Nine-year-old José shyly pokes his head around the corner of the doorjamb. His daily routine involves visiting his aunt, Mildred Rodríguez. He enjoys playing in the cool atmosphere of her new Habitat Guatemala home in order to escape from the scorching Retalhuleu sun. However, upon seeing a group of strangers in the house, he pauses, unsure of how to proceed.
“Come on in!” Mildred waves him in. “We’re reflecting!” José wanders in and plops down on a chair near Mildred’s colorfully painted kitchen. “Where was I?” says Mildred. “Oh, it was easy to leave our old house. The only difficult thing was moving everything here.”
Mildred loves visitors. However, she recognizes that she needs privacy just as much as socializing. For that reason, she and her husband, Jorge, decided to build their own home, using the land that belonged to her father. “We lived in my in-laws’ house for two years, in one room, with all of family. We were ten people in two rooms together.” She shakes her head. “That house had nothing to do with privacy. And it was very old.”
The couple decided to get in contact with a local organization that their neighborhood knew well: Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. “We also knew it was easy to sign up and that we could make monthly payments,” says Mildred. “Since my husband is a cashier at Pollo Campero (a local chain restaurant), it mattered to us to have something that we could afford. And it worked. We’re not fighting to stay afloat anymore.”
In addition to gaining privacy and independence, owning a home has allowed Mildred to pursue her passions. “Since I was a child, I have always loved gardening,” she explains. “Here, we cleaned out the sand and stone from the site to replace it with plants. We want to grow cucumbers, carrots, a few other things.” Tall corn stalks wave outside her bedroom window, which are testaments to her love. She laughs. “I can have chickens here, too, which is something I couldn’t have at my old house. For the moment, we go little by little, arranging everything. There are definitely plans to have kids.”
Their home certainly looks like a child’s paradise. Jorge has taken a paintbrush to the home. Eclectic cartoons of pandas and dogs adorn the light switches, and the kitchen boasts an assortment of enormous vegetables on the walls. “Life has changed a lot,” comments Mildred pensively. “Everything here is comfortable in its place, without being squeezed. The space is bigger. My husband’s commute is easier.”
Mildred has fond memories of the volunteers that came to build her home. “They were very friendly, and it was beautiful to get along with them as well as we did. My husband and I were there during the entire week of the construction. They were a huge help with moving materials! Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve everything that we wanted. When they came, what a great help they were.”
She has a special message for them: “Thank you for your help, thank you for this experience, may God bless them. We send them many greetings. One day, we will see one another once more.”