The reality of the 2014 El Salvador Habitat trip didn’t set in for me until the group started to congregate in the boarding area at LAX. It was there that I met Bruce, my roommate for the week. He had been on over a dozen previous builds and he assured newbies like myself that we would love this experience. We just might end up with a case of ‘habititus’. I was pretty sure I had already caught ‘habititus’ as I had been contributing to Habitat For Humanity on a biweekly basis for years. H4H’s philosophy of promoting affordable home ownership through sweat equity and low interest financial assistance is a program I have supported for many years, although I had never thought about Habitat in an international setting.
Housing needs are large in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Lack of suitable housing affects more than 40 percent of households. In addition to poverty, earthquakes and seismic activities continue to damage many homes. Our Habitat build was on the outskirts of Ahauchapan, located 62 miles west of the capitol San Salvador. This is in one of the richest coffee growing areas of the nation but it is also one of the poorest.
During our week in El Salvador, we were not only able to provide two ‘housing solutions’ but also had the opportunity to experience a culture largely removed from our own experience. During that time we visited seven churches, shopped and explored in six markets. We spent five days at the build site mixing chizpa and cement by hand and taking time out to enjoy a catered lunch that generally arrived riding on the head of a woman whose name I never caught but whose radiant smile I’ll always remember. We had time to attend at least four presentations/parties (one with a piñata); tried several local beers; blessed 2 houses; and had a dip in the nearby hot-spring all before being treated to an extra-thorough TSA search before the flight home.
The habitat build was a hugely rewarding experience, immensely more gratifying than bi-weekly pay-roll deductions. Thinking about Bruce’s prediction of catching habititus; I think he was on to something. I may now have habititus-C, the more serious variety of habititus, that will require continued intensive treatment such as Nicaragua in 2015.
Written by Stephen Cox
Photograph by Linda Petersen