Having a roof over your head is important but it’s sometimes forgotten that a floor can be the foundation for a better life, too.
This is exactly what 16-year-old Emily Proude realized during her second mission trip to Nicaragua with a Park Royal United Church-led group that helped to build eight houses in a poor but emerging neighbourhood of Managua.
“Knowing that they lived in places where their floor was the earth and knowing that the rain would come in and they would be walking ankle deep through muck, being able to build that floor for them the first day was so incredible. It gave us a whole new perspective,” says this Charlottetown teen, who along with 17 members from four Prince Edward Island churches — Park Royal and Trinity United, Holy Redeemer Parish in Charlottetown and Burnside Presbyterian Church in Clyde River — travelled to Nicaragua for two weeks in July for the multi-house build.
“There were four kids in the first family that we worked with. And after the floor was finished they were up on it, they were jumping on it, they were rolling and playing leapfrog. And their parents were just beaming,” Emily adds with a smile.
“Being able to see such joy from kids about a simple thing like a floor — a floor that we walk on every day in Canada and floors that we have everywhere — was so incredible.”
This incredible eye-opening experience and others followed on the heels of the first mission trip in the summer of 2010 when a group of 16 from P.E.I. and Halifax, N.S., worked with the local people to build a kindergarten room at an elementary school.
This project and the 2012 trip were organized by a voluntourism and service learning company called Compañeros Inc.
When the first P.E.I. team was there in 2010, the community in Managua was just starting to be developed. Things have progressed a lot since then.
“When we were there (two years ago) people just got deeds to their property and since then they’ve been working on the community trying to improve it,” says Park Royal United Church minister Kevin MacKenzie.
“They’ve built a security wall around the school and they installed the infrastructure for waste water. They had put in potable water, so that was a big improvement for them. And they’ve built a number of houses like we did when we were down. (Before that) the houses were basically scrap materials that they had salvaged and built houses (with).”
The wooden structures were very basic. The walls of the approximately 200-square-foot home are prefabricated to a standard transitional model used by the non-profit TECHO organization (techo means roof in Spanish).
There are no glass windows, just wooden shutters that can be closed to keep out the rain.
“One of the things we talked about was if we saw this here (on P.E.I.), if you told me that that was what we were building for people I would have thought ‘Oh that’s awful. It’s like a shed. We’re going to expect people to live in this?’ But compared to what they were living it it’s like a mansion. It’s off the ground,” says Rhonda Matters, who was part of the inaugural mission team in 2010.
“It was less anxiety (this time). The first time we went I think lots of us were really worried about safety and security and food, what that was going to be like,” she says.
“Our hope, I think going down in particular (this summer), was to see the projects that had happened in the meantime and to see the people again, to be able to see some of the people that we had worked with the first time. When we saw many of the same people that was really exciting.”
The appeal of a building project was the initial draw for Allan Matters, who joined his wife and daughter on their return adventure.
“Once we got down there, just working with the community (was a great experience.)
“I connected with one local volunteer, in particular, because he was similar in his skills as I was. I brought a lot of tools down and I left them all with him so it was good bonding,” he says.
“One of the things that I found really interesting is the community helped out with all the projects, even though maybe they weren’t getting a house built for them and they were living in something that wasn’t acceptable. But they were still very willing to help out and very excited for their neighbours,” says Mary Beth Larter, who was also on the trip.
In addition to helping to build eight houses, some P.E.I. team members helped paint a wall mural to commemorate the project partnership between the two countries.
The overall theme of the mural, which was co-created by some of the Canadian crew and three local artists, represented the homes that were being built, the water, the people of the community and Canada and some international businesses that supported the project, as well as the Hillsborough Rotary Club, which contributed toward the potable water project infrastructure in that community in 2011.
“They like to tell the story of what goes on, so my daughter (Rebekah, 16,) and I worked on a mural like a graffiti artist. I have my own tag now, I won’t use it in Charlottetown,” jokes Sarah Kennedy, who was part of the 2010 travel team along with her daughter.
Sharon Cameron was part of that initial trip by proxy.
“I had been a part of the group — I did a lot of fundraising with them — and kind of felt like I’d been there and I hadn’t been really,” she smiles.
Her son Andrew, then 13, did go to Nicaragua in 2010 and came back telling stories of a 14-year-old teen named Junior who he’d struck a friendship with.
“They didn’t speak the same language at all, but they really clicked. He was with them all of the building time,” Cameron says.
“(Two years later) when we walked through that community . . . we were introduced to a family that we were going to be helping and it was Junior’s family I got to meet that first day. I wasn’t really expecting that at all. I recognized him from the pictures that Andrew had taken home. Our group ended up helping to build Junior’s family’s home, so at was really cool for me.”
Emily Proude, parents Kevin and Cyndi and brothers Tyler and Josh were billeted at one of the homes that Compañeros Inc. uses to house its volun-tourists.
Her house building experience in 2012 was very different from the school construction project she was part of in 2010 at the age of 14.
“The company that we were building the houses with has a saying that the houses are an excuse to create bonds. I found that was totally true, doing a project like that. That was so important for this family, and being able to build it alongside them and being able to work together and have the same struggles on the same house and putting something between us that connects us because it’s similar,” she says.
“We were both having the same struggles. I remember not being able to get a nail in. I was horrible at hammering, but everyone would help out. It was like a great big team and putting that common goal in front of us, it just made us work together more and I think that was the special bond, knowing that it had a great effect on their lives.”