A friend told me about her experience with TECHO.
This is about building homes together with the families and lots of other volunteers in the poor parts of South America.
I was intrigued and decided to help at a TECHO construction in Argentina.
And I can't begin to describe what an awesome experience it was.
I really hope that I can transport the feeling in the following lines - maybe you have to read between the lines.
The organization: TECHO
Techo is a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 in Chile by a group of young people with the dream of overcoming poverty by finding concrete solutions to the problems that poor communities face every day.
Since then the organization grew a lot. Techo works in 19 countries of Latin America now and thousands of volunteers, among them lots of students, joined the organization.
Techo does many constructions throughout the year, where volunteers work together with the family in need, to build a simple house.
I joined the organization to help building 28 houses in Colonia Avigdor, a small colony in the north of Buenos Aires, Argentina. 180 volunteers were joining from all over Argentina (and Germany! - like one of them nicely put it ;-)) to build 28 houses in 3 days. The activity was called „Trabajos de verano“ - Summerwork.
And man - it was hot…
Colonia Avigdor Entre Rios
Colonia Avigdor is a small village with about 500 inhabitants in the rural area of Entre Rios.
The percentage of unemployment and illiteracy is very high and the people don’t have access to basic services such as electricity, water or a sewage system as the next locality is 30 km away.
The first day
The 180 people are divided into 28 groups with about 6 people. Each group will build a house together with the later owners of the house, the family. One experienced person is part of every group and leads the construction.
We set off to meet the family and start with the foundation in the afternoon.
It is kind of an impressive sight, when all of us walk the short walk to town, armed with shovels, saws and water canisters. „They’re coming“ I hear one local say with hope in his voice.
When we arrive at our construction site, the future owners of the house, Zulema (19) and Juan (20) shyly greet us with their 2-year old daughter Luciana. They are living with Zulema’s mom and her sister in a house barely bigger than 18 square meter.
Hope, joy and still a bit disbelief is shining in their eyes. It was a long way for them, from the first contact to Techo half a year ago, when they were not believing yet that this would happen at all - to the delivery of the material in the middle of the night, where the whole village got out of bed to lend a hand - until now.
A short speech of our leader makes clear to everyone, that we will work and sweat hand in hand to make this happen.
We start working, digging large holes for the trunks that would serve as a foundation. Juan is digging twice as fast as we do. It is freaking hot.
But this turns out to be a team. If someone is exhausted, another one comes and takes over, a second person brings some water or a chair. Even neighbors, that don’t benefit from the house, help by bringing us ice-cold mate tea with juice. We manage to insert 7 of 15 foundation trunks in the first half day and call it a day at 6 pm. We’re all exhausted and tired and say goodbye to Zule and Juan.
Our Team (from left to right): Adrian, the Rabbi, Rochi the medicin student, me, Gabo and his mother Romi, who came with their whole family, Diego the leader, Zulema and Juan.
The second day
Next morning at 5:30 we drag ourselves out of bed to gain some hours without that freaking, exhausting heat.
After some cookies and mate for breakfast we head to the construction site and meet Pedro, Zulema’s brother, who is keen to help. He actually turns out to be a perforator :-D digging the holes for the last 8 trunks in no time, sweating like hell.
2 hours later the foundation is leveled and ready for the floor. Until noon we set up the walls almost completely.
Then we eat lunch together with the family and have a siesta to avoid the crematory called midday sun.
At 2 pm we start setting up the roof.
Pedro is working on the roof and seems not to be tiring. He burns his skin and hits his thumb but keeps going nailing and adjusting the panels.
We all work hard, everyone is lending a hand, if needed. We finish the roof at the end of the day.
I fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow. And I really don’t care about the light, the noise of people or the mosquitos.
The 3rd day
Next day we wake up at sunset because of the heat in the sleeping room. The air-condition stopped working and a big thunderstorm is raging outside, rain crashing on the corrugated iron roof.
Oh my, good that we finished the roof yesterday, but painting today will not be possible…
We get up slowly and wait. But there’s no use to it, the heavy rain doesn’t stop. At 10 am we set off to the construction site through ankle-deep mud. Our house is still standing. Phew.
A colleague and me start to cut off the glass wool around the roof. She is doing the lower parts, I am doing the ones higher up. We hold each other on the make-shift ladder (a pallet). Pedro is around assisting us with the knifes and the ladder. When we come to the back part of the house, I get a slosh of water every couple of seconds right into the face from the corrugated roof. Nice. But soon the guys on the construction site next door handle over an umbrella and a better knife. And that actually is the really amazing part of all this. People help, wherever they can and if you need a hand, someone is already at your site. It’s an amazing experience.
When we finish on the third day (windows and door) and hand over the house, there is a very special moment for all of us.
Zulema and Juan do thank us a bit shyly but from the very bottom of their hearts. The look in their eyes is full of thankfulness and joy. They look forward to turn this house into a home.
Zulema says it all, when her nephew asks if she will own that house now.
She says: „Yes, we will. But there will be a LOT of rules in this house!“ and then she adds barely audible „We will guard it well… so well…“
And we all think the same. That, exactly that is why we are all here…