Day 6: A House for Yesenia
Today is the day I have been waiting for since we got to Ecuador, the house building! Unlike last year, this year’s group is filled with sick and dehydrated students but thankfully it did not dampen our spirits or our determination to build the two houses. The groups were split up so that the sick of sick had access to the air conditioned van but also had enough healthy, strong people to complete the house. Before we started the build we got a bit of background information about the people we were building the houses for: Yesenia Baque, a single mother of three (ages 11, 5, and 7 months) and a woman named Emilia Bagui, a single mother of two children (ages 3 and 2).
I, being one of the sicker students, was in the group with the air conditioned van building a house for Emilia. We started unloading equipment while the carpentered went to scout out the location of the soon to be house, only to return with horrible news. The location for the house is too steep, the ground is too slanted to build a proper foundation making it unfit and unsafe to build on, and we do not have the material needed to build a house at that location. Devastated, we loaded the equipment back into the van. One of the representatives of Hogard de Cristo explained to us that an incident like this has not occurred within the last 4 years. I remained silent for an extended period of time as the reality of the situation set in. Emilia and her children would not be receiving a new home today, they would not be sleeping under a roof tonight that they could call their own, and will instead have to continue staying at friends and families houses until something further can be arranged. The representative assured us that Hogard de Cristo they would make sure Emilia and her family had a place to stay but that did not console me or the heartache that I felt for them. Finally the day had come when they would have a place to call their own, a home, leaving the days of relying on friends and family behind them. The light at the end of the tunnel; the struggle and hardship that Emilia had to endure almost at an close only to be snatched away at the last available moment. The situation is horribly heartbreaking. Tears and perspectives were exchanged as we drove to Yesenia’s house. We were told that the lot Emilia had purchased for her lot was in the worst neighbourhood in the city (which explains the police we saw upon our arrival at the location). Perhaps it is for the best that we are not building Emilia a house at that location, especially being a single mother of two younger children.
As my group arrived to Yesenia’s house, Dan (another student who was also sick) and I crashed. Physically and emotionally exhausted, we stayed in the van and slept across the seats while our group joined our other classmates to help build Yesenia’s house. As the hours passed as , students periodically stopped by to take a quick break from the heat in the air conditioned van and to check up on Dan and I (hurray for Nursing students!). After a solid nap, Dan and I decided that it was time to leave the van and assist in the house building. We were both in any condition to leave the van? Probably not, but we both had the same goal in mind and were determined to see it through; one way or another, in whatever form we could muster, we were going to help with the house building. As we started walking towards the house, we were greeted (more like ambushed) by numerous smiling children, all of which speaking in Spanish and pointing in various directions towards different toys. As it turns out, because the two groups were combined we had an excess of people; which meant the extras could either stand around and watch OR we could play with the kids. The choice was obvious, how could anyone turn down their cute little faces? The house building turned out to be sort of a block party as neighbours blasted music from their homes and children from multiple homes came outside to participate in the activities. Although they spoke as much English as we did Spanish, communication was fairly simple. During the house building, we realized that play is a universal language, and had become the main source of communication. Although being able to verbally communicate would have been helpful, and probably illuminated some confusion, it would have also reduced the laughter that had occurred because we were unable to speak the same language. As great as building the house was, it had a minimal impact compared to getting to know Yesenia and her family.
Meeting Yesenia and being able to bond with her and her kids added depth and understanding to the house building. We were not simply building a house for strangers anymore, we were building a home for a friend so her children could grow up in a decent home. As we neared the completion of the house, Yesenia’s second youngest child (age 5) kept pointing towards the house exclaiming “Mi Casa! Mi Casa!”, meaning “My house! My house!”. She wanted all of us to know that this was her new house and how excited she was for it to be built. Unfortunately, her attitude took a temporary change when she registered that the completion of the house meant that all her new found friends would be leaving.
After taking pictures of the newly finished home, moving Yesenia’s furniture from her old house to the new one, we started hauling equipment and saying our goodbyes. The expression of gratitude and appreciation was evident on Yesenia’s face as, one by one, she thanked us; an extremely rewarding moment for me that will hopefully remain in my memory for a very long time. On the way home, students express the gratification of knowing that they had successfully changed someone’s life, that they impact we had on the family goes much deeper than just building a home, and how amazing it felt to be able to physically contribute to the house build. I only wish we would have been able to have the same effect for Emilia’s and her young family. Thankfully, after returning to the hostel (which is now being referred to as our home) we learned that Hogard de Cristo has collected the appropriate materials and will be constructing Emilia’s house sometime next week! At the moment, it is still unclear where the location of the house will be, and if we will have the pleasure of building it. Regardless if we are assisting in the physical construction or not, one thing is for certain: Emilia and her family will soon have a place to call home.