By Ariane Kjellquist

695. That’s how many pieces of specific-length re-bar Kaya Johnson cut with fellow volunteer Sue Koesters on her first Global Village Trip to Guatemala this past April. With a smile on her face the high school sophomore was quick to point out that they laughed and joked with each other all day, so despite the hard work, “it really was a lot of fun!”

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Due to the frequency of earthquakes, homes in the mountainous regions of Guatemala are no longer made of adobe block. They are built with concrete block and re-bar– A LOT of rebar! But you don’t just go drive to the local big-box retailer to buy it and the concrete truck doesn’t just show up at the jobsite. You make what you need. You mix the aggregate and you cut and bend the re-bar. The work is hard, as Kaya, Sue and the rest of the volunteers will attest. But that’s just part of the experience; an experience that is so rich and rewarding, it’s hard to appreciate until you go on a trip yourself. Asheville Habitat staffer and seasoned Global Village Trip leader Joel Johnson, offered this reflection:

“These trips build more than just homes and stoves. They build knowledge of what need looks like for those in other countries, those experiencing deeper income inequality than normally seen in the US. They build trust and character through hard work only accomplished as a team. They build an understanding of just how much a little financial assistance and personal time spent working together can do to help provide families a safe and promising home life. They build a desire to continue the work of helping others in your local community. It’s pretty powerful stuff and I never take for granted the opportunity to lead groups of volunteers on these working adventures.”

Volunteers on Joel’s recent Guatemala Global Village trip also enjoyed dinners together and reflected on their day. They visited schools and delivered much needed and appreciate donated school supplies, and played basketball with the kids. They watched and learned about the processions leading up to Easter, mesmerized by all the elaborate and intricate floats. With no rest for the weary, they didn’t head home until they had hiked up a volcano on their last day!

Click here to see photos from the trip.

Global Village Trips provide an opportunity to understand and engage with another culture, people that are different from you, yet also very similar. Like all of us, Guatemalans want – and deserve – a safe, stable home, potable water, good health, and opportunities for socioeconomic upward mobility. But there are challenges, and some greater than others.

Do you know that Guatemala is ranked one of the 15 most inequitable communities in the world? Due to political and social unrest dating back to the late 1970’s, land ownership remains one of the biggest challenges for families. 80% of the land in Guatemala is owned by 2% of the population. And nearly 60% of the population lives in poverty or extreme poverty, earning less than $1-2USD/day.

Habitat for Humanity Guatemala works with low-income families to improve their living conditions, and one way is through “mas que casas” – more than homes. Healthy Home Kits cost just $385 USD and include smokeless stoves, sanitary latrines, and water filters. From improved health (fewer respiratory problems and less waterborne illness) to cost savings (less firewood needed), these relatively small changes have huge impacts on the lives of impoverished Guatemalans. The houses built by Habitat take into consideration future needs and provide the opportunity for incremental building as a family’s financial position and/or size changes. And as mentioned earlier, they take into consideration the area’s geography and climate.

Asheville Habitat has been tithing to Habitat Guatemala for more than two decades, and has taken numerous trips to the country to help build homes and install Healthy Home Kits (HHK). To date, our cumulative tithe of $308,862 has served 247 families (1,482 individuals) through 41 new homes and 206 HHKs.

Global Engagement Opportunities

Your support of Habitat doesn’t have to be local or global, it can be local AND global. Considering how far a US dollar goes in a developing country like Guatemala, you can support Asheville Habitat and Habitat in another country, with just a small incremental gift. Makensie Brown, Director of International Resource Development for Habitat Guatemala notes, “By providing families with a water filter, a sanitary latrine, and a smokeless stove, you are supporting them in their journey towards improving their quality of life.”

Visit our ReStore where proceeds from the sale of Guatemalan coffee, tea and handicrafts go to Habitat Guatemala to support Guatemalan coffee farmers in need of healthy housing solutions.

Participate in a future Global Village Trip with Asheville Habitat. Be sure to check our website occasionally, sign up for our e-newsletter, and follow us on social media so you’ll know when a trip is announced.