Have You Ever Built a House?

Have You Ever Built a House?

It can take only a day or two, really!

The build team, who raised the funds, poses in front of the home they built. (Photo courtesy of the build team)

I have a friend who runs a non-profit, Casas de Luz, that builds homes for families in Tijuana, Mexico. The homes are small and simple, with a wall that divides the space into three rooms. Two bedrooms and one living room/kitchen/dining room.

When we arrived at the build site, there was a concrete foundation and a stack of 2x4s, sheetrock, shingles, and other supplies. We split into teams. One group framed the outer walls, another built roof trusses on the ground, and a third group pre-painted whatever needed a coat of paint. The walls went up, and the trusses were swung into place before lunch. By the time it started to rain, we were nailing the last row of roof shingles on and installing the windows. Whew, just in time.

However, there is another story I want to share from this past weekend. It is about two elderly ladies I met near where we were working. It was Sunday morning, and it had rained all night, making the dirt roads a muddy, slippery mess. I parked my truck next to a home on top of a hill to avoid sliding into a ravine. And out came these two ladies, dressed in their Sunday best, most likely on their way to church. They asked me if I was working on the new house, and I replied that I was. Then they asked if the house was free. In the best Spanish I could muster, I said, "No, it's not free. He had to work for it." That was the end of our conversation, and the ladies walked off down the wet, muddy, rutted road to church.

This made me stop and think. The family we built the home for worked for years to buy the land we were building on. They were a young family whose children would live in the house and have their own families there someday. They have an income, but not much, less than $100 a week. And maybe most importantly, they are the kind of people who will pay their good fortune forward in the community.

When we think of "free" in our culture, we think of the cost of things regarding money. In the case of these homes in Tijuana, the money part is taken care of by a sponsor who raises five to six thousand dollars for supplies and materials. In this case, we had a fantastic family sponsor who raised the money and then traveled to the border from all over the US to help build this home. If I heard right, part of the fundraising was a poker tournament that got them about halfway to the total cost. These people know how to have fun!

The cost to the family who is now living in that house was years of hard work and scraping by with less than a little to save and buy the land. It was the faith that it would be worth it, and someday they could have a real home of their own. And for a part of it, it's the way they live their lives and do right by others. It's subjective, I know. Sometimes that's all there is to go on. Out of all the applicants for a house, this family stood out as community members whose time had come to receive some help.

It's easy for us here in the US to say, "nothing is free," and there is a lot of truth to that. To realize the hardships and struggles these people had been through and seeing the look on that mom's face as she was given the key to the front door. The mom cried and blamed the tears on being pregnant. That is probably the only door key she had ever had. It made sense to me how difficult it was for this family to get to this point. A home of their own.

Basic shelter is something everyone deserves. For a family living in poverty and earning just enough to eat most days, what they need is a hand-up - not a handout. The co-heads of this household worked for years to get ahead and were on the cusp of having that basic shelter. All we did was gather some poker money and spend a weekend doing something most of us never dreamed of doing. It was hard work for everyone involved. Not free. And worth every minute of it.

Oh, and when the mom had the door key handed to her and cried - I cried too.

Would you like to make a difference? Please consider a small donation to Casas de Luz to help with future home builds. You can donate on their website here.

These photos are from a previous home build in Tijuana. The rain made no time for photography on this trip.

At the top is a photo of the build team who raised the finds and traveled to Tijuana to build the house pictured behind them. The Mexican family is on the right of the photo.

Just below, a girl looks out the opening cut for a window. All of the windows are donated from home renovations in the US.

In the center, exterior sheathing panels are painted before being nailed onto the 2x4 frames. Often, the panels are nailed on while the paint is still wet, then we touch up the paint later.

Finally, there are two types of dogs in Tijuana, friendly dogs and guard dogs. This is one of the friendly ones. Notice the tires in the photo. Old tires are everywhere and are commonly used to build retaining walls near homes.

A builder looks through the opening cut for a window in a partially built house

Painting the exterior sheathing panels before they are nailed onto the exterior walls

A local dog takes a break in the shade. Notice the tires used for pathways and retaining walls