If you are like me, when you hear the words Oaxaca, Mexico thoughts of Rick Bayless walking through crowded weekend markets in search of chilies, cinnamon and chocolate and encounters with short, leathery-faced abuelas making the perfect mole might come to mind. Indeed, Oaxaca is known as the food capital of Mexico, and it was one of the reasons I was interested in visiting.
It was with those images that I chose to lead a Habitat Global Village team to the region. What I learned later was that the build site was in the state of Oaxaca in Puerto Escondido, a once quiet fishing village turned laid back surf mecca on the Pacific Ocean. I was headed to the beach!
Now that I’m here, with my team, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. To be working in a small not too distant community and staying in an ocean front hotel is reward enough. Yet, we are privileged to be partnering with an incredible organization, doing important and much needed work.
Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico; over 75% of its residents live in extreme poverty lacking basic necessities such as food, running water, access to education and healthcare. It’s easy to forget that when you are a tourist in a beach town.
Habitat for Humanity Mexico has an interesting way of addressing the need. As potential partner families find out about the program and apply, they form groups of 5 to 10 families. Those who qualify attend workshops to learn about budgeting and finance, among other topics, to enable them to be successful homeowners. Partner families are expected to save 20% of housing costs, the other 80% funded by Habitat with the help of Global Village teams like ours. Construction on the first home begins, with all the other families contributing their sweat equity. As each house is finished, the next family takes their turn until everyone house is completed.
Especially for single mothers, this is quite literally a dream come true. Our family is headed by mom, Arlet, whose husband died in an accident not long ago. She has two children ages 9 and 3 and is currently living with her parents who help to support her. She works in a restaurant, catering mostly to tourists like us, and earns a per day wage, which doesn’t afford her nearly enough to be able to own a home. In comes Habitat to fill the gap.
The cool thing is, this house will not only be a safe, affordable and decent place for her to raise her kids, it will be passed down to the children and to generations to come.
On our first day when we met her, she said in the most beautiful Spanish, “It’s by God’s grace that our paths have intersected.”
Arlet’s uncle speaking through tears told us, “We have been waiting and hoping. You are part of that hope.”
Is there anything else in life that you would rather be?
Our team is eager to get started!
We begin the week with a dirt foundation and rebar columns. Today we’ll be sifting sand and mixing mortar, moving bricks, and laying bricks.
And keeping an eye out for each other when we need to use the open air toilet!
Although it’s winter here, it’s hot on the worksite in the blazing sun. It’s nice to be able to take breaks in the shade of our tented area.
We ended our first day making incredible progress.