By Celine Klosterman
Thanks largely to 20 Iowans, four families in the Guatemalan village of San Antonio now have sturdier, safer places to live.
Seventeen people with connections to Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City and three other volunteers visited the Central American country June 9-19 to help local families replace four dirt-floor shacks with one-room houses. The new, 12-by-16 foot homes were made with cement and sheetrock and include tile floors, simple electrical hookups, and an outdoor stove, latrine and shower. Iowans raised the money to fund each $4,000 house.
Teams of five volunteers, each led by two Guatemalan crew chiefs, built the homes in cooperation with recipients who’d been chosen by the Christian organization BuildingGuate. Kathy McCue, a member of the group’s board of directors and Regina’s campus minister, said the nonprofit tries to select the neediest applicants. But recipients must own their land so a landlord can’t evict them after the house is built, and have close access to water so cement can be mixed onsite.
Volunteers stayed with families in Antigua during the trip, Regina’s seventh annual journey to Guatemala. People associated with the school have helped provide 24 houses for Guatemalans over the years, including one home that BuildingGuate constructed on its own using funds raised during a Regina jean day.
For 2013 Regina graduate Zayna Abusada, this summer’s trip was humbling. She helped build a home for a mother and several children, including a son with epilepsy. “It was a large family that she was supporting by making textiles, like purses and blankets, by hand,” Abusada said.
One of the children, age 10, spent the day helping build houses elsewhere to earn money, said Allison Staak, a Regina alumna. “He would come home covered in drywall.”
But the mother cried with happiness when her house was finished, Abusada said. “We started crying too because it was hard to say goodbye.”
A neighbor boy asked if the team would return to build a home for his family, who live in a shelter made with bamboo poles, Staak recalled. A volunteer helped arrange for his relatives to apply.
“The difference between what we think we need versus what they need is huge,” said Staak, who has substitute taught McCue’s religion classes.
Kerissa Bormann, a junior at the University of Iowa, said participating in the service trip the past two summers made clear that “we definitely take a lot for granted.” She thinks that insight is one reason God inspired her to travel to Guatemala last year after hearing McCue speak at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City. “I took a leap of faith,” Bormann said.
Abusada noticed a contrast between friendly, welcoming Guatemalans and “some people here in the U.S. who have everything, but still aren’t happy.” If impoverished people can love God despite their struggles, “I can too,” she said. “This trip opened my eyes to how much service is part of my faith and will continue to be. It’s one of the most important things.”
More from Guatemala
In addition to helping families build homes in Guatemala, Iowans distributed clothing, shoes, first aid supplies, toys and diapers that volunteers brought from the United States. Travelers spent a day with children at an orphanage and half day at a daycare, and learned about local culture and history.