Local women help build homes in Nicaragua

CHATHAM — Twelve women from across the United States, led by Joanne DelRossi from Chatham and including Meg Cashen of Claverack and Amy McCabe of Ghent, traveled to Nicaragua with Habitat for Humanity from November 12 until November 20 to help build and improve homes for people in that Central American country.

Ms. DelRossi, a former Board member of Habitat Columbia County, works for Coarc and has been involved with Habitat on both local and international levels for 16 years.

“The build,” a term Habitat for Humanity uses to describe volunteer homebuilding projects, included women from all walks of life, each of whom contributed $550 and paid her own expenses in order to work with communities in Nicaragua. The money directly funded the building of three home improvements projects or two entirely new homes in the communities.

This Women’s Build was advertised on Habitat’s website and the available openings on the crew were filled within a week and a half.

The group landed in Managua and spent two days in a rural community in the department of San Rafael del Sur of La Gallina, forming 800 adobe bricks for the houses that Habitat was building in this community. This process involved manually combining lime, filtered clay, cement and water, and then compacting the mixture into a 32-pound brick using a simple machine that exerted 3,000 pounds of pressure. The bricks were then used to replace the shacks, many made of corrugated metal, plywood scraps and tarps, where residents were living.

From La Gallina, the group traveled to Masachapa, another rural community an hour and a half southwest of Managua. Because the settlement there is more cramped, and violence toward women is more common, the group focused on building secure, one-room additions to existing structures. They also installed cement floors.

In Nicaragua, many latrines are shared by multiple families and do not have drainage systems, so waste and pollution seep into adjacent areas. Because of this, parents force their babies to skip the crawling stage, in an attempt to limit the contact infants have with the polluted earth. So the addition of cement floors opens up the option for normal childhood development.  Habitat Nicaragua is also developing a prototype for a latrine that will contain a waste holding tank and small leech field which it hopes to begin installing in the communities over the next year.  Use of these latrines will eliminate the pollution of the surrounding areas.

Each Habitat build includes a professional mason, volunteers, and the family who will receive the house all working alongside one another. The families qualify based on current living conditions, family size and income (priority is given to those who make less than $350 U.S. annually) and are involved in each step of the process. At least one member of the family must clock in and out of the work site for a designated number of hours in order to earn the required credits for their home on the house every day.

Volunteers for projects like this one come from all corners of the globe. “The beauty is that everyone goes everywhere. It’s a total exchange — it’s a constant shuffling of people” Ms. DelRossi said, clarifying that volunteers from other countries work in the United States as part of this exchange.

Habitat for Humanity has been working in Nicaragua since 1984 and has established more than 5,000 housing solutions. To learn more or donate Habitat for Humanity in Nicaragua, go to www.habitatnicaragua.org. To contact or join Columbia County Habitat, call 518 828-0892.

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