Day 5: Building a House
Hola friends! Today was a truly amazing day. I feel so privileged and so honored to say that I had the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of people (and with the help of Hogar de Cristo) to change a family’s life. Today was the day of the house build, the day I think most people were most looking forward to. Originally the group split up into 2 as we were supposed to do two separate builds. Unfortunately, due to the land being unstable, one of the families was unable to get their house built that day. It was a sad realization for us all, but we have been reassured that the organization is going to build stronger supporting beams and the family will be getting their home!
The family that we did the build for today consisted of a single mother, Yesenia Baque, and her 3 children; Christopher, who is 11, Allison, who is 5, and Juanjavier who is 7 months. Yesenia makes around $60 a month, which is hardly enough to pay for basic necessities such as food, clean water, and shelter. The current home that they were living in was deemed unsafe and in disrepair. The area in which she lives in is clearly an area in poverty. Garbage was littered all over the streets, animals were fighting over food, chickens roamed freely, and the houses were so close together it didn’t even seem as though there was any personal space.
When we arrived at the build site, some of the group went with Yesenia to prepare lunch for the volunteers while the rest of us began working on the physical building of the house. We had to start by digging out 8 deep holes to put the supporting beams in. This was a long and tiring process, at least it seemed so for me. We used tools similar to what people would use to dig up holes for fence posts back home. Although, I’ve never done that much physical labor before in my life, I found the process (digging) to be kind of fun. Things really started to get moving when the second group (the group who had gone to the build site of the family we couldn’t build for today) had returned to our site. With more people working on the digging process it went a lot faster. During this time, there was not a single cloud in sight, and everyone could feel the intense heat from the sun basking down on them. It really was exhausting work.
It wasn’t soon after that we got the supporting beams in and stable that the group who had gone to cook returned with lunch. They had prepared a dish of rice, tuna and egg. As everyone at this point seemed to be pretty tired, they couldn’t have come at a better time. Once we began working again, it became clear that the two carpenters who were overseeing the build would be doing most of the work. Except of course for Michael, who might as well have been a carpenter that day as well, he did amazing, and didn’t even take a break once! The carpenters would get us involved by having us hammer and saw the wood. It really was amazing watching them work with such basic materials, a few shovels, a couple of hammers and saws, and some nails.
During the actual build, and putting together of the walls and roof, it seemed that not everyone was needed the whole time. So some of us began to play with Allison and the neighborhood kids. Allison had so much energy and was quite the little spunky girl. She would be jumping on our backs and hugging us, while pointing at the house that was being built in front of her so excitedly. It was both a great thing, and a little sad to see how excited she got by her house being built. Of course it was something new that they desperately needed, and would make a huge difference in their lives. But at the same time, the house was nothing but four walls of bamboo and a tin roof.
Playing with Allison and the neighboring kids was actually my favorite part about the build. Amorena brought a tennis ball with her (something we were advised to do during one of our workshops, a way to start conversation & play) which started up a game of catch. This game of catch transformed into many other games, neighboring families started to bring out other balls and toys to be played with. From jump rope to basketball to even just being in their presence was really amazing. I felt like I was really getting to know some of these kids, even though I couldn’t communicate with them. We talked about play as a universal language in class, and I think this is a prime example of what it means. Kids are the same all over the world, and play, is play, is play. The sense of community within the area was so strong, even though the area itself was unpleasant. It was easy to tell how community and family play such a large role in these people’s lives.
At one point, Cynthia, Jaime and I took a walk with some of the kids to pick them up some new toys (which were these really cool spinny top type toys that I have no idea how to describe). Although we were walking through a littered neighborhood, with no real streets, it felt just the same as if I were going on a walk at home with friends through the river valley. Of course the exterior was different, but that feeling of safeness and familiarity was still there. If that makes any sense. Unfortunately each place we went to was sold out of the little nifty toy, but it was still a great journey none the less. When we returned to the build site, it was amazing to see that it was almost done. The roof had been put on and all that was left was to finish the last bit of stairs and supports.
It didn’t take much longer after that for the house to be finished. It truly was amazing to see the joy and appreciation on the faces of the family. One of my favorite parts was when the Yesenia and her children climbed up their new steps for the first time, and stood there while we took their picture. To me that was a very symbolic moment of all the efforts each one of us had put into the work today. Whether we were up on that roof hammering in nails, or down on the streets playing with the kids. We had changed people’s lives today, and I am truly grateful to be a part of that experience. I write these words hoping to describe to you what went on today, but words aren’t nearly enough. To truly understand the meaning behind today, one would have had to have experienced it themselves. Again, I feel so privileged to have been a part of something so life changing for this family.
Being a part of the build has given me a newappreciation for the way that I live at home, I have never once had to go through the kind of struggles that most of the families in that area have had to go through. At the same time, it also made me feel a little selfish. Here we are back in Canada, working so many hours a week, to afford the latest iphone, or the biggest TV, or the next big clothing trend, while the families here are working so hard just to barely make ends meet. In a way, I think they may have their priorities in better order than some of us. Community and family is clearly a top priority of theirs and I think it’s safe to say, living in a world where we don’t have the struggles that they do, it’s easy to get lost in the luxuries that we have. Yes, it was hard to see the way these families lived, stricken with such poverty. But at the same time, the happiness and love surrounding them was overwhelming. They may not have the luxuries that we do at home, but they truly know the meaning of happiness. And I hope that when I return home that I don’t forget these feelings, and I don’t forget what I saw, and I don’t take the simple things for granted, and I don’t get wrapped up in my own luxuries. Today was definitely a life changing experience, not only for the family but I think, for most of us working on the build as well.\
Thanks for reading!!!