The partnership between the Habitat for Humanity and the Catholic Circle of Faith, composed of Ss. John and Paul and other Des Moines area parishes, began three years ago. Since then it has brought members from the church to assist in projects as close as Des Moines and as far away as El Salvador.
This past March, nine members of the parish spent a week in El Salvador building a total of two 400-square-foot houses. Mary Reichter and Janet Elwer both described the labor-intensive work.
“I had to push a wheelbarrow up the hill,” laughed Reichter. They did everything from installing earthquake-proof rebar bases to creating the mortar on site.
For Habitat to construct homes in this country, the recipient must own the plot of land, but wages are so low there, it’s hard for people to save up for a house, according to Elwer. The small building houses a family of four, making for tight living quarters. But Reichter expressed that when the couples and their children move in “they think they have gone to heaven.”
Some of the parish members will return to El Salvador to continue building in January of next year. In the meantime, a local builder in West Des Moines will occupy their time. The project will begin on Aug. 8. Contractors will come in to do the licensed work on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Ss. John and Paul volunteers will work Wednesday through Friday, finishing the home by Oct. 5.
The residence will belong to a family of four — soon to be five, as the mother is expecting — who have been living in a two-bedroom apartment. But Elwer noted that the house is not a “handout.” It is a way for someone who has been struggling to get back on his or her feet. They still must pay sweat equity and be able to continue to uphold the home’s condition.
Although it’s intended to provide a solid foundation for those who have found themselves in a rough patch, volunteers have also felt impacted. Reichter’s son was reluctant to go to El Salvador with her, but was singing a different tune as the trip came to a close.
“I believe he realizes how lucky he is,” she said.
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