So, let me get this straight. We take the number 5 bus to the end of the route, switch to the number 14, and then get off near the fountain. Then we walk uphill until we get to a path in the cornfield. At every crossroads in the cornfield, turn left until we find the building site? Do I have that right?
Queztaltenango, also known as Xela, sprawls to the Southwest corner of Guatemala. The city itself is the second largest city in Guatemala, but where we were building was somewhat off the beaten track. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) and I had signed up for Habitat for Humanity and set off to bury ourselves in the cornfields to help Noe, Leon, and Williams build a home for Williams’ sister, Ruth. She had three children, a boy and girl who were twins and a baby she carried on her back. She would come every day to check on our progress, not speaking, only smiling at us. Each time they came, they were shy and tended to keep their distance.
Habitát para la Humanidad Guatemala has built more than 22,000 homes since 1979. In a country where there is a need for 1.6 million homes, Habitat works to improve living conditions of families and believes everyone should have access to decent, low-cost homes. Families apply to local Habitat offices and are chosen on their need, their willingness to partner with Habitat, and their ability to repay the loan for their homes.
I had seen commercials for Habitat in the U.S., where trucks were driving up with materials and power tools were abundant. That was not the case here, where we used a wheelbarrow to tote cinder blocks from the house on the road through the cornfields to our building site. We, not electricity, powered our building materials – a machete, cinderblocks, a pickaxe, cement, a wheelbarrow, and a level.
On the first day, after having navigated the complex bus system from our hotel to the building site, we found that we would be the only foreign volunteers working on the house. We had come full of hope and empty of skill. That morning, I was given a pickaxe and told to make holes in the cinderblocks for the rebar. Rebar? I wasn’t even sure what that was. I hacked into the blocks unsure of what I was doing, developing a blister in the first ten minutes and no doubt slowing down the process of building. Eventually I found my groove and continued to work. My husband was busy carrying cinderblocks to the men who were slowly, painstakingly building the walls.