The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | October / November 2001
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Deep Roots Yield 10,000
Houses in Guatemala

In 1979, as the decades-long civil war in Guatemala was entering its most bitter and bloody stage, a small group of people led by a local pastor formed the first Habitat affiliate in Latin America. The village of Aguacatán, located in the verdant western highlands in the state of Huehuetenango, became the birthplace of a program that 22 years later has become the largest house builder in Guatemala, as well as the Habitat organization outside the United States that built the greatest number of houses last year.

one affiliate in 1979, Habitat for Humanity Guatemala has grown to 12 affiliates in nine of Guatemala’s 22 states. Plans call for an additional six states to be included in HFH Guatemala’s program in the next few years. These 12 affiliates serve some 85 communities, each having its own local volunteer committee responsible for family selection, home construction and collecting the no-interest, no-profit mortgage payments.

In 1989, with the guidance of HFHI’s international partners Kitty Brown and Dick Perry and support from local community leaders, the HFH Guatemala Foundation was established as a national organization and was charged with the future development and administration of the Habitat program in Guatemala.

Between 1979 and 1992, HFH Guatemala built 646 houses. In 1998 and 1999 alone, the organization built a total of 2,787 houses and planned to dedicate its 10,000th house in November in the El Rosario affiliate, the second affiliate formed in Guatemala. By 2005, according to HFH Guatemala’s national director, Luis Samayoa, the 25,000th house will be dedicated, and some 125,000 people will be living in simple, decent and affordable houses.

Samayoa recalls that in 1997, when he began working for HFH Guatemala, 39 percent of the partner families were behind in their payments. Efforts by national, regional and local committees during the past few years have reduced that number to 10 percent. Samayoa hopes to reduce it even further, to 5 percent, by the end of this year.

Following Hurricane Mitch in1998, HFH Guatemala’s annual house-construction rate rose from a pre-1998 average of 395 houses to a yearly average of 2,500 houses, according to Samayoa. In order to fulfill the organization’s goal to build 25,000 houses by 2005, the yearly average soon will rise to 3,500 houses.

Additionally, volunteer participation in HFH Guatemala’s programs has grown by 60 percent since 1997. The reduction in late mortgage payments to HFH Guatemala’s revolving Fund for Humanity in 2000 resulted in an additional $750,000 to build more houses with families in need. House payments are expected to rise to $5.4 million by 2004.

To reach its goal of 25,000 simple, decent and affordable houses for more than 125,000 family members by 2005, HFH Guatemala became a pilot project for Habitat for Humanity's “More Than Houses” capital campaign in May 1999. To date, the campaign efforts have secured gifts and pledges of nearly $2 million to help fund the next 18 months of building. Cementos Progreso, the largest cement company in Central America, made a commitment to provide a product discount equivalent to more than $600,000 during the next five years.

“More Than Houses has helped strengthen HFH Guatemala by developing local funding sources that will continue to partner with Habitat in the future, by raising Habitat’s visibility in the country and by providing volunteers with new ways to get involved,” says Charles Flynn, MTH campaign consultant.

More than 1 million families in Guatemala are in need of decent shelter. But the past two decades have proven the strength of local initiative within Habitat in this country. And with the dedication of the 10,000th house built by HFH Guatemala this year, there is evidence that more people in need can achieve what, until now, has been an unattainable dream—a place to live in dignity and safety.

Raising Interest in Venezuela
While building a base in a new country can present any number of challenges, start-up efforts in a country recovering from a natural disaster often can prove especially frustrating.

In Venezuela, following the disastrous mudslides of December 1999, Habitat for Humanity assigned a special program officer to work with a group of individuals who previously had expressed an interest in bringing Habitat to Venezuela. Upon arrival in March 2000, the officer and the newly founded national board began planning ways to attend to the housing needs of the victims of the mudslides, many of whom had moved away from their neighborhoods to safer locations. Early plans called for a joint 100-house project with another nongovernmental organization but then plans stalled.

Among the obstacles facing Habitat Venezuela has been the issue of finding appropriate land to build on with the disaster victims. In spite of the delays, the national board continues to be optimistic about raising interest in Habitat Venezuela’s work within the country.

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