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U.S. Embassy volunteers: Adequate housing should be a right, not a privilege

June 5, 2010




The consular section of the U.S Embassy in Managua traded visas for shovels to help Habitat for Humanity build four seed houses in Managua’s Grenada neighborhood.

The mission was a part of the Consular Leadership Day, an annual team-building event held at United States Embassies worldwide. This year the focus was serving Nicaraguan community. All 21 employees of the consular section—along with U.S Ambassador Robert J. Callahan- mixed concrete, built block walls and read stories with neighborhood children, along the homeowners themselves.

“Every week, we see dozens of Nicaraguans in our office hoping to make a better life for them in the United States, so it’s particularly gratifying to be able to contribute, if only in a very small way, toward helping these families make a better life for they right here in Managua,” said Consul General Robert Batchelder.

For many in the section, this was the first time they had ever worked as a construction volunteer. “It was a great experience,” said Willy Castillo, a consular section employee. He explained how it encouraged him to volunteer more in the future. “You go everyday to your house and you have a shelter and a nice way of living and you realize that there are people everyday struggling to have a house,” he said.

Barrio Grenada is a small neighborhood crossed by a “cauce,” or a trash dump meant to transit dirty water during the rainy season. It is not in the countryside of Nicaragua, but right in the capital city, Managua. Away from entertainment centers, malls, businesses and government buildings, the trash dump has caused many local children to contract persistent diarrhea and parasites and has lead to malnourishment.

The dirty water of the dump overflows during the rainy reason, leaving these families’ houses floating in dark waters, which mix with dirt and create mud floors that breed disease.

Fifty percent of families in this neighborhood live in “houses” build of zinc layers and cardboard boxes. Most of these families have from five to 15 members living in rooms meant for one or two.

In addition to overcrowding, the conditions are devastating. “Cubicles” of three meters squared house families of five. Mario Gonzalez overcrowds one of these homes with a small bed, small TV, kitchen, counter, ironing table and a hammock. Two blocks down, we find Marta Elena, mother of nine children. Her husband and oldest son are the only ones able to work, making less than US$350 dollars a month to sustain the entire family. Their house is a veritable hallway behind the trash dump, with no security fence between their land and a deadly cliff full of trash and human waste. Two meters away from the cliff, Martha’s six-year-old son plays in a tree, happy to see visitors.

Thanks to kind souls, situation is changing in this neighborhood. Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua, with the help of local NGO Habitar, is building new seed houses for Martha and Mario along with five other families.

Seed houses are 18 square meters and made of solid walls, a solid floor and a solid roof. They are built by volunteers and the families themselves, taking the first step towards a new life. The seed houses are designed so that the families can complete payments and continue with a second phase of construction, an additional 18 square meters… proving that small beginnings yield big results.

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity in Latin America and the Caribbean, click here.