Badgett Playhouse's Bill Minihan visits Sounds Good with Caroline van Heerde. She's the founder and director of Constru Casa, an organization that builds housing for families living in extreme poverty in Guatemala. Minihan's involvement with Constru Casa has led to more than $100,000 raised in our region to support its work.
How Constru Casa Began
Caroline van Heerde began Constru Casa in 2004 after an earlier visit to Guatemala, which exposed her to the extreme poverty in which much of the country lives. A Dutch civil engineer, she partnered with key groups within her professional and personal circles back home and social organizations within Guatemala to help develop housing for impoverished families with children. Making strategic alliances with other aid groups in educational and healthcare programs, Constru Casa turned into a network with the goal of giving the country's children better futures. For Van Heerde, it begins in the home.
Trying to Give Guatemalan Kids a Brighter Future
Working with families in extreme poverty is difficult, she says, because you see that they hard work but also their limitations. "It's hard to work on a future if there's not a good educational system or healthcare system [in addition to] raising children."
Partnering with social workers in the communities, Constru Casa goes door to door to meet with families in need. Most of these families live in homes built out of corn stalks, corrugated iron sheets or nylon walls. Homes often don't have a proper floor, but rather a dirt floor. And instead of a door, usually a cloth curtain.
"For most of these families, it's the first time they will get a door with a house that can lock."
Simple, Solid, Stable Houses
The homes Constru Casa builds are simple in design: two or three rooms with a door, a sound roof and a proper bathroom with a shower. Children no longer need to run on dirt floors and roofs don't need repair every time it rains. Houses cost $4,500 for labor and materials. Schools coast $6,500 per classroom. For houses, a family member must help in some way - whether in construction or bringing water for the workers. For schools, the community must be involved. Van Heerde says it's part of the idea of social education. If you teach a person to build, they can teach others.
From Kentucky to Guatemala
People from the Four Rivers Region have become involved, building schools and homes in Guatemala. Bill Minihan of Badgett Playhouse in Grand Rivers went to Guatemala in 2010, reaching out to agencies doing relief work after Tropical Storm Agatha ravaged Central America. There, he found Caroline van Heerde of Constru Casa. He brought his experience back to western Kentucky and the Badgett Playhouse, where he and donors have raised more than $100,000.
Last year, after raising $40,000 they put the finishing touches on their first major project: an eight classroom school. Minihan was then introduced to a nearby community that needed both a school and 22 homes. Holding fundraisers at the playhouse, they have raised $47,000 to begin building houses. As of two weeks ago, the first five houses have been constructed.
Today in Guatemala, the next three houses are being built. Badgett Playhouse patrons say, "we need to make this happen." If children and their parents feel secure in their homes, they will be less likely to leave under desperate circumstances and will then invest in the betterment of their own communities.
A Perspective on Child Refugees
Van Heerde says it's a dangerous path the children are taking to the US, and a difficult issue. She says last week several planes arrived in Guatemala with young people. In past years, fathers were the ones who went to the US to find jobs and now it's children being sent by desperate parents who know the risks and find them worth taking. Youth represents 70% of the country's 14.7 million inhabitants, and the housing deficit is around 1.7 million homes. Many of the existing homes, van Heerde adds, aren't even comparable to homes in modern standards: poorly constructed and often filled with extended families living under a single roof.
How to Help:
Donations can be sent directly to Constru Casa at construcasa.org.
Badgett Playhouse is also gathering donations at their website grandriversvariety.com. The money Badgett receives routes through Friends of Constru Casa in Nebraska. For questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Short Documentary on Constru Casa from 2012: