Adopta Una Familia
Building Homes and Relationships
In the Beginning - the Early Years
In August 1999, 28 members and friends of the First Congregational Church left for Guayaquil, Ecuador, on what has become an annual trip to build bathrooms and houses in the barrio of Guasmo Sur.
As we pulled off the paved highway, and onto the dirt roads of the barrio, everyone fell strangely silent, lost in their own thoughts and thinking about the week ahead. The barrio stretched as far as we could see, a city within a city, and as Dorothy once said "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore!"
We were all terribly nervous at first about the poverty, the stray dogs, the trash fires burning in the streets, the open sewage ditches.
Within minutes of our arrival, we began to make new friends.
A welcoming ceremony was held on the paved soccer field, and we were introduced to our host families. It was these families who would share their homes, and even their beds with us, would feed us, and would work with us this next week. We were received with warmth, with joy and with a generosity of spirit which few of us had ever seen before.
Guasmo is an extremely impoverished community of 400,000 people in the Pacific port of Guayaquil. We lived with, worked with, and became friends with the families who participated in the community center of Mi Cometa.
Many of the things which we take for granted, such as houses with floors and roofs, kitchens, and bathrooms were luxuries for our host families. This is Deysi in her outdoor kitchen area. The red bucket holds the water for washing up. As a result of our mission, Deysi how has a house, complete with bathroom and a kitchen!
Bathrooms generally mean running water. The bathrooms we built in Guasmo were not hooked into any kind of pumped water system. Instead, each home built a cement tower with a platform. A 55 gallon plastic cistern will be placed on top of each platform, and the water will flow by gravity. The few families which had indoor bathrooms had bathrooms of this type.
Families share electric pumps which pump water from a non-potable street source into the cistern. In order to take a shower, flush a toilet or run a faucet, water needs to be in the cistern. When the cistern was empty, and the pump was broken, or someone else was using the pump, no water flowed.
Prior to our arrival, trucks had dumped 60 dump-truck loads of dirt (such as the one above), rocks and sand throughout the barrio. This was just the beginning! We moved these piles to fill in open patios which flood in the rainy season, and to make level ground on which to build the bathrooms. Even the kids worked all day long, without a word of complaint.
A family is overjoyed with its new bathroom!
The Middle Years - Beginning Construction on Mi Cometa
In August 2002, approximately 40 members and friends of First Congregational Church travelled to Guasmo Sur, to participate in Adopta Una Familia IV. This year the work involved construction of bathrooms, beginning work on a new community center for Mi Cometa, and a women's health clinic.
Our neighborhood was full of kids, dogs, roosters and piles of dirt, sand and rocks that were used for the construction projects.
Mi Cometa is the community center for approximately 150 families in Guasmo. It provides a vision for development of the community, support for women and children, educational training programs, and political leadership. It has started to expand to other disenfranchised communities in Ecuador. The existing Mi Cometa building was old, small, and not in very good condition due to the effects of El Niño. The goal was to build a new, three story building which would meet the community needs, and provide space for visiting health care workers or other volunteers.
The frames for the foundation were laid. The hole on the right is where the septic tank will go. It’s full of ground water.
It was very, very hot, and the work was hard. Everyone wanted to help!
Rebar was tied to build supports for the pillars to support the walls.
After the rebar was done, it was time to mix the concrete. In the early years, this was all done by hand, in the street. It involved combining many bags of cement, sand, and many loads of rocks. It was hard, dusty work, and it was very hot that year.
Once the concrete was mixed, bucket lines were formed to get the cement from the street to the forms of the foundation.
By 2004, the ground floor of Mi Cometa had been completed.
Our work that summer involved tons of rocks, mountains of sand, and towers of cinder blocks, all moved by hand. We were beginning the second level of Mi Cometa.
The kids loved to help!
An important part of the day was when the North Americans met on the roof of Mi Cometa for a brief meditation and discussion of the day’s work projects.
While part of the group worked on Mi Cometa, others worked building houses
By 2005, Mi Cometa was really taking shape!
In an all-day, non-stop project, the ceiling of the second story/floor of the third story was made. Bamboo supports held up wooden frames and rebar. Buckets of cement were hand-winched to the top and poured into the frames. It was a very long, very hot, very dirty day.
The new houses were beautiful, and had flower gardens
Protesting the lack of sewage systems and safe water in Guasmo
Work in 2006 involved beginning the third story of Mi Cometa, which was completed and dedicated in 2008.
In 2008 we had 135 people from 5 churches and 4 states. The youngest was 13 and the oldest was 90. We had a medical group from St Francis Hospital in Hartford that did 78 operations in one week. We completed the structural part of the community center, started 6 houses and celebrated 10 years of solidarity with the people of Guasmo. We had two summer interns work with the Tutoring Program and we sponsor 55 kids through the Educational Grant Project.
While the building of homes and a new community center was important in the life of the community, what was even more important were the relationships we built.
To the people of Guasmo, thank you for sharing your hearts and homes with us. You have taught us much, and our lives are richer for the time we lived and worked with you.