Habitat update

22 February 2006
7:21 PM

For the last three days we have been working with Habitat for Humanity here in Temuco. It has been much different than I expected. I imagined going through the whole process of constructing a house on our week-long timeline. That’s not exactly our week. Here’s the story as far as I understand it.

During Pinochet’s dictatorship, which began with the Sept. 11 coup in 1973 and ended with the No-Vote in 1988, many people were “disappeared”; others were exiled from the country. Now that people are coming back, the government has a program where they are building houses for those who lost everything when they left. That’s good. The downside is that the houses are tiny. Families of two to four people are given a 250 sq. ft. house. For comparison, my four-person dorm room in college was 360 sq. ft. Parents who saw the room complained all the time about how small it was. Families will receive these houses that are two-thirds the size, but are also stuffed with a bathroom and kitchen.

In the area where we are working, there are dozens of these houses. Our Habitat project is to add a 250 sq. ft room to 10 of the houses, effectively doubling their sizes. That means that, ironically, the first thing we did during construction was to tear down the back wall of these houses. We pulled the nails out carefully because we plan to reuse the walls for the new back of the house. We are digging the foundation trenches for the houses as well: 30 cm wide, 25 cm deep, marking out the new room. That part of the project was foiled somewhat today when torrential downpours made our trenches more moat-like than fill-with-concrete-like. In the meantime we’re making walls. We need 100, give or take, so there’s plenty of work to go around. Each wall is a collection of about 24 separately measured and cut pieces of wood. Things are going smoothly now that we have an assembly-line system to construct the walls. One upcoming bump in the road will be the fact that our hands, arms, and bodies overall hurt from digging and hammering. But as they say, no pain, no additional room to your house.