Monday, April 2, 2007

Hope Through Housing: Part 1 of 3

Posted on behalf of Tom Owens

“¡Gracias! ¡Que Dios les bendiga! Jamás pudiéramos tener una casa digna sin la ayuda de ustedes.”

“Thank you and God bless you! We never could have had a decent house without your help.”

These are the words of appreciation that I heard over and over at the inauguration of Children International’s housing project at Villa Esperanza (Village of Hope), just outside Barranquilla, Colombia.

It was hotter than blazes that day last October when I was on hand to officially turn over the keys to houses that Children International helped 250 families build in Villa Esperanza. I wondered why there was so much sweat rolling down my back while all of the local people appeared so cool and comfortable under the shade of the canopy.

A really good deed: Tom Owens hands over the title to a new home

As we handed over the titles to the houses to each family representative I also had a chance to reflect on what Children International’s work means to so many thousands of people around the world. I first visited Villa Esperanza in 1997 when it was a new squatter settlement. Forced from their rural homes by political violence, hundreds of families arrived in Villa Esperanza in the late 90’s. Eventually the government granted them title to their land, but their houses were of decrepit materials, makeshift construction and mostly dirt floors. Children International brought sponsorship to Villa Esperanza and began to create a community volunteer network to help run the programs.

Building houses – and community – in Villa Esperanza

A few years ago we were able to access funding to begin house construction. Our network of volunteers was key here in mobilizing the community. We used a self-help approach were each beneficiary contributed the unskilled labor, the “sweat equity”, for the construction. We also organized the community into groups of 4-5 families each, sort of a solidarity approach, where everyone in the group helps build other group members’ houses on a rotating basis. It turned out to be a cost-effective way to build houses, and also had the positive effect of creating mutual respect and civic pride within the community.

Safety, shelter and hope: New homes and brighter futures in Villa Esperanza

I can’t say enough about the staff of our local agency in this project. They applied all their years of knowledge and experience to many long hours of organizing and implementing this program. It took away from their evenings and weekends, but they did it happily out of dedication and a deep sense of commitment to the people of the community.

Tom Owens is the Director of Grants for Children International. Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this 3-part post on Children International’s efforts to improve housing for sponsored children around the world.

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