance in managing the funds raised for his project.

No one expected the outpouring of support to exceed his $10,000 goal. The project continued to spread and support continued to pour in.


By his Jan. 2, 2014 departure, he had raised over $19,000 — nearly double his initial goal.

“That’s how I saw that God’s hands were in this,” he said. “I don’t think I could convince people to support the project in and of myself. God provided thoroughly.”

Prior to his arrival in Kenya, Rizkalla commissioned local priests to assess the needs of widows in their villages and determine who would most benefit from a new roof. A number of factors were taken into consideration as they committed to repair the home of each widow.

“We asked for paperwork  — the certificate of burial,” he said. “We’d interview the neighbors. And there was so much prayer involved. It became clear to us who we could help.”

Rizkalla used the money raised to purchase raw materials and hire local villagers to repair each widow’s roof. The amount of work required to repair each house depended on the type of roof and degree of damage. Some projects required only minor repairs. Others called for a complete renovation of the house’s structure.

Rizkalla worked to ensure that each roof repair was sustainable.

“Our projects sought to build outdoor kitchens so the smoke wouldn’t ruin the new corrugated sheet metal that made each roof,” he said. “And we built a gutter on each house to help the mamas gather water from each rainfall and put it to good use.”

In just over three weeks, Rizkalla completed five roof projects and left with another project in progress.

As Rizkalla looks forward to the future of Roofs 4 Mamas, his goal is obvious: get back to Kenya and continue the work.

“I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “There’s something about the way I was created and the way I’ve been formed was all about doing things for someone that really, really, really couldn’t do it for themselves. In Kenya, it’s not possible for these families to provide these needs for themselves.”

To learn more about Rizkalla’s work, check out Roofs 4 Mamas’ YouCaring website

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