Building Houses, Improving Lives
A house can provide much more than basic safety and shelter from the rain. As an intern for Habitat for Humanity in San Ramon, Costa Rica, I discovered that for many Habitat partner families, their home becomes the embodiment of something sacred: an answer to a prayer, or the realization of a dream once out of reach. One such person was David Fonseca, a Costa Rican artist. “Even though it lacks a few details…the house to me is a castle” said Fonseca, a Habitat Costa Rica beneficiary whose house was completed in 2001. “[It is] a dream come true”.
Three years ago, Fonseca and his wife, Auxiliadora, went to numerous banks to inquire about loans to build a house. With each visit it became clearer that their economic situation would not allow them to borrow money from a bank. The high interest rates would make it impossible to avoid a lifetime of unmanageable debt. Fonseca grew discouraged. At the time, he, his wife and their three children were living with his mother in a one bedroom house made of tin. He feared they would never get a home of their own. Auxiliadora assured him, however, that she trusted in God to find a way.
Soon after, the Fonsecas heard about Habitat For Humanity and decided to make an appointment at the Cartago affiliate. His spirits dampened by the unsuccessful visits to banks, David was initially doubtful that Habitat could help. Nevertheless, he followed through with the meeting, and a few weeks later the Fonsecas received news that would change their lives: Habitat had approved their application, and a volunteer brigade from Washington was coming to help build their house. David was surprised and excited beyond belief. “They told us a brigade was coming… but I didn’t believe it”, he said, his voice full of emotion as he recalled that memorable day. “It was some of the best news…of my life. I felt shivers down my spine.” The Fonsecas began to build, brick by brick, and six weeks later they completed their house. “It was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” Fonseca said. “[After Habitat] my life changed…Before I lived dependent on others and that created a sense of insecurity…Now we feel more secure, more free. We can welcome visitors…”.
Because of his appreciation for what Habitat did for his family, Fonseca has become one of the organization’s most active supporters. He now volunteers daily at the Cartago office and serves on the Costa Rican national board of directors. “Habitat is part of my family” he said, “I am very grateful to Habitat.” Fonseca is dedicated to ensuring that other families also have the chance to experience a decent home. “Sometimes I’m riding on the bus and I see someone who doesn’t have a house and I tell them about Habitat,” he said. When Fonseca sees a friend living in conditions like those he used to live in, he encourages them to apply for a Habitat loan and supports them throughout the process.
Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization seeking to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness. It has built more than 175,000 houses around the world. The Costa Rica program is one example, and Fonseca is just one of the 900,000 people Habitat has helped with safe, decent and affordable housing around the world.
The Fonsecas are already showing to others the same generosity Habitat showed to them. David and Auxiliadora have opened their home to Laura, a friend of their daughter Raquel, who needed a place to live closer to school. When asked the most important thing he learned from his Habitat experience, Fonseca simply replied: “to help others.”
Fonseca noted how the act of helping others can have a powerful effect on a community. Neighbors say “how incredible” when they see people come to help build houses, and are especially inspired when they see women doing construction, something that seldom occurs in Costa Rica.
Habitat has certainly made an indelible mark on Fonseca and his family. “Habitat is inside of us” Fonseca said. “Whenever my children hear…’Habitat for Humanity’ they will feel a sense of identification, and I (will too).”
Inside the Fonseca home, the furniture is neatly in place; the table and counters decorated with traditional Costa Rican crafts. The walls, creatively painted with splashes of pastel blue and orange, are adorned with Fonseca’s artwork. Using items collected from nature, Fonseca constructs depictions of serene country dwellings. “I like to reflect tranquility,” he explained. Thanks to Habitat, there is newfound tranquility in Fonseca’s life, as well as in his art.
Fall 2004/Winter 2005, Volume III, Number 1
Ndidi Menkiti ’06 is an English and African-American Studies concentrator from Somerville, MA. She is very grateful to have received a DRCLAS grant to help fund her internship with Habitat this summer. Ndidi wishes to thank the Fonsecas, the Habitat staff, and all of the other Ticos who showed her the real meaning of “pura vida.”
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