My name is Meghan Haslam. I came to El Sauce, Nicaragua in November of 2006 as an Environmental Education Peace Corps Volunteer. The inspiration for the 4 Walls Project stems from an encounter with a young man named Juan Pablo who grew up moving from one house to another. When he was in his teens, a nun who had been his teacher donated Juan Pablo a small piece of land. He and his brother built a house of adobe bricks on the land, but they only had enough adobe to build the walls halfway up. They requested some plastic sheeting from the mayor’s office, but to no avail. So the family made do with what they could find: cardboard, scrap metal, plastic, etc. It wasn’t a comfortable place, Juan Pablo told me, but it was still their own. They continued to petition the local government for help, but were refused. Then one night about two years ago a powerful storm roared through El Sauce and one of the walls collapsed. Juan Pablo and his family were grateful to survive, but could only cover the space with a plastic sheet. Due to their hand-to-mouth lifestyle, the wall has been plastic ever since. Although Juan Pablo and I were good friends, he, unlike other Nicaraguans, did not invite me to his home. The people of Nicaragua are proud of their homes; even the poorest will share whatever they have. After asking many times where he lived, and receiving a vague wave to the east, Juan Pablo finally took me to his house. He told me he was worried he would lose a friendship because of the poor condition of his family’s home. I asked other friends of his if they’d been there; most said no. After this, I discovered a similar situation with some of my young students – third and fourth graders who were embarrassed to show their teacher where they lived. In addition, the utility companies are reluctant to provide services to people with these unstable houses. Every person, young or old, deserves a sturdy home with four walls, a roof, running water and electricity to shelter and to provide them with a basic foundation for life. The 4 Walls Project is my answer to the lack of this simple need.
What I did
The 4 Walls Project began with a project proposal including descriptions of housing conditions in Nicaragua, building materials and a brief biography of the four families who were chosen as the first beneficiaries. While in the US in December 2007, I raised funds for the pilot project. After receiving donations, 4 Walls developed a contract to be signed by the beneficiary and the project manager. The contract states the beneficiary’s basic responsibilities, including providing the labor to build the wall, beginning and end dates for the construction, etc. Two families built one new wall on their house. Another family built two walls and installed a zinc roof. A fourth family received aid to rebuild the four walls of their house. All four families have completed construction and written thank-you letters. The second phase has been initiated with two more families. One family has already received and used 10 bags of powdered cement to complete a home for 12 people. Another family built a wall with the help of a volunteer from the US. They have since completed another wall towards their ultimate goal of four brick walls.
What I intend to do
With the 4 Walls Project launched and having seen success in the first round of houses, I am seeking a way to keep the project going. I would like to see 4 Walls become a sustainable option for poor Nicaraguan families in need of better housing. In the short term, I want to complete a small scale second phase of the project to improve upon the first phase. At the beginning of 2009, I hope to have a small group of donor-workers come from the US to help build more walls, see the fruits of the project’s efforts and most of all, connect with the 4 Walls families.