Friday, May 23, 2008

Thank you ... my house.

The house in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala is coming together though needs a couple more weeks for completion. On May 18, 2008 approximately 50 people including the construction crew and their familes, family members of Estela's, the indigenous neighbors and several donors from the United States participated in a (premature, as it turned out) housewarming party. One of the donors brought sidewalk chalk and encouraged the children to write and draw on the unfinished walls. There was a trash collection contest and, with the inducement of prizes, the children filled 12 large trash bags in about 15 minutes. Some of the rooms had been plastered and had concrete floors (tile is coming). In one of the almost completed rooms Alexander was stunned to find a local painting of his favorite flower, cartouches or calla lillies. The plaster, the paint (also coming), the concrete roof, the windows, the shower, the six rooms are all very, very new to this family. When Alexander was told that a particular visitor from the US had donated money for the house he turned to her and said very carefully in English "thank you ... my house."

Estela still can't believe her good fortune and is regularly reduced to tears during her meal time prayers. Her father pictured below couldn't stop saying "gracias" at the fiesta. Astrid does gymnastics in the yet unplanted garden and the children have already made friends with the indigenous neighbors. Those neighbors live in a house of cane with a dirt floor. They sleep on the ground, have municipal water (not drinkable) but neither electricity nor sewer service. They do send their children to school. They boil their drinking water and do all their cooking over a camp fire on the ground in a smoke-filled room. Mom spends her days weaving with a backstrap loom hoping to sell a piece of textile goods; Dad picks corn and beans when they are in season and has yet to travel to Antigua, some 15 minutes away. We brought them two water filters and it was quite remarkable to watch Estela who has only had her own water filter for about six months teach the neighbors how to use their filters and explain how easy it was going to be have clean drinking water. Estela and Alexander (who had a vasectomy in March) talked with the neighbors about the need to limit their family which currently numbers seven children. It turns out that mom is beyond that age. A US donor has just provided the funds to buy two fuel-efficient, safe stoves with outside ventilation for the neighbors. They will be installed early in June.

Bunk beds have been purchased for Jackie, Astrid and Denis each with their names on them ("Amigos" on the spare bed) in colorful letters. An artist friend has made study desks for the childrens' rooms. Estela will have a real stove for the first time.

Alexander plans to plant grass in the garden so he and Denis can play soccer together. Once the house is completed Estela and Alexander will be asked to contribute monthly a nomimal amount to Constru Casa for four years to facilitate the building of yet another home for people like themselves (perhaps even their own neighbors).

The Jocote tree has been seriously pruned to make way for the house but it is prospering and bearing fruit and still provides entertainment for young children who have never before had a safe place to play.

"All that is required to get poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them. If I could make so many people happy with a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?" Mohammad Yunus, author of Creating a World without Poverty, founder of The Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize