Seven Sussex County residents recently spent eight days basking in the Guatemalan sun, but the trip was hardly a vacation. The Habitat for Humanity volunteers paid their own way to the Central American country to help construct a home for a family in the south central town of Argueta.
The trip was part of Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program, which sends volunteers to destinations throughout the world to build affordable homes for families in need. Sussex County Habitat Executive Director Kevin Gilmore lived in Guatemala for four years and has a special connection to the country and its people. This is the second time the Sussex County chapter has sent volunteers to Guatemala.
Habitat focuses on Sussex County, but also has a working relationship with the Guatemalan chapter, Gilmore said.
“We believe it is not just our duty to build homes here but to also help people there," he said.
Guatemala was chosen because of the large Guatemalan population in Sussex County. About 10 percent of undesignated gifts received by Sussex County Habitat are put to use in Guatemala. Through the Sussex County Habitat's efforts, 29 homes have been built in Guatemala, he said.
When Habitat builds a home in another country, it constructs affordable homes in the local context. A home in Sussex County is typically a 1,200-square-foot rancher, a Guatemalan home is about 400 square feet made from cinder blocks with rebar reinforcement in the walls. The home the Sussex volunteers built consisted of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living area. There is no sewer system yet in Argueta, but a small bathroom area was built off the back in anticipation of those services in the next year.
The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala is very active, Gilmore said, building about 5,000 homes annually nationwide. Guatemala's Habitat program also offers help abroad, sending volunteers to Ghana, Afghanistan and even North Carolina.
While on the trip, the group had dinner with the Guatemalan chapter's national director, who said the organization hopes to dedicate its 50,000th home in April.
On the final night, the group had dinner with Habitat for Humanity's first-ever volunteer, Clive Rainey, who was working with a group from North Carolina. Gilmore said he's trying to coordinate a time for Rainey to visit Sussex County sometime in the next year.
The Sussex group worked about eight hours a day at the project site. He said they were immediately welcomed by the locals and developed a friendship with local masons they worked with throughout the build. On Ash Wednesday, the homeowner, Filomena, took the entire group to her church for services. They also took a short break from their work to watch the children of the village celebrate Mardi Gras with a parade.
“I don't know any other way to go into another country for a week and really interact with the local community in such a positive way,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said Sussex County Habitat plans to do the trip every other year, but would support any local group that wishes to organize a journey of their own.
Volunteers from the trip will share their experiences in a presentation and social hour at Nage in Rehoboth Beach at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 6. For more information about Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, call 302-855-1153 or go to www.sussexcountyhabitat.org.