The Casteñeda Ortiz Family

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For a long time, Irma (20) knew that her family would be unable to thrive in a cramped and troublesome space. When asked about how she used to live, she sighs deeply and sounds frustrated. “We were in the same house with my in-laws. It was difficult, because for two years, we didn’t have any privacy or stability. It was one room, nothing more, with all of the beds, stove, tables. Everything. My little boy, Oscarito, couldn’t grow, and he was being picked on. No one wants to live in one room for all of their life.”

With Oscarito already two years old and facing endless trouble with bullying cousins, Irma and her husband, Estiven (22), decided that it was time to find other solutions. Irma suggested that the couple look into her brother’s experience with Habitat. Her face lights up. “His house was so beautiful, and when we saw it, I knew that was what we needed.”

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Irma and Estiven applied for a house with Habitat and were approved to build. Since moving into their house a few months ago, Irma has already noted enormous changes, especially with security. “I love this house. There’s privacy, the rooms are bigger. We can cook separately from the beds and don’t have to worry about fire.”

Even more important has been the happiness that she, her husband, and her son have discovered. “My life has changed. I can do more things. This house is easier to take care of. My son is happier because he can be free to play and has the space to do it.”

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The Variescas Tañil Family

frenely_hija_hamoca“I wanted to move because instead of paying someone else, I pay for me and Marjory. And I know that the money is going to something special.”

These are the first sentences that Frenely (25) confides to us. She is shy around newcomers. However, she immediately brightens when her five-year-old daughter, Marjory, enters the room. The two of them are peas in a pod and spend many afternoons singing and dancing in the kitchen, like mothers and daughters do.

This scene, although relatively new for them, has already had an enormous impact on their little family. As a single mom, Frenely worked for nearly a year running a small food stall to save up and apply for a Habitat House that she knew would be perfect for just the two of them. “We were renting in Usumatlan in a Habitat house that looked exactly like this.” She points to the kitchen, bedrooms, and back towards the bathroom.

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When asked about how it feels to have a home at least, she smiles. “It feels to good. I feel comfortable here.” There have been other benefits that home ownership has granted her. Frenely cites that past domestic relationships have not allowed her as much freedom. “If I need something, I can go and get it myself, without answering to anyone,” she says. “I love the comfort and stability that a house brings. If I want to go out, I can go out. If I want to stay, I can stay. The time doesn’t matter, and no one controls me or my daughter.”

As for her plans for the house, Frenely is looking forward to the Christmas holidays. She hopes to add a bit more to the house by putting down a floor and sewing some curtains. With Marjory by her side, anything is possible.

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The Galdamez Cuellas Family

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Some Habitat participants have the opportunity to live in a Habitat house before applying to build their own. Renting a Habitat house has many advantages. Because each family is unique, each is able to gauge its wants and needs accordingly. This was the case of Jazmin (24), her husband, Jorge (23), and their three-year-old daughter, Emily. Jazmin recalls a positive experience before her house was built. “We were renting a house in the Skipper Colony. We were there about eight months, so we could see what it was like.”

As much as the setup worked, Jazmin and Jorge wanted to have the opportunity to own their very own home. “We wanted a new house because we didn’t want to rent anymore,” She tells me. “Also, renting has become more expensive. My husband already works long hours as a Machine Operator at a local furniture company, and I’m working as a teacher, which can be hard on both of us sometimes. It didn’t make sense to live somewhere that was never really going to be ours.”

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The change has been extremely rewarding.“It’s been 3 months since we moved into our new house, and it feels great, thanks to God. It’s safe and stable, there is no need to pay other people for something we don’t own. The experience was beautiful, especially getting to know the people who made our house possible. I hope that they return this year and that we see each other again.”

When we mention that the group will be coming back in 2017, Jazmin’s eyes sparkle, and she claps her hands together in delight. She describes her favorite moment with the team. “There was a beautiful dinner in which we ate together. They danced and sang, and we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. On the last night, we took a lot of photos. We’re even Facebook friends!” She pulls out her phone and begins to explain each image. Her face glows with recollection. It is clear that working with Habitat has impacted her family’s life for years to come.

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Now that she has a house and yard, little Emily can freely enjoy riding her tricycle. 

