Creating Social Value Blog / Service in Action

Building Connections over Chispa,

Two days ago, our team of nine lounged at an ocean resort in El Salvador, sipping our “coco locos” and enjoying the sun. Fast-forward to Tuesday afternoon, and we were mixing “chispa” (concrete) in the hot sun to build a small family home. This contrast of environment seemed great to me as we attempted to decipher the mason’s instructions — in a language that all but two of us didn’t speak. Even the 3-hour car ride from our resort to the hotel right outside of Ahuachapan felt surreal. While the resort was a refreshing buffer between our busy lives and the work we were about to do here in El Salvador, it also further emphasized the minuteness of the shacks and huts sprinkling the tropical terrain. At the same time, this contrast also made me eager to begin our work building homes in a Habitat village. We have the opportunity to improve such living conditions.

Our task is to help local masons construct homes from concrete blocks and cement, in order to provide two families in the same community outside of Ahuachapan with homes with divided rooms, a bathroom, and plumbing — things their current houses lack. I’m definitely no house-building pro (as our head mason candidly informed me in his broken Spanglish), but it still felt good to create something tangible of value for people who lack things I often take for granted.

Beyond the hours of sweat and “chispa,” I loved connecting with the Salvadorians surrounding our group’s home. Our head mason Francisco tried to make us laugh with riddles and jokes, another introduced us to his wife, and all three working on the site were willing to laugh or chat about their lives no matter how many times we confused instructions or mixed the wrong kind of cement. We even met the families moving into the new house and a young soccer player who tried to ask for Paulina’s email! And as soon as I brought out my camera, it seemed like three little girls became my new best friends, insisting they pose for more photos. It didn’t matter to them that I can hardly speak more Spanish than a two-year-old; they were simply a bunch of happy kids that I was able to play Frisbee, tag, and hand-clapping games with.

For me, the most rewarding part of these two days of work has been the feeling that a small group, making seemingly small progress, can really make a difference in a community. So often, when asked to make sacrifice or change, people use the excuse: “I’m only one person; how can I make a difference?” But this week, I looked at the beautiful mural on the wall that symbolized the community’s dreams: houses, happy families, and sunlight streaming through a bright blue sky. I looked at the walls of a community center that wasn’t even in place three years ago, and watched a house grow taller by our bare hands. True, we’re only a group of nine, and lord knows I was never born to be a mason. But nonetheless, I feel hopeful that somehow our small efforts can really add to something greater this week.

Submitted by Amelia “Amy” McKenney ’15