July 17, 2009
Local and international volunteers work together towards a healthy housing strategy in Colombia.
The project “San Andres Saludable” (Healthy San Andres) is located at the center of beautiful San Andres Island, roughly 700 kilometers off the Atlantic coast of Colombia.
Colombians originating in San Andres Island are referred to as “raizales”, while mainlanders who have relocated to the island are known as “residentes”. The two groups typically live in separate communities. “La Loma” is the urban nucleus of the island, and to the south is San Luis, host to a large number of tourist establishments. Both are home to a primarily raizal population, who are the primary participants in the San Andres Saludable project.
Unfortunately, families in raizal communities typically face an array of difficulties, such as poor sewage systems, lack of water storage and inadequate waste management. These and other problems entail a veritable medical reference book of water-borne illnesses. Using a healthy housing strategy, Habitat for Humanity Colombia and several partners are attempting to address these problems.
As of October of 2008, the government of San Andrés, with the assistance of the Pan-American Health Organization (PHO), Habitat for Humanity Colombia and Staff & Health, has been advancing the second phase of the San Andres Saludable project. The project aims to unite technical, administrative and financial resources to minimize the risk of water-borne illnesses. This is achieved through the “Healthy Environment Strategy”, with the goal of improving housing conditions—particularly the water supply, environmental health and basic sanitation—of 305 rural families on the island.
The project includes four focus areas:
- Improvement of water, sanitation and environmental infrastructure.
- Integrative management and control of vectors, rodents and water-borne illnesses.
- Institutional strengthening in health and environment.
- Development of community education programs, in line with the strategies for Healthy Housing and Communication for Behavioral Impact (COMBI).
Community members and government representatives from the health and environment sector work together as facilitators and community agents. These individuals, considered volunteers with Habitat Colombia, develop an educational process aligned with the Healthy Housing strategy, thus helping to identify preventative factors health, environment and housing on a family and community level. To date, 50 home improvements have been carried out and six new model homes have been built.
Johana Archbold, community agent and Habitat volunteer, states, “I have enjoyed working with Habitat. First, because it has helped me to analyze the problems that exist in each sector that I have visited, and secondly, because Habitat helps to make people conscious of what is happening on the island and how we each can put our drop in the bucket.”
Building a “Global Village”
Habitat for Humanity, through its Global Village program, invites international work teams to participate in Habitat’s mission around the world. The program offers volunteers the opportunity to travel to another country, and to experience a different culture while working alongside families in need of adequate housing.
San Andres Island has been host to two of these teams. The first took place in April of 2009, when 11 volunteers from countries such as Egypt, Canada and the United States helped on improvements of five homes in Barker Hill.
Ana Matilde Maturana lives in the Barker Hill community of San Andres Island. “A few months ago, I became a partner in the San Andres Saludable program, which is about defending the fact that we should have healthy housing in order to have better health,” she explains. “Before, I threw our trash on the ground…now, with the workshops, I have changed my habits in order to prevent illnesses. I am improving the kitchen of our home and, as we don’t have an aqueduct, the project helped me to obtain a tank for safely storing water.”
During their stay, the Global Village volunteers also expressed gratitude. Team leader, Paul Van Ast, of Houston, Texas, says, “We have been working with the raizales to make their homes better and healthier; installing new kitchens and bathrooms. I am extremely impressed with Habitat for Humanity, and taken by their solidarity with this community. I have participated in eight other humanitarian trips, and this is one of the most organized experiences that I have had so far.”
Volunteer Heather Doswell, of Onterio, Canada, affirms, “So far, the experience has been great. It has been a lot of hard work, but we have done it well, and I think that the people here are happy with what we have been doing. I really love being here. It’s great to get to know all of the people that we have been working with.”
The second experience with Global Village took place in June, with 15 international volunteers led by Andres Valenciano of Costa Rica and Jay Asteros of the United States. The team worked on improvements to six homes in Battley Ally and Barkers Hill.
“Thanks to each and every one of you for the help that you have offered to us this week,” says Nubia Fiquare, from Barkers Hill. “All of the volunteers were very lovely, friendly and attentive. There are no words to appropriately express my gratitude. I never expected that someone who I don’t even know would help me in this way.”
Volunteer Dawn Gruschow expressed that, “Our group may have come to help the people of San Andres, but they do not realize how much they have helped me. They have given me a gift for being as they are, and have shown me that there are kind and selfless people in the world who want to make humanity better. We overcame superficiality, and I am grateful to each one of them.”
The experience also motivated one of Habitat Colombia’s first Global Village volunteers to return to Colombia. Mandy Moran explains that, after completing University, she wanted to spend some time abroad. She looked to Habitat’s Global Village program and immediately organized her trip to San Andres Island.
“The week we spent building in San Andres was one of the most meaningful moments of my life,” says Mandy. “Not only because it changed me in many ways, but also because it inspired me to continue working as an international volunteer in Colombia. It is absolutely certain that Habitat is an organization that offers tools to whoever needs them to better their life. As a volunteer, my life is better for having had the opportunity to meet these children and their families. They have touched my soul, and left my heart a little bit bigger, stronger and more hopeful. I hope to be part of the solution with Habitat for Humanity again in the future.”
“The experience of hosting Global Village teams has been a positive one for Habitat Colombia”, explains Teresa Machado of Habitat Colombia. “Working in mutual help, experiencing cultural interchange, and feeling the sense of community between partner families and international volunteers has given additional life to their mission. For Habitat Colombia, the most important outcome is that every one of these individuals become more sensitized to the problem and motivated to create a healthier environment.”
To learn about Global Village opportunities, visit us here .
By Andrea Paola Mora Salazar, Communications Specialist, and Teresa Machado, Community Mobilization Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Colombia.
Photos courtesy of Andres Valenciano and Habitat Colombia.