Arriving late in Quito, Ecuador on July the 19, 2016, a team from Omaha, NE of 23 people arose early the next morning to join the ER team, Ricardo Vaca Maila and Luis Anibal Maila Vaca. Our purpose was to contruct a new house for Pedro and Martha Robles Guachi, and their three children, Mario, Estefanía and Stalin.
It was a great experience to undertake this project that had been planned for nearly a year for the family that had never owned their own home. We could see and sense their excitement knowing that in just a few days they would have a new place to live.
The work of constructing external and internal walls, tiling and setting the windows and door began in earnest. Great progress was made the first couple of days with the family working right alongside the team. To complete the project, an additional 500 concrete blocks were off-loaded by the family and team members.
Seeing that the house was well ahead of schedule it was decided to begin building an addition for Pedro and Martha’s daughter, son-in-law and baby girl. This required an additional 1,000 concrete blocks. While the addition was not completed by the time our team departed, the family, working with Ricardo and Luis, were able to finish it one week later.
House and Addition
Then came move-in day. The family was sent away while everything was readied for the homecoming celebration. Furniture purchased for the project was put in place, beds were made, curtains were hung and the kitchen stocked with food and water. Clothing for each family member also was placed in the chest-of-drawers in each room.
Even though the family worked alongside the team in construction, they were completely surprised to see all the other things that were in their new house. For a family with so little who work in the Zambiza dump to eke out a meager living, their new home was like a gift from heaven. Their gratitude, expressed in spoken word, many tears of joy and praise could not be contained. The lives of the Robles Guachi family have been forever changed, as well as many others who witnessed the building project.
For Team Omaha, it was also a life-changing event as we were able to tangibly give to a family something so basic as a place to live and to call their own. We, too, shed many tears of joy as we celebrated with them.
For some of the team members, it was the first experience in building a house and providing for people in desperate need, while for other ‘veterans’ it was a labor of love that began some nine years ago when Team Omaha built its first house.
For everyone it was richly fulfilling to work until we ached and then to see this wonderful family’s gratitude and joy of for their new home. Team Omaha is forever grateful for the opportunity to be associated with Extreme Response and Paul and Susan Fernane serving needy families in Quito, Ecuador.
Extreme Response has built 14 homes (view video here) for families in the Quito Dump Community. Interested in sending a volunteer team to build, repair, instruct, provide healthcare, sports camps, etc.? Click here to learn more.
Every day, Miguel and Jane, their daughter Patricia, their sons Luis, Edison, Miguel and Jefferson,plus two more extend family members, squeezed into their tiny home that featured green paneling near the entrance. Built with scavenged boards, the dilapidated house was all they had.
In some countries, the little structure would have been condemned and the family would be out on the street – homeless. But for these nine family members, the home meant survival. They were living like canned sardines, but at least they had a home. Unfortunately, what the home couldn’t provide was hope for the future. They were stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty.
You see the Guachi family are “miners”, a term used to describe people who scratch out a living by wading into mounds of steaming garbage at the Zambiza Dump to remove recyclables like metal, glass, cardboard and plastics. The work is dirty and dangerous. It pays pennies per pound of recyclables – barely enough for the family to eat.
The outlook for the Guachi family was grim. But they had one chance to change everything. They knew ER volunteers had built homes for 12 other dump families. They asked to be considered for the program. After years of hoping, praying and waiting, they received the news that would change their lives. They would receive the next house, to be built in July 2015.
As part of the program, the Guachi family would work alongside Extreme Response volunteers and contribute their sweat equity. By helping build the home, the family’s confidence and sense of personal investment would grow.
Team Omaha Comes To Serve
Building homes for dump families would not be possible without ER volunteers and donors. They come from around the world for a week or two to help people they have never met. We call these volunteers Extreme Teams.
One Extreme Team in particular has been a huge blessing to the dump families. “Team Omaha” is compromised of volunteers from multiple churches in Omaha. The team steadfastly journeys to Quito year after year to change the lives of people living in desperate conditions. In addition to constructing homes, the team provides appliances, furniture, bedding and more.
The Guachi family home project began by tearing down the little green house. The family had to sleep in an old tent and makeshift hut during the new home construction. Seeing their home destroyed must have been both exciting and scary.
Not including the preliminary prep (foundation, utilities), the home was built in about one week. The 22 members of Team Omaha worked alongside family members, building both a home and relationships.
