Community Involvement: Building Hope in El Salvador
by Clayton Bartczak, LEED-AP, BD+C, O+M, SFP at Ambient Energy
When not in the office, I am lucky to spend much of my free time planning and leading Habitat for Humanity Global Village trips to developing countries around the world. In April 2016, I had a chance to work with several friends to present an education session on affordable housing and sustainable design for the USGBC Colorado’s annual Rocky Mountain Green conference. Through this venue I shared stories from previous Global Village trips I led and explained how Habitat affiliates worldwide are responding to sustainable design and construction challenges. Sharing these stories is a passion of mine and I wanted to share a bit about my most recent Habitat adventure.
This June I served as a team leader for 14 incredible volunteers on a journey to El Salvador to work with Habitat again. Turns out, we were the 1,000th international team to work in El Salvador, following in the footsteps of over 10,000 international volunteers who have worked in this beautiful Central American country. We spent all week working alongside the Habitat partner family, skilled masons, Habitat staff, barefoot children, smiling dogs and even a few mosquitoes (Zica free it appears!). The house we worked on will soon become a home for Carolina (studying to be a nurse), Armando (who works in a pharmacy), and Giselle (12).
Housing in El Salvador is a major concern with 6 out of 10 families living in inadequate housing – often simply shacks made of sheet metal and plastic sheeting and thus very susceptible to earthquakes and flooding. In response, Habitat El Salvador builds decent and safe housing made from concrete blocks and reinforced with steel to withstand severe earthquakes. Furthermore, in a country where the minimum wage for agricultural work is just over $200 a month, Habitat’s mission to provide affordable, interest free home loans is crucial for each partner family’s economic stability.
Another challenge facing families in Central America is access to adequate sanitation systems and so our team was happy to spend our week digging two massive holes for the placement of the new home’s two-part septic system, connected to an indoor toilet. Let me tell you, digging holes higher than your head is hard work, not to mention the sweltering heat and extreme humidity. Nonetheless the team rose to the challenge and made it happen!
Although we didn’t see the home completed, we saw something even more important in our short week in El Salvador. We saw the community come together to help their neighbors. We also built lifetime friendships out of a team of strangers working towards a common goal. My time in El Salvador solidified my belief that Habitat is about more than building homes, it’s about building relationships, community, and hope. I feel very fortunate to have the support of Ambient Energy so I can participate in Habitat’s mission to eliminate poverty housing worldwide. What will you build?
[Editor’s Note: This was re-printed with permission from Ambient Energy’s Newsletter, Volume VII, Issue III]
Photo courtesy of Ambient Energy