This is the first home we have built for a very deserving family. What a blessing to have Justin and Bud come and built it with the help of Estuardo and Nancy. Here is a bit about Justin’s experience and take on building his first Guatemalan house.
A finished product – mainly made of sheet metal, which is very common in Guatemala.
Had you told me that I would be building a house that was only 12 feet by 12 feet, I would told you that was nothing and that it was more like a shack than a house. I could have never imagined some of the living conditions I’ve seen here – bamboo stalks for walls, sheet metal roofs, 5 or 6 people packed into a 3 meter by 3 meter home. There are sheds and tree houses in the U.S. that are much nicer.
The family that we built the house for has had a pretty rough time. The mom’s name is Marilena and her two young boys (10 and 9 years old). The husband/father was an abusive alcoholic, and so they escaped the pitch tent they were all living in and moved in with one of Marilena’s sister. One of our concerns was that if we built the house, would the husband just come back and occupy the home now that they had their own house and repeat the same cycle? Nancy, another sister of Marilena, has a fairly nice sized area behind her house – mainly a dirt pile leading up to the edge of the mountain. Because you have to pass through her Nancy’s house in order to get to their space, this made it a legitimate place to build Marilena’s small home.
Marilena and her family with Nancy and Estuardo and Justin and Bud.
They cleared the dirt pile to make a pseudo flat area for us to build on – maybe about 18 sq. feet. Apparently, this home is supposed to only be temporary – maybe somewhere around five years. This is sometimes common, and the family literally picks up their house and moves. For that reason, we decided that we would use wood for the frames, lay a few cinder blocks, use sheet metal for the walls and the ceiling, so she could take those with her when Marilena moved. We figured we’d splurge and put down a concrete floor as well. I was surprised how many stores there were that sold hardware, lumber, and other necessary supplies. Since this was the rainy season, we were unsure how we would contend with the intense downpours they get here. But the Lord gave us beautiful weather to accomplish the construction in a week. The following day it poured down, but the house stayed dry.
Bud and Justin laying down the cinder blocks.
I was glad Bud Rinker came, because he’s obviously the expert, but all along he said, “I’m not sure how they do it in Guatemala, but I don’t want to just come in and do it my way because that’s how we do it.” But at the same time, the Guatemalans were like, you guys are building the house, so we didn’t want to tell you how do it our way and offend you. We started with laying cinder block on the unlevel dirt, which meant that our wall wasn’t level either. So, after we laid the first layer of cinder block, I turned to Nancy’s husband – Estuardo, and said, “so what do you think?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “estÃ¡ bien.” I asked him if that’s how they do it here, and he explained that they usually bury two cinder blocks deep and build on top of that. Bud was like, “why didn’t he tell us that to begin with?”
Justin packing cement around the posts.
Once we finished building a wall 3 cinder blocks tall, we worked on framing. The funniest part of the whole project was trying to saw wet lumber with a hand saw. Bud was working hard, because I couldn’t do it, and so after toiling on cutting two pieces of wood, a neighbor peaked his head out of his house and yelled, “hey, I have an electric saw if you’d like to borrow that.” Who would have thought that someone would have an electric saw in these parts? So, we put that thing to good use, and it probably saved us like 3 hours. It seemed like every night Estuardo would work on the house when came home from work. One morning we arrived and found that he had poured cement mix into the framing columns, which saved us a huge amount of time. His wife Nancy while watching three kids, helped us tremendously, especially when it came to laying the floor… oh the floor!
I had heard how Latinos lay concrete, and it was a lot harder than it sounded. First you pour sand on the ground, throw some concrete on it, throw some rocks in there, make a volcano, and pour water in the crater and stir. If I never do that again in my life, I’ll consider it a real blessing. Between that and mixing it in buckets, my arms about fell off, not to mention having to lay that out on the floor. That was some intense work, and I had gotten so dehydrated from the altitude and the sweating, that I thought I was going to pass out. But I honestly think Nancy did more work than I did – what a trooper she was.
The breathtaking view from the family’s new home with Volcano Agua in the distance.
When it was all done, it looked like a shack – unlevel which actually works for water drainage. It wasn’t pretty – just sheet metal hammered to some boards with a few cinder blocks. I wouldn’t want to live there, although her view of the valley below with the backdrop of Volcano Agua is breathtaking. But Pastor Rolando said to me, “This is a real blessing to the family. Those boys have never had a home this nice in their 10 years of life.” It really humbled me and made me appreciate what I have. The total cost came to less than $400, but it was probably the best $400 I’ve ever spent. I also was so happy to give to her and her family, though I wish I could have done more. There are so many families here with so little, but it’s amazing how much they appreciate what they have. 12 feet by 12 feet, that’s it, but as one of the missionaries prayed today, may this little house be a castle for this family. And may this first house built by Paso a Paso be just a building block for many more to come.
Paso a Paso 2009 etched into the cement floor of the new house.