Habitat Denver Team Goes to Nicaragua

A team of Habitat Denver staff, board members and volunteers traveled to San Cayetano Nicaragua this month to help build a decent home for a hardworking young family.  Habitat Nicaragua is one of the six partner countries where Habitat Metro Denver currently sponsors homes.  Click here to learn more about Habitat’s global commitment.

Below is a Q&A with Mike Criner, Habitat’s Chief Operations Office, about the experience the team had building with Habitat Nicaragua.

Q: Where did the build take place?

A: San Cayetano, in the San Rafael del Sur District.  We stayed at a hotel in Masachapa, about 10 minutes from San Cayetano.

Q: What kind of construction work did you do?

A: Steel rebar-reinforced cement block house that was 18 square meters.  Simple construction with a cement floor and front and back porch.  It has a shed roof of corrugated metal, and is set up for the family to expand at a future date.  Their Eco-toilet was installed as part of a Women’s Build earlier last year.

Q: What were the future homeowners like?

A: Ana Felix Vallecillo Gutierrez is a 52-year-old widow whose husband passed away 8 years ago after an operation removing his kidneys.  Ana suffers from high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, gout, and cataracts in both eyes.  She lives with her 31-year-old daughter Rosa Maria, 40-year-old son in law Renaldi, and their 3-year-old son Didier.

Rosa Maria works teaching Spanish classes at a local high school in Masachapa while Renaldi works as a security guard.  Together they have a monthly family income of about $315 USD including the widow’s pension that Ana receives due to the death of her husband.  Rosa Maria is also finishing her 4th year of university at UNAN in Managua studying language and literature.

They have worked very hard for years washing clothes and cleaning homes in order to earn enough money for her to get a good education. The family’s current home is a poorly-constructed structure of wood and stone.

Rhea Oberst, one of the volunteers in the group shared this highlight from working with the future homeowners:

“One of my favorite stories about Didier happened the day of the dedication.  We had decorated their new house with balloons and ribbons, made speeches, and taken pictures for the dedication, all while Didier napped.  The next event was a block party down the road for the whole community to celebrate.  We left so that Ana could get Didier up and dressed for the party.  When she arrived at the party, she told me “Didier came to me and said, ‘Mommy, mommy!  There are balloons on my house!”  She almost cried as she repeated the last part, “My house.  He called it my house.”

Q: What are some of the big areas of focus for Habitat’s work in Nicaragua?

A: In addition to building housing for families in need, HFH Nicaragua builds Eco-toilets in several communities, teaches classes on sanitation, clean water, land tenure, home ownership, and personal finances, and partners with microfinance lenders throughout Nicaragua to provide funding for house additions and repairs.  HFH Nicaragua has also partnered with the federal and municipal governments and other NGO’s on clean water projects and other housing.

Q: How do housing needs differ when comparing living conditions in Nicaragua versus Denver?

A: It’s difficult to compare the housing need in Nicaragua to Denver, as the poverty is so extreme.  Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere behind Haiti.  45% of all houses have dirt floors, which contribute to a 25% mortality rate before the age of five.  Nicaragua also suffers from severe natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanos and earthquakes.  HFH Nicaragua typically focuses on the poorest of the poor for direct services.  These families make less than $2 per day.

Q: Was there a highlight of your trip?

A: It’s hard to pick a single aspect, as there were many highlights.  The family we built with as very engaging and Didier attracted a lot of attention.  The local staff were very well organized and made our trip as enjoyable as it could be.  Nicaragua has a rich history and culture that was fascinating to learn about.

To learn more about Habitat’s work in Nicaragua, click here to visit their website.

Habitat’s Build Week in Nicaragua