As far as construction projects go, this project was ER’s largest build yet. The home has five bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen. With the inclusion of other family members, 13 people moved into the house. (Plus, an uncle and brother also live in huts next to the house.)
Move-In Day: The Guachi Family is Overwhelmed
On the final day of the project, the family left so the team could finish and set up the house.
“I am sure their minds were full of wonder and joy,” said Paul Fernane, Americas Teams Coordinator. “The move-in day was crazy, busy and full of emotion. The team dashed around painting, finishing the electrical and plumbing, hanging curtains, making the beds, adding sheets, pillow and comforters, filling dressers with clothes and hanging special items on the walls.”
The team team carried the furnishings along a slippery narrow dirt path to the home. The bathroom was outfitted with towels, a medicine cabinet and a shower curtain. The kitchen received a stove, dishes, pots and pans, a blender and other kitchen utilities. The refrigerator and kitchen cabinets were filled with food. A bowl of fruit was placed on the dining room table as the centerpiece. Living room furniture was put in place.
Fernane shared the family’s introduction to their new home: “When they toured the home, their smiles were precious, especially the kids, as they opened the doors and saw the furnishings, clothing and food. They expressed extreme joy and gratitude. It was an awesome time of thanksgiving by both the family and the team. Tears and words of thanks went on for some time, before ER’s Zambiza Program Coordinator, Jose Jimenez, and everyone dedicated the home.”
For the Guachi family, life will never be the same. Hopelessness has been tossed to the curb. Now they have a safe, secure and spacious home, plus hope for the future.
Team Omaha wasn’t done with its service to at-risk families. The hearty volunteers also reached out to the women, children and men at the Zabmbiza Dump, Quito Family Resource Center and ER partner Dunamis.
ER has worked with dump families since 1997. We’ve met hundreds of people desperate to exit poverty. Most won’t make it because the crushing cycle of a lack of income, education and opportunity leaves them hopeless.
We know differently. It is possible to change the lives of families like the Guachis, for this generation and the next. Together, we can provide hope for the future.
Want to be a part of an Extreme Team that changes lives? Visit our Teams Page and watch this video showing on how dump families’ futures have been changed through our home building program.
“We used to pray to God that he wouldn’t send the rain because we had a dirt floor. Rain was our biggest fear.”
It’s bad enough being dirt poor, but when even the dirt turns against you, you’ve reached the bottom. That was the situation that confronted one family in Quito, Ecuador.
Like nearly 300 other recyclers, German Patricio Fernandez gleans his living by picking through the trash at the Zambiza Transfer Station. The station also is known as the Quito Dump, a reference to its days as a full garbage dump. For 23 years, German has been a “miner”, a person who wades into steaming piles of garbage in search of recyclable plastics, metals, cardboard and glass.
While the Dump is safer today as a transfer station, conditions for recyclers remain unsanitary and dangerous. Even worse, their financial outlook is grim. Recyclers sell the materials for pennies per pound. The long hours required to collect and sort the materials help assure that dump workers will remain in extreme poverty.
Historical conditions compound the recyclers’ plight. Many are second- or third-generation miners with little education. They often inherit their parents’ lack of resources, education and hope.
Many of the families live in housing that compares with slums worldwide. Prior to the Dump becoming a Transfer Station, families often lived in makeshift housing in and around the Dump. Their tiny homes were constructed with materials found in the trash – scrap wood, cardboard and plastics. These homes were frequently bulldozed as new portions of the Dump were opened, leaving families homeless.
Praying For No Rain
German and his wife, Eva Morocho, had a particularly acute struggle. They have five daughters, a son and grandson. They used to live in a tiny home made of adobe bricks and cardboard. Rain was cause for concern because their house leaked terribly; a thunderstorm would create panic because their dirt floor would turn to mud.
“Before, our life was very sad because we are a nine-person family and we lived in a very small shack,” Eva said. “We all could not fit together and we had to sleep very close to each other. Everything was in the same room, including the kitchen and bedroom.
“Many times water would enter through the roof and from the walls and touch the earth. As parents, we felt horrible seeing our kids in this situation. We wanted to overcome the situation, but we couldn’t because we had to provide for so many kids and could not afford to build a real home.
“We were living in (adobe and) cardboard, in a space about two by two meters,” she added. “All the kids shared a single bunk. We use to have to put pots and pans to catch the water from dripping on our bed.
