I was in El Salvador recently with Habitat for Humanity Global Village Canada. If you read other blog posts, you know that I have Habitatitis. I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah, we heard it already, Habitat Habitat.” Well, it was the main part of my trip so I’m going to break it down into the challenges and highlights that I faced. First, let’s talk a bit about El Salvador.
About El Salvador
- El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America.
- El Salvador is 21,040 km².
- Lake Ontario is 18,960 km²
- Vancouver Island is 32,134 km².
- The population is roughly 6.2 million people. It’s crowded because in that small area of land, there are 23 active volcanoes.
- Every El Salvadoran will face a minimum of two natural disasters in their lifetime such as a major earthquake, hurricane, or a volcanic eruption.
- According to the Population and Housing Census of 2007 (the last time it was counted) more than 360,000 families live in inadequate housing conditions.
- This housing deficit is a result of poverty, population growth rate, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms.
- There was a civil war from 1979–1992.
You know the song Baby Got Back ? That was 1992.
- The country is trying to rebuild itself, but there are large setbacks, like poverty and gang warfare.
1. The Weakness of a First World Digestive System
Reared in Canada, I didn’t have the antibodies that would prevent a stomach bug that lives somewhere in El Salvador. Prior to going, I had tried to do some prep by taking Dukoral. Thankfully the issues that I had in El Salvador with my stomach only lasted one day.
2. Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot (but NOT necessarily in a dance-y way)
Where we were in Usulatan, it was 35-38 degrees daily. While the heat was a nice break from the cold Toronto April, ice seemed like the best invention. One day, just after lunch, we heard the bell of someone selling popsicles. That was a sweet sweet sound.
3. My inability to speak Spanish
As a result of its history and problems, El Salvador sort of missed out on the whole tourist influx that occurred in many other countries in Central America. What this means is, it’s not Gringofied and not a lot of people can understand English. This is okay because Habitat for Humanity provided a translator.
The amount of Spanish I know is minimal. I will learn more. Here’s a video that my Habitat friend Emilio sent me. If you’re going to speak Spanish, you might as well do it with drama.
The Highlights of the Habitat for Humanity El Salvador Build 2014
1. Meeting good people
On this trip, 10 good people (who didn’t know one another prior to this trip) came together. Isabella, Marsha, Dana, Mia, Marie-Pier, Julianne, Norman, Mark, Sonja and I became a team and worked together to build a home for other good people Ana and her family (Mariscal, Romeo, Dennis & Leslie). Our lives have crossed and we’ve affected one another for the better.
2. Doing things you wouldn’t have ever otherwise done if not on a Habitat for Humanity trip
Brave people on the team (Mark, Marie, Sophia, Julianne, Norman, and Mia) went into this hole to dig the latrine for the new home. Full disclosure, I didn’t dig in this hole myself. It turns out I have an irrational fear of being stuck in a pit.
Another task was to tamp the ground to compact it. Here are Mia and Marsha showing how it’s done. I wish I had a footage of Julianne tamping the ground as she was amazing at it.
3. Seeing the results of our hard work
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t actually build a home in a week. Think about how long your own house took to construct. If we built a house in a week, it would likely be a more temporary structure.
On this build, the mason, Noberto and his fellow mason men lay the initial cinder block down (it has to be done just right, and if it’s wrong then we were not helping). Our jobs were to fill in the cracks between the cinder blocks, reinforce rebar, and to fill the holes where the rebar came through. From day 1 to Day 5, we witnessed our own progress brick by brick.
4. Mortar and Mortar Pictionary
Whenever I was mixing mortar with a shovel, I kept thinking of a line from The Lord of the Rings. One does not simply walk into Mortar. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs… I know Mordor and Mortar are not the same, but I couldn’t stop that little line in my brain. In addition to filling up the cracks between bricks and rebar, we learned how to make mortar to the consistency of a nice playable Pictionary slate.
Prior to going to El Salvador, I had never hit a piñata. For those of you who have never swung at one, it’s as fun as it looks. On the last day of our build, we celebrated together with Pupusas and a Piñata.
Thoughts on Volunteering
Donating my hours and my skills to something that I believe in is important to me. It gives me a feeling of purpose, teaches me new things, and allows me to meet like-minded individuals. Sometimes in my working life, I haven’t always felt that what I was doing had much purpose for the greater good. What I have found is that Habitat is a good organization for contributing to the world. I try to be an ethical volunteer. I believe that if done right and with a good organization, volunteering can be a great experience for everybody involved.
Volunteering is good for the soul. My thought is that it doesn’t have to be abroad. You can volunteer at your local Habitat chapter; they also do builds in Canada. Heck, you don’t even have to volunteer for Habitat. Go and volunteer for another organization. Contribute. Do something to help someone else and it will make you feel good. When you give, you get a lot back.
I realize that a Habitat Global Village trip is not for everyone. That’s why we interview all of the candidates before going. I do feel however, that if you are some who has a sense of adventure, is thoughtful and flexible, then going on a Global Village Habitat build might just be for you.
The fact that ten of us helped to build one home may not seem like a lot but it is something.
Next Week, More El Salvador in Part 2
Next week, I’ll cover the sights of El Salvador, because I know that most of you want to see more than the home we were building. Maybe you want to see the beach, or a volcanic lake. Fair enough. See you next week.