Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Casita Linda-Building Hope One House at a Time!

One of our goals upon arriving in Mexico was to devote some of our time to volunteer work. On our previous visit to San Miguel, we became aware of the non-profit organization Casita Linda. The group was founded in 2001 and does the honorable work of building homes for local residents at no cost to the family. This past weekend, we had the unique experience of visiting a few of these homes and the privilege of meeting the families as a way to become familiar with the scope of the project.

Photo courtesy of Casita Linda
Our guide and Casita Linda treasurer Gregg Blackburn, a retired attorney from Boston, picked us up at La Comer, a large modern department store located on the edge of town. Much to our surprise, we left the parking lot, turned down a side road maybe a quarter mile away, and entered a different world. The new highway we had just left turned to a rough dirt road, and we realized the row of businesses along its edge was hiding a landscape of tin shacks, unfinished brick buildings, scroungy dogs, feral cats, and some obviously poor people. Scattered among this however were a smattering of brightly colored homes, obviously of better construction, and clearly more well maintained. Like a beacon of hope, these homes shone above the rest, and the purpose of Casita Linda which means “pretty little house” became abundantly clear.

To qualify, the family must first meet a set of criteria established by Casita Linda to help insure that the family will take full responsibility and ownership of the home when it is completed. Interestingly, the first criteria is they must own the land on which the house will sit. The history of land reform in Mexico is complicated and stretches out over hundreds of years and many forms of government, but the bottom line is many indigenous people here own their land. The problem however is they are too poor to build a home, and many end up living in poorly constructed lean to sheds or ramshackle homes built with whatever materials they can scrounge. These buildings provide little comfort or protection from the weather, and the dirt floors often become a sea of mud during the rainy season. Mothers cook meals on open fires, the family sleeps on whatever they can find, and the children are often cold and have no place to study.  Life in general is pretty tough.

Other qualifying criteria include:

Provide proof that any school-age children living in the house are attending school regularly
   and receiving satisfactory grades
Provide a drug-free environment with no abuse of alchhol or history of domestic violence
Agree to work on the construction of their home and the one built before or after theirs
Be employed or actively searching for work

After a thorough study of the potential families, Casita Linda’s Family Selection Committee writes a recommendation and submits it to the Board of Directors for a vote.  Once qualified, volunteers work with the family to configure the home for their needs, and construction is scheduled. The homes cost approximately $8000 USD to construct and generally include water storage, a small septic pool, and basic solar lighting as most of the homes do not have access to city services.

The first home we visited was occupied by a charming family whose matron Grisela herded a troop of small children around the house as we toured the property. Due to its proximity to town and the pleasant demeanor of the family, Grisela’s home is frequently used for visits, and the entire family was very welcoming. Grisela works at the brickyard for Casita Linda located next to her property. Working tirelessly, the crews crank out thousands of handmade bricks, mixing the clay with straw and other binding materials with their feet before hand-forming the bricks and laying them in the sun to dry. The bricks are then fired and become part of the next Casita Linda home. This is very hard work, and the long rows of bricks reflect the dedication of these hard working people.

The homes themselves are simple and utilitarian, but a far cry from the harsh conditions these families previously endured. They are warm and dry, there is a place to cook, and Casita Linda helps them secure the furnishings they need for basic comfort. We enjoyed out visit with the family and the warm welcome we received.

Photo courtesy of Casita Linda

Our next stop was to visit a home which needed the electrical wiring to be completed. The electrician who was slated to do the work had been unable to make time between jobs and the family has been getting by with a precarious looking set of open strung wires. I had told Gregg I had done some wiring in the past and he asked if I might be able to finish the wiring. We spoke briefly with the family and I inspected the tubing that had been run inside the walls to see what we were up against. Unfortunately, it appear that at some point, the wiring that is run inside the tubes prior to installation that allows for wire to then be drawn or spliced through the tubes, was missing. This presents a huge challenge, and we are trying to determine if we can track down some of the builders that did this project to see if they can shed some light on how and where the tubing runs before we attempt a repair. I am hopeful we can finally bring safe electricity to this family as we head into the New Year!

Click any photo to open the gallery!

More on this story later!

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