After years of renting a place with her sister under the jurisdiction of an unreasonable landlord, her own house was long overdue. Habitat for Humanity and volunteers from Global Village helped build her new place.
“Now we’re not afraid of the tremors anymore,” said Edelmira Lisbeth Reina de León, wife of Emilio Gonzalez Diaz and mother of 7-year-old Monica. Edelmira sits, sipping coffee, in a new house that’s designed to resist the force of an earthquake.
Edelmira works as a social worker at the local municipality, and her husband works at a hospital in Tajumulco, at the base of the tallest volcano in Central America. Although they both have formal and stable jobs, Edelmira says she “receives gifts from above” in lieu of any financial riches.
Their journey to their new house started when they got married 8 years ago and moved in with Edelmira’s sister and mother-in-law. There, Edelmira and her sister shared the rent, a burdensome Q/1400 per month aside from utilities (Q/200-300 just for electricity), and split the house between the families. They had space, but there were some serious problems with the owner of the house.
“The owner came and went without asking permission,” says Edelmira. “There was no privacy. Although we were paying her, she didn’t respect us. At Christmas, she told us, ‘remove all of your decorations so I can paint’ but she didn’t wait and just painted over our stuff. It’s hard to rent; it’s preferrable to have your own house.”
Aside from a problemmatic rent situation, the house had suffered from an earthquake.
“The whole part below was broken,” says Edelmira. “The owner told us she fixed it and painted it but then another earthquake came and in the exact same place the floor was cracked. The whole house was tilted forward. And the stairs to go to the second floor were smashed up against the neighbor’s house.” It also caused a pipe to leak on the first floor.
When Edelmira suggested fixing the house, the owner told her to fix it herself, on her own budget.
So, in short, Edelmira and her sister were living with no financial investment, under the jurisdiction of an owner who didn’t respect their privacy, with the fear that the house could topple with another earthquake. Edelmira and her sister applied to Habitat and within a short time they were on their way to getting two new houses. During the construction, a group from Queens University came to help out.
“They helped out so so so much,” says Edelmira. “They were directed by the masons and the Habitat technician. They placed the cement blocks with the masons. We helped out in the way that we gave them coffee and snacks, because with a gesture of food, we showed them our appreciation.”
“God bless you all, and I’ll never forget you,” she says to the group. “I’ve said that there are a lot of hands in my house that have made it a blessing. There are a lot of young people here in the world that don’t have a sense of what life is, whereas with you, how good that you see other realities, that you see other customs and other cultures here in San Marcos. We’ll always remember you. I’ve always said that my house is made by Guatemalans and by others who have come from other countries. Always, those flags that you gave us will be here with us. Thanks for your support, and we hope to see you again. Here, we need support so much. We wouldn’t haven been able to live out our dreams if you hadn’t come and helped us. May God give you a lot of happiness, a lot of health, and a lot of kids!”
The new house, although it appears very simple from the front, features skylights that save Edelmira a ton on electricity costs, and a beautiful wood-paneled ceiling that had the neighborhood talking when she moved in. “Everybody thinks it’s not a Habitat house because it’s so beautiful!” said Edelmira, smiling. “The ceiling is so stylish, what a change in warmth, and it goes without using so much electricity.” As she talked, the room was well-lit, but there wasn’t a single light on in the house.
“For me it’s a great blessing from God,” says Edelmira. “Opportunities exist, and you have to take advantage of them. It’s so much more peaceful to be here. It’s something of my own.”
Edelmira is happy to be in her own house, where she says she has more liberty to come and go as she pleases without having to worry about the owner or anybody else in the house. Her money is also going toward something that she can call “hers,” and she’s paying even less than she was before. Now her rent is Q/630 per month, with a huge reduction in utilities. And she’s proud that her daughter can play around the house without worrying about big cracks in the floor or unexpected visits from a cranky landlord.