Mexico’s Mennonite community has brought its know-how and work force to bear on earthquake relief, sending volunteers from all over the country to construct instant houses for victims in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca.
The prefabricated, galvanized aluminum houses are being provided free to people who lost everything in the powerful September 7 earthquake. The elderly, people with disabilities and single mothers were given priority.
At six meters long and four meters wide, the houses are small but an advantage is that the volunteers can assemble them in just 45 minutes, using only rivets and their own strength.
One volunteer from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc in Chihuahua — the home state for the majority of Mexico’s Mennonite population — told the newspaper Milenio that he hadn’t stopped since arriving in Ixtaltepec 15 days ago.
“We knew what we were coming for; to work, to help and to try to make what is happening to our compatriots less difficult. German blood runs through my veins but I’m more Mexican than the nopal and everything that’s happening to my brothers pains me,” Elmer Vonth said.
Shortly after last month’s first large earthquake, the Mennonite community started meeting in their churches to discuss ways they could help victims and contribute to the rebuilding efforts.
Consequently, a national call was made for donations that would enable them to buy materials to build houses for those were left homeless.
Vonth said the response from the community was overwhelming and that even after they had raised enough money, “nobody wanted to stand still.”
Some people offered to work on the initial construction of the homes while others provided transportation to get volunteers to the affected areas so they could assemble them.
Up to yesterday, 200 homes had been built at a cost of 25,000 pesos (US $1,315) each, giving shelter to people who would otherwise be exposed to the elements. Although they would like to keep helping, Vonth said that for now their work is finished because they have run out of materials.
Another volunteer said he had assembled five houses in less than six hours and when they were handed over to earthquake victims, the responses they received showed just how grateful people were.
“Some people started to cry, they’ve hugged us, in fact I don’t feel capable of taking so much love,” said Bradley Unger.
Eighty-nine-year-old beneficiary Irán Martínez and his wife Francisca Santiago were sleeping under a mango tree on the land where their house once stood until the Mennonites came to help. He said he will be eternally thankful to the volunteers.
“. . . Yesterday I was poor but today I am rich because I have a place to sleep and protect myself . . . I carry [the volunteers] in my heart because it’s a gift I will never forget,” he said.
Several organizations have come forward in the past few weeks with quick and relatively inexpensive housing solutions for earthquake victims, from PVC-framed yurts to structures built from recycled plastic bottles.
Source: Milenio (sp)