By Kate Loe
Twin Cities Habitat Staff & Global Village Volunteer
Our “super group” of 30 traveled from San Jose to Guanacaste province on Sunday; it was a long bus ride but we stopped along the way at a beach and a roadside café with macaws in the trees. After settling in to our hotel, we visited a beautiful black sand beach and played in the huge waves while the sun set. A pretty great way to start our week!
On Monday, the real work began. We start each day bright and early with a bus ride to our build site; it’s not far physically but it takes close to an hour because it’s remote and the roads are unpaved and bumpy. We travel through fields of sugar cane and melons and watch the field workers. We are building three homes next to each other. Although we are here in the dry season, the area is prone to flooding, so we are building the houses on stilts. We began by installing the foundations, which involved using a sledgehammer to pound metal poles into the ground. We then moved on to digging trenches; many of us spent a full day digging. This is probably the hardest physical work I’ve ever done. It’s hot – really hot! But we are lucky to have a break spot under a large and shady mango tree. (We discovered a new reason to wear hard hats on a construction site – falling mangos!) Today we started framing; it’s very similar to the way we build in Minnesota. This is the first time that Habitat Costa Rica has built with wood and panelized walls - luckily we have a lot of experts in our group! The walls went up quickly despite the intense heat.
The true reward is the opportunity to work alongside the families who will be living in the homes we are building. Habitat works differently in Costa Rica. It’s subsidized by the government and the families we are building for live in extreme poverty. It is challenging us in many ways to experience this first hand. When I first saw young children running around the construction site in bare feet, my immediate reaction was to find their shoes to protect them from broken glass, etc. And then I realized that they do not own shoes. Some family members brought me across the street to where they currently live – a one-bedroom shack; nine people to three tiny beds. Their situation is dire. Despite their extreme circumstance, the children are full of joy and love. They spend the days with us – helping to dig trenches in the early part of the build and now eagerly awaiting our breaks when they can sit in our laps or kick a soccer ball around. I have made a special friend, Dominic, who is my son’s age (6). He jumps into my arms every time he sees me and even though we don’t speak the same language, we communicate through hugs and cuddles. I know already that it is going to be extremely difficult to leave these kids. And I have a feeling that things are going to look different when I get home. I’ve always heard that global village trips are life changing and I feel very lucky to be experiencing this one.