“At times my wife and I would see each other and begin to cry and say to each other, when will there be a miracle, so that we can have a house for our kids?” German added.
Extreme Conditions Require an Extreme Response
In 2007, the family’s situation began to change. They were invited to hear Jose Jimenez speak at the Dump. Jose and his wife, Teresa, oversee the Quito Family Resource Center and the Child Development Center at the Dump, operated by a humanitarian organization called Extreme Response International. Jose and Teresa strive to encourage the dump worker families by befriending them, helping them meet extreme needs and encouraging them.
Extreme Response (ER) has been working in the Dump since 1997. Back then ER was comprised of volunteers who saw hungry and dirty kids and simply wanted to provide some nutrition and programming. Fast forward to today. ER now offers childcare, after-school programs, meals, skills training, and medical and dental assistance to the Dump families.
Jose told German and Eva about a program that allows families to qualify to have a home built for them by Extreme Response volunteers. The program is limited to building one or two homes per year. The families must secure land and participate in the construction.
ER’s Paul Fernane, Short-Term Teams Manager – Americas Region, recalled the family’s situation.
“They were living in a very, very small one-room adobe brick house,” Fernane said. “They had a small outdoor cooking grill and an outhouse for their bathroom.”
German and Eva secured land and were selected for the home construction, which was completed in August 2013.
“The family was very excited and immediately indicated they were going to help any way they could to see their dream come true,” Fernane said. “We loved seeing their faces when they saw the first set of house plans.
“The whole family played a part in the pre-work and during the time the work team was in-country. The parents would work during the day with the team and then work in the Dump at night.
“All the kids pitched in, even little Sammy, who was eight at the time. She always wanted to help mix the mortar and carry the full buckets of mortar to the team members. Even when they looked heavier than her, she climbed up ladders, one rung at a time.
“The family members all poured their hearts into helping, and some of their own resources at times. Their smiles and hard work energized the team every day.”
Volunteers from Nebraska, affectionately called “Team Omaha”, came to Quito to build the home. A foundation provided the funds to build the home, while donors outfitted it with furniture, appliances, bedding and groceries.
“The team loved working with this family and was impacted by their commitment to helping,” Fernane said. “The team members were individually challenged to get out of their comfort zones, even if they had never laid a cinder block before or could not speak the language.
“We had women and men, young and old, who had never done this type of work, but they came together with a common goal of pouring into this family in any way they could. They worked hard every day to help make the family’s dream come true.”
While their modest block home was under construction, ER staff and the team realized the family would benefit greatly from extra space and a separate bathroom. So they modified the plans to include a second story and bathroom. The five girls ended up with their own bunk and bathroom suite.
“Having a house completely changed our lives,” German said. “We used to pray to God that he wouldn’t send the rain because we had a dirt floor. Rain was our biggest fear. Today our kids have their own bed and bathroom. There are no words to explain what we have now.
“Now we don’t live like we lived before. We were suffering. It has been a giant change because we can sleep peacefully. We do not live as we used to in a leaky shack. We are content and we give thanks. We live happy.”
“We are very thankful,” Eva said. “Our home is two stories. The five girls are living upstairs. We have our own bathroom and a kitchen. We only dreamed of this. We thought it would take our entire lives to build a home.”
“This is our room for my sisters and me,” Leslie (daughter) said. I want to give thanks to all of those who helped us build this house. Here in our room each of us has a bed. We like this room because it is big, we have our own privacy and we can play amongst ourselves or do whatever we wish.”
Fernane said the home-building process has changed the family and the work team.
“The family is coming to ER-led programs,” he said. “You can just see that they have a greater sense of hope and their self-esteem is definitely at a higher level. Their lives are being changed in many ways. We believe they have bigger dreams of what their future might look like.”
“The team was impacted by so much during the construction process, but the day the family moved into their dream home deeply touched the hearts of everyone. There were no dry eyes that day.”
Watch ER’s new video on building homes for dump families here.
ER and volunteers will build house number 13 this summer for another deserving family of recyclers from the Quito Dump. In addition to construction teams, we host teams that do medical and dental work, kids programs/crafts/sports, and more.
Read about ER’s plans to help rescue more kids out of poverty here. Learn more about volunteer “Extreme Teams”, internships and career opportunities here.