Portland Habitat Builds Homes in El Salvador

As a part of Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program, Habitat staff, board members, and friends joined together for an unforgettable trip to El Salvador to build homes with local homeowners. Led by Construction Supervisor Rob Cunningham, the group spent two weeks in Guaymango, El Salvador building the foundation of a home with future homeowners Carlos and Madalena and their two young children Lizi and Carlito. Lauren Johnson, our Major Gifts Officer, wrote a detailed summary of the group’s experience which you can read below.
“This trip, while short, was jam-packed with activity. We were pretty much always in a group and there was not a lot of down time.  Fortunately, it was a really good group.  We ranged in age from 23 to 73 – with a mixture of staff, board members, and spouses along.
Our work days started after a traditional breakfast (plantains, black beans, eggs) at the hotel outside of the pretty town of Ataco – loading into a minivan at 7:30 a.m. to go down the hill. It was about a 20 minute drive on a well-paved road we shared with pick-up trucks filled in the back with standing passengers and the occasional motorcycle. Once at the site in Guaymango, we slathered on sunscreen, bandaged our blisters, and donned work gloves and hats.  We grabbed a shovel or a pickaxe or a tool to cut wire or bend rebar and got to work under the supervision of a mason hired by Habitat El Salvador. Alvaro was our boss on site along with Santiago, his helper. Neither spoke English, but we had a translator/guide to smooth over the rough spots. By mid-morning we had a snack break of pineapple or watermelon or papaya and guzzled lots of water. Then, back at it until about noon when a traditional lunch of chicken or steak or chile relleno would appear. The food was delicious and plentiful.
Most Salvadorans don’t lack for food – there are lots of gardens and small plantations of bananas, mango, plantains, etc. For country folk (campesinos), the average monthly income is only about $200.  Our homeowner, Carlos had a small store in a larger town about 30 minutes away called Achuapan. His wife, Madelena, lived with her mother and worked at a bakery in Guaymango.  Their daughter, Lizi is 11 and goes to school and her little brother Carlito is 2 years old. Carlito recently suffered from a very high fever which started to cause seizures. This was a very big worry while we were there and continues to be for the family.
We were digging the trenches for the foundation of the home and preparing the rebar that would go into the trenches and uprights, and mixed some concrete to fill the trenches. The house will be one story, with a tin roof, about 600 square feet, with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a living room. It will take a total of about $6,000 to build. It’s a very basic building technique, with cinder blocks and just a couple windows. The family owned the land already and will pay a mortgage of around $50 per month to Habitat.
On Wednesday we had a chance to break a little early and headed up the volcano and down a long dirt road to some very hot springs. Not what we expected, the resort was phenomenal – probably about 20 or more landscaped pools surrounded by hammocks and equipped with a full bar. It covered over a couple of acres and surrounded by forest and steam vents. It was quite a scene.
After our work was finished on Friday, we had a chance to make pupusas – the national dish of yumminess. They are corn tortillas filled with cheese and beans and served with a kind of cabbage relish or coleslaw called curtido (delicious).  Later that afternoon, we visited a coffee processing plant with machinery dating to the 1930’s. It was really interesting to see how coffee cherries get processed into the beans that get shipped all over the world to roasters in Europe and the US. It was high season for the harvest and lots of activity. Workers were carrying 100 lb sacks of coffee around on their shoulders for $6 to $8 a day.”
Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, in addition to our work here in Portland, sends tithes to our sister affiliates in El Salvador and Ethiopia. Global village trips send local staff, board members, and friends to help build alongside homeowners in these countries. Last year our global financial support helped build 48 homes with our sister affiliates in El Salvador and Ethiopia.

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