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SHE Development Patterson, CA – Storm clouds hang over a new SHE development project of about 20 single family houses in Patterson, CA.

Traditional Community Building for Today

By Najib Joe Hakim (Patterson, CA)


In mid-November, I had the privilege to photograph a day in the creation of a new community of low-income homes in Patterson, CA that Self-Help Enterprises (SHE) coordinated. SHE is a community development organization that has worked together with low-income families to build homes and communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley since 1965. This particular project is the first in Patterson and allows participants to overcome the local median home price of $382,000. This project is nearly completed and if all goes well, people will be moving in before Christmas.

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Construction Worker Patterson, CA – Man prepping the garage door for painting across the street from Maria Teresa’s house.

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A cement truck had just arrived and some of the men were transporting the fresh cement to pour into the future backyard of Candie Gallardo, a 27-year-old single mother who works in a local grocery. Candie and her 5-year-old son have been living in her parents’ home with her siblings – nine people in an overcrowded house in Patterson.

Workmen Concrete Patterson, CA – Future neighbors wait for the wet concrete to be poured. Behind them is a multi-unit development of new homes.

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Candie Gallardo in her New House - Candie Gallardo describing how she plans to furnish her living room.

Through SHE’s program, families are grouped together and help each other build their houses with onsite supervision and guidance. The amazing thing is Candie had no construction experience at all. Yet she and her father have toiled alongside her future neighbors to build this new neighborhood. This “sweat equity” replaces the need for a down payment. Each family is required to contribute a minimum of 40 hours per week working on all the houses for nine to 12 months. They do everything together from pouring concrete for foundations, erecting structural frames, installing electrical wiring, hanging doors, and windows, etc. So, in fact, they are building more than structures but are establishing relationships with their future neighbors.

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Workmen Concrete Patterson, CA – The concrete begins to pour a final delivery for Candie’s house.

Candie Gallardo and Father Raul Gallardo

Candie Gallardo and Father Raul Gallardo – Raul Gallardo, Candie’s father, helps her smooth out the freshly poured concrete outside a side door.

Candie Gallardo and Father Raul Gallardo
Later that day, Candie took me to see her parents’ house. Her father, Raul Gallardo, later returned as well to make himself a quick lunch before heading back to the development. Raul works as a trucker for most of the year, but he is using his “off-season” to help Candie build her new community.

Candie Gallardo and Father Raul Gallardo – Raul Gallardo returns home for a quick lunch before heading back to the worksite.

When I returned to the site, I met with another community member, Maria Teresa Ceja de Ceja, originally from Michoacán, Mexico. Her English and my Spanish made for a comical interaction composed of hand signals, smiles, and few words. Maria Teresa is a retired senior with gentle, welcoming eyes and despite her slight frame, she radiated a profound strength. She and her husband have been building their home this past year as well. Unfortunately, he was not there that day due to a serious illness. But he will be back in time to watch his grandchildren running around his new house.
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Maria Teresa Ceja de Ceja– Maria Teresa reflecting on her new life in Patterson once her house is completed and her husband returns from the hospital.

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Maria Teresa Ceja de Ceja –Maria Teresa smiles as she imagines her grandchildren running around her new home.

Lot 24, SHE Development, Patterson, CA 8
Her house appeared to be at the same stage of completion as Candie’s and as in fact all the other buildings as well. This suggested that the neighborhood was being developed evenly and as someone there told me, no one moves in until they all are able to move in. That “one for all, all for one” spirit was very inspirational.

Lot 24, SHE Development, Patterson, CA – One of the houses across the street from Candie’s new house.

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Candie Gallardo – Candie Gallardo expressing her pride and excitement in front of her future home; one that she helped construct herself.


Najib Joe Hakim

San Francisco, CA

(w)  (ig) @najibjoehakim


Najib Joe Hakim works as a documentary photographer and photography instructor. Since 2009 his efforts as a visual artist have steadily gained momentum and recognition. Most recently, he is the recipient of the 2020 Rebuilding Alliance Storytellers Award for his projects Home Away from Home: Little Palestine by the Bay, Born Among Mirrors and video  Cooking Lessons: A Palestinian American Story. In 2019 he was a Political Art Fellow at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and his piece "Sending Wings instead of Arms" placed 1st in a global competition sponsored by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. He is also a past nominee for the US Artist Fellowship. Hakim is an active member of the Network of Photographers for Palestine. His current endeavor, Palestine Diary, exhumes photographs he took in Palestine in 1978-79 as a recent college graduate, combining the images with excerpts from his personal contemporary journal enlightening the roots of the crisis in Palestine today. He has also produced a series of digital collages for The Map Is Not the Territory, an international group exhibition which explored the common historical experiences among the Palestinians, the Irish and Native Americans. Other awards include: Best Photo Essay from the CA Newspaper Publishers Assoc. for a series on 9/11’s effects on San Francisco; 1st Prize in the Luminance Exhibition (NYC) for a digital composition critiquing the “War on Terror”.

"Working with HAC has been an inspiring experience. I expect to continue working on rural housing projects in 2021 with an organization in coastal Pescadero, CA."

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