Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, ecumenical, Christian housing ministry. It is dedicated to eliminating poverty and housing worldwide. I first became involved with Habitat when my company, Burt’s Bees, sponsored a home build in Durham, North Carolina. I was surprised and delighted to learn of the ‘tithing’ partnership to fund a second home in Honduras.
Each time a Habitat house is built with a family in Durham, a house is sponsored for an equally deserving family in Honduras. Habitat affiliates nationwide are asked to “tithe” 10% to fund Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village work abroad.
While working on that 1st home build in 2007, I had the opportunity to meet Miguel Rubiera, who was Executive Director for Habitat Durham, and his wife, Margaret. They shared details on the upcoming Global Village trip they were leading to Honduras. After seeing 1st hand the positive impact a Habitat home brings to the new homeowners and the community, I decided to take the leap and join a Global Village trip to Honduras.
This was my first exposure to a third world country and I was a bit nervous, however, I felt inspired and compelled to go…plus I knew I was in good hands with the Rubiera’s. Eight years later, I’m reflecting on my return trip so Santa Rosa de Copan which was another amazing trip combining hard work, fellowship, education and fun.
For background, Habitat for Humanity Honduras (HHH) began just in 1989 in Santa Cruz de Yojoa. There are now 7 active affiliates nationwide serving over 50 communities and approximately 1200 families each year. Similar to Habitat for Humanity in the U.S., partners include church groups, non-governmental organizations, foundations and individuals interested in supporting the low-income housing program.
Sources: Habitat Honduras Guide and www.durhamhabitat.org/honduras
Interview with Luis Madrid, Global Village Coordinator for Habitat Honduras
Since that 2007 experience in Honduras, seeing the life-changing impact Habitat makes, I’ve become much more involved – both as a Habitat volunteer in Durham and in volunteer travel. The recent trip to Honduras was my seventh volunteer trip in as many years. For me, it is a passion and calling now.
With my new perspective, I wanted to learn more about Habitat for Honduras and share it with my like-minded friends. Luis Madrid and Lorena Aguilar, in-country Habitat staff, were kind enough to share a bit of their valuable time for an interview on my recent visit to Santa Rosa de Copan. Collectively they have 20 years of experience and expertise with Habitat of Honduras. Luis is Global Village Coordinator for Habitat of Honduras and Lorena is the Regional Manager.
Luis was our local host from the moment we arrived at San Pedro Sula airport until our flight home 10 days later. In his words, he is “not like a team leader…more like a dad”. Luis balances the needs of the local Habitat community with that of the visiting volunteers. That is no small feat as you can imagine, yet such an amazing way to make a positive contribution to Honduras. He is responsible for hosting approximately 25-30 groups of Habitat for Humanity volunteers each year from all over the world. In addition to the U.S. groups, Luis and HHH frequently receive volunteer travel groups from Canada, England, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The volunteer groups are on average approximately 12 people and in my experience range in age from 16 to 70+.
At the home site, tasks vary dependent on the stage of construction from digging trenches for plumbing or foundations to masonry. All skill levels are welcomed and appreciated – which is a good thing for me! The Global Village trip leaders and Luis make sure you are equipped and comfortable with your task each step of the way. Our group had a wide range of capability from skilled construction experts to novice good-intentioned volunteers, like me.
Honduras Cultural Nuances and Dynamics
While the general Habitat model is consistent globally, the details vary based on the dynamics of the country. In our conversation, Luis emphasized the importance of recognizing the degrees of poverty, cultural nuances and local dynamics of Honduras compared to the United States.
Given the significant Honduran poverty, a successful future focuses on what we, in the 1st world, consider basic needs: to be safe, to have a roof over their heads and to have enough food for themselves and their family. With that understanding, one must remember and respect that families who purchase Habitat homes in Honduras are as happy, if not more, than in the U.S. They envision this as their “forever home”.
The chart below gives some context using Durham, NC as an example.
|Habitat Home Details||US||Honduras|
|Home Sponsorship cost||$50,000||$8,000|
|Size (Square feet)||1100-1200||400-500|
|Ave. # of Bedrooms||3 to 4||2|
|Ave. # of Bathrooms*||1 1/2 to 2||1|
|Ave. monthly mortgage||$500-650/month||$80-90/month|
*Note: for many Honduran homeowners, the Habitat home will be the 1st time they’ve had indoor bathrooms, kitchens and concrete (non-dirt) floors.
These homes provide benefits in three main areas: safety, health and self-esteem. While these factors are important universally, they are especially significant in Honduras and throughout Latin America.
In Honduras and Latin America, safety and health are closely linked primarily three areas of a home: 1) kitchen, 2) bathroom, and 3) floor. To this day, an estimated 75% of Hondurans still cook with firewood generally on an open-air outdoor ‘stovetop’. This is driven by cultural practices and poverty. The eco stove currently installed in Habitat Honduras homes uses less wood and helps to prevent lung diseases. This directly improves health while respecting cultural norms. Indoor plumbing also is dramatically improves sanitation thus health. And finally, many Habitat homeowners are moving from ‘homes’ or shanties with dirt floors leaving the family, especially children, susceptible to parasites and diseases that enter via feet. The Habitat homes literally give the families solid ground to stand on.
In the Habitat home dedications I’ve attended in the U.S., a new homeowner often receives a bible and family portrait to hang on their wall. In contrast, new homeowners in Honduras receive a mop and a bible for the dedication as most have never had an actual ‘hard’ floor to clean.
What remains the same around the world is the importance of helping people to help themselves. This maintains and builds self-esteem of the homeowners and has huge, positive halo effect on their children. “We are giving them a hand up not a hand-out” is a statement used often in the Habitat world. It is an opportunity to improve lives by providing access to safe affordable housing. Habitat is NOT a charity, but collaboration with the future homeowners, Habitat staff, sponsors, and volunteers.
Lorena shared details on the achievements made and challenges faced in Santa Rosa de Copan. Last year 157 Habitat projects were completed in Santa Rosa de Copan – including new homes, rehabs and repairs. Unlike the American model where the affiliate purchases the land, in Honduras, normally the family is responsible to buy land or own land, then Habitat will collaborate to build the home. This is a significant obstacle for many to qualify as a homeowner, especially given the fact that a majority of applicants are single mothers, with 2 or 3 children, who do contract work or other menial jobs. They are living month to month to pay for rent and food.
Lorena is working very hard to increase amount of local awareness and engagement to drive volunteering and donations. When we talked in Feb 2015, there were over 80 families on the waiting list. In addition to financial and construction material donations to support home building projects, land grants are extremely beneficial.
At the close of our conversation, when asked how we can best support…Lorena responded with two specific items:
1) volunteer as a part of a Global Village trip to Honduras and,
2) make a direct donation to the land fund*.
A great challenge and opportunity to make a positive difference!
*Note: Call your local affiliate on how to direct your donation accordingly. In Durham, you can specify on your check/donation.