The Flores Pineda Family

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For as long as she can remember, twenty-year-old Yoselin Marleny Flores Pineda has been connected with Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. She and her sister grew up in her mother, Rita’s house, which was built by a volunteer Habitat group twelve years ago.  When it came time for Yoselin and her two-year-old daughter, Gisela, to move, she knew just who to contact. “My mom’s house was getting a little bit too small for all of us,” she says. “Because I have a daughter now, I wanted her to grow up with more space. It feels wonderful to be able to provide a house for her.”

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The change has been rapid, but positive. For the past few months, Yoselin has worked tirelessly to make the new house, which is down the street from where she grew up, feel like home. Rita has helped take care of Gisela in the meantime. “We finished construction in March and moved in this past May after we were done painting.” Yoselin and Rita look at one another and laugh at the memory. They gesture to the walls, which are covered in vibrant floral patterns. “My sister is an artist, and she was really excited to put her art on the walls. I love all sorts of color, so I let her go ahead and be creative with it.”

Yoselin shows us each room, which has been painted a bright shade of green, pink, purple, or blue. Her house also breathes a love of flowers; several different kinds have been planted in front of the house. Many more pots are scattered throughout the kitchen and living room. When Gisela naps, she sleeps under a floral curtain.

“It’s calming here,” Yoselin says.  “I can be on my own, but I can still see my mother, and she can still see her granddaughter. We can both be independent, but also together.”

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The Pamal Casteñada Family

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Herberth (28) and his wife, Carrie (26) have been together for four years; their daughter, Vannnesa, has been with them for exactly three of those four years. Prior to discovering Habitat for Humanity Guatemala, they struggled with privacy, personal space, and family conflict. “We lived in my mother-in-law’s house,” remarks Carrie. “Financially, it was okay. We support house costs and such, like electricity and water bills. But what we were paying for just wasn’t a house. It certain didn’t feel like one.” She shakes her head, laughing at the memory. “There were seven people living in the same room. Here we are, seven people, sharing the same beds, television, refrigerator, and everything else, all squeeze together in one room! There was another tiny room that was the kitchen and the dining room. It was a space, yes, but it wasn’t a home.”

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Needless to say, the couple found relief. Through Herberth’s cousin, who also received a Habitat house, Carrie and Herberth were introduced to Habitat’s programming. They were especially happy about the low interest rate that would allow them to construct a home of their own. Impressed with the cousin’s positive experience, they decided to apply for a model that would meet their needs and that would also allow Vannesa to grow and play. Since applying, they haven’t looked back.

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“One of the biggest changes that I’m looking forward to is how family interacts,” comments Carrie. “With less people, there’s less drama in the house. Drama causes so many problems. But now, with less people, there isn’t as much gossip going around.”

Although still finishing up electrical and water work, Herberth, Carrie, and Vannesa are eager for a more tranquil routine—and a new start. “We feel so content here. There are so many things to look forward to.”

The Marroquín Rojas Family

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Hilda Marroquín Rojas and her family live in a natural paradise located about five minutes from the small town of Sanarate. Propped against a bright blue sky, the landscape is dotted with trees, birds, and a quiet house perched on the edge of a field. Three small children can be found giggling on the house’s back steps. They are Hilda’s eight-year-old son, Jesus Adrian, and her young nieces, Sharon and Mabe. The trio eagerly engages in spontaneous games of tag in the early morning sunlight. Hilda’s mother, Rosa, watches fondly over them as she sweeps the yard free of leaves that have fallen from the trees.

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Hilda (38) enjoys the landscape, and her new house, too. Her husband, Eriberto (42), works as a crewman on a ship for nine months every year, and the new house is a source of comfort for her during his absence. Although it still requires some work, she is looking forward to moving in. For now, however, she is content with already what have been enormous changes. “It feels good to have our own house and our own privacy. My youngest son has a lot space to play and grow. The landscape is calming. I love coming here in the afternoons, where I can just enjoy the sun and the trees.”

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In addition to add more furniture and finishing the final touches on electrical work, Hilda looks forward to making space for other creatures. “I would love to have a small farm with some chickens, a little dog, or some ducks. And flowers! All of the flowers.” She laughs.  “At my in-laws house [where we used to live], there was no space to do that, but in this one, we can.”

