The story of our first home build starts the winter of 2013. It was probably the cold and rainy days that kept me inside warm coffee shops and pubs. I found myself fantasizing about traveling somewhere warm and sunny. I longed for an escape from the winter drudgery and spent a lot of time surfing the web looking at countries I had never visited. I love adventure and have traveled to twenty-five countries for volunteerism and exploration. For some reason I kept finding myself surfing pictures of Nicaragua. The kind faces, colonial architecture and sandy beaches seemed a lovely distraction from my overcast, Washington winter. Then, after a few months of driving my wife crazy with fantasies of visiting Nicaragua the strangest thing happened. One of my mentors who had been traveling for several months in Central America sent me an email to see if he could fly me out, all expenses paid, to hang out with him. He asked what dates I would be available and all I had open was spring break. He checked the dates I sent him and said, “Well, I’ll be in Nicaragua those dates. Ever wanted to visit there? I’ll fly you out and pay your expenses during your stay.” I think God is very, very kind and definitely has a sense of humor.
So there I was, a few weeks later, standing in the middle of the city center of Granada, Nicaragua. We had spent time touring the countryside, boating the islands of Lake Nicaragua, and walking the sandy beaches. The city itself is breathtaking and our local guide is friendly and patient with my incredibly crude level of Spanish vocabulary.
While walking the streets of Granada I am swarmed by young children in tattered clothes, barefoot and dusty. All seeking to touch me, hold my attention, sell me a trinket or ask for money. Their wide eyes and outstretched muddy palms are both gentle and desperate. My guide shoos away the groups of children over and over and is embarrassed by the interruptions. Later, when driving around surrounding towns and villages I ask him about the poverty in his country. I ask him to take me to a place these shooed away ones live. After much hesitation he veered off the main streets and took me down narrow, unpaved roads where I saw tents, structures made of tarps, wood poles and scrap metal. These are the desolate places these wide-eyed children call home.
When I returned to my home in Bellingham a week later I found myself nestled comfortably in an upper middle class neighborhood. I had running water. I had safety from the winter rains I had so recently been complaining about. These wide-eyed children and their stories stayed with me. Their homes, hand woven from the strands of whatever could be gathered from the dump, stood in such contrast to my everyday reality and that of my friends.
Over the coming months I spent many hours researching about the slum, Pantanal, which sits just outside of Granada. I came to learn that the government had just recently given property rights to all of these families who live in trash woven homes. They have ownership of land, but no homes. I dug through the websites of the non-profits who have been working to end poverty in these areas and made lists of ones I thought would be worth working with sometime. La Esperanza was one such group that made my list. They work primarily in education by creating incentives for poor families to keep their kids in school and off of the streets. I learned that most children drop out of school by the fourth grade in Nicaragua never to return. The schools are all small and underfunded. La Esperanza also helps pay teachers in the public school system, builds classrooms for schools and works with local families in the slum to value education for their children. They also build homes for these families on the land they now own.
I began wondering how I could partner with La Esperanza. About this time, Rob, a friend of mine who is a seasoned real estate agent in my hometown of Bellingham asked me if I would be interested in becoming an agent alongside him. He and I had long dreamed of partnering together in some way. His real estate skills and mine in community development could be a powerful combo. Then it struck me: what if we could partner our work as real estate agents with the wide-eyes, the woven-home families I had met? There is so much money that exchanges hands through the sales of homes in the U.S. How could some of the money from these types of sales benefit my new Nicaraguan friends?
The dream for 2ROOFS was born. Rob and I decided that when you buy or sell your home with our real estate business, 2ROOFS, we would help build one for a family in need at no additional cost to you. A roof for a roof. We felt so passionate and energized by the vision of using our business to create a funding stream for making the world more beautiful. We set out to make this dream a reality.
Next, I contacted La Esperanza and asked if we could partner with them to build one home. They put us in contact with the Duarte Family, and having allocated money from our commissions, we planned a build for the end of July 2015. I shared the vision with some families from my neighborhood church and we quickly gathered a group of twelve folks, my family of four included, who raised their own money to fly down and help build the home with the family. We hired local builders from Nicaragua to oversee the project thus adding the social benefit of providing employment.
Being in Nicaragua for two weeks helping build the home was such a beautiful experience. Working in the tropical heat was physically stretching, yet so meaningful. Our lives, and the lives of the Duarte family, were forever changed. See photos of the build and read Baby Lupe's story.
Our next home build is scheduled for the end of November in Guatemala. Rob and I are so grateful for this opportunity to use our business to do good in the world. We have seen just how much homes matter. Will you join us?