For the Canada Team, who began construction on the house in July, Hilda holds several fond memories. “The group was so good with my nieces. We had a birthday party and celebrated with a piñata, food, and fun. It was such a special moment to share with them.”

“I want you to know that everything is going well, and that, bit by bit, we are building up the house.” She says. “You were so kind and wonderful to us, and it was a pleasure to share this experience with you. I never imagined that I would meet such caring and beautiful people who live on the other side of the world. I give you compassion in my heart. May God watch over you.”

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The Angelico and Clara Family

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On the beautiful slopes of Lake Atitlán, there’s a narrow gravel road that passes through a valley ends in a tiny village called Canton Tzancorral. The path is too small for a bus, and it’s even precarious for some motorcycles. Nearly the only vehicles that pass are little red tuk-tuks that have taken a beating.

One tuk-tuk drops off Angelico and Clara at their new home. They’ve been in town running some errands, buying a thing or two for their new store. Angelico eagerly explains.

“Now that we live here, we’ve put up a little store,” he says. He tells how it’s a strategic location as it’s the first house you see when you enter the town, and it’s located on the only road that goes in and out. Currently, the store is small. It’s got a selection of packaged snacks and some fruits for sale.

But Angelico and Clara know that something, even a little something, is better than nothing. Angelico’s full-time job is working in the fields. No, it’s not ideal, nor is it his first choice, but nothing else is available. Angelico has already finished his basic education, graduating from 12th grade and enabling him to work at a formal business or institution. Coming from the countryside, that’s quite an accomplishment in itself. But Angelico can’t take advantage of it because as he says “the economy is bad” and there are no jobs for him to apply for. So Angelico has no choice but to head back to the fields, making 50 quetzales ($6.65) per day as a laborer. Based on his income, he barely qualifies for a Habitat home, but he chose a smaller house model to reduce his monthly payment.

Angelico’s nieces run to greet him as goes inside his home. He and Clara are glad to be on their own, especially with their 4-year-old Carina Pamela and another that’s due on the 13th of August. They are currently living in the home next door, that of Clara’s parents. There’s nothing easy about moving your life when you make less than $7 per day. So the family is making the move slowly.

Either way, Angelico says the new place is a blessing. “God opened the doors for us,” he says. “The house is a great achievement for us. Here, nobody tells us what to do, and we don’t feel the shame of living in somebody else’s house.”

“Thanks for taking the time to visit us,” says Angelico of the volunteers who came to lend a hand. “We are a humble family. Thanks for remembering us and coming to construct our house. Just like you’ve helped me, may you go and help other families who need help as well.”

Angelico and Clara are taking small steps toward independence and family security. They are planning to plaster the exterior walls so that they last longer, but that step will come in time. The house will keep them safe, dry, and satisfied all the while.

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A view of their little store

A view of their little store

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Their future bedroom

Their future bedroom

The Marcos and Claudia Family

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“Three years ago we got married,” says Marcos. “We had been living with my parents-in-law…I didn’t like that very much.”

Marcos, his wife Claudia, and their two-year-old son Marcos David had been living with Claudia’s family for years and they were tired of it. They had no space, and there was no dignity in their housing situation. They didn’t feel like an honorable and independent family.

“It was hard to adapt with them,” says Marcos. Aside from the whole living with the in-laws thing, the family was growing, and their son was requiring more and more space.

So they built their house with Habitat Guatemala, because we provide an awesome opportunity (almost-no-interest loan) for low-income families. During the home’s construction, there were some visitors who came to lend a hand to the family. “Thanks for working together with us,” says Marcos to the volunteers. “It was a lot of help that week. Come visit again!”

The new place, according to Marcos, is a big difference. “It makes our living situation simpler,” he says. He notes how much more space they have and how good it feels to have their own place.

The house is currently being used as a temporary work space before they all move in. They have to keep the income flowing! Marcos is a potter by trade, and he makes a bunch of awesome little artesanías, or artisan objects, that he sells in the Capital at a market. He doesn’t make any fortunes from his work, but he makes enough to get by.

For Marcos and Claudia, the home means a new place for their family, a place where they can have a sense of dignity and independence.

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