San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Temporary Homes a ‘Godsend’ for Refugees

Hilda María Rodríguez brings her blankets one by one from her temporary shelter in a small shipping container to her newly constructed home. The new house is 18 square meters, at least three times bigger than the container, which could barely fit her five family members standing upright.

Last weekend volunteers for Un Techo Para Mi País finished 12 more temporary houses in Poasito, bringing the total to 27. As some earthquake survivors moved indoors for the first time since the Jan. 8 quake, they were thanking God for the generosity of everyone who had made contributions.

When a number of those displaced by the earthquake blocked roads through Fraijanes two weeks ago, the government was forced to explain why more of the donated money hadn’t yet been put towards helping the victims, many of whom were still living in tents. Some were claiming that the government was misusing the donations.

“Where is the help for the people of Costa Rica? We need houses, not promises,” was one of several signs being waved in the air. Marco Vargas, the inter-institutional coordinator of reconstruction efforts, emphatically denied any allegations of misuse of funds.

He said the money would be used eventually, but that various studies would need to be conducted to avoid irresponsible use of donations or rebuilding in high risk areas.

“The donations will be distributed in two ways: 1.39 billion ($2.49 million will go towards the construction of the houses and ¢1.4 billion ($2.52 milliom) will be used to reconstruct schools affected by the earthquake,” said Vargas.

Vargas said it’s not that the government is being slow in its reaction to the quake, but that it is ensuring quality work.

Alexander Ramírez has been the director of the Poasito shelter since day one, when he was organizing people arriving by foot, helicopter and ATVs. Now he ensures the shelter runs smoothly, distributes the donations and communicates with the government on the situation.

“There’s a difference between not wanting to do something and wanting to get it done right,” said Ramírez. “And the government wants the latter.”

In total, the shelter accommodates 98 people, most of whom were living in the Poasito area when the quake hit.

“Our house was only 300 meters from here,” said Janeta García, who has been living in one of the houses built by Un Techo Para Mi País for 15 days with her husband and three children.

García recognizes that her family cannot rebuild in the same place, because of the danger, but wishes to remain in Poasito.

“We’re from Poasito and so are 19 of the 27 families in this shelter,” said García. “We can’t just abandon our home; we want to rebuild Poasito.”

This fondness for place has created obstacles for government aid, as the majority of families affected don’t want to move to the remote areas designated as safe places for construction such as Pital de San Carlos, Aguas Zarcas and Rio Cuarto.

María González is one of the few who isn’t from Poasito. She and her family came from Vara Blanca 15 days ago, and she said the improvement from living outside in the cold and the rain is a godsend.

Wearing a ‘Un Techo Para Mi Vida’ T-shirt, González isn’t shy about showing where her sympathies lie.

“I can’t believe how amazing Techo has been to us,” said González. “On the other hand, the government is so frustrating – they don’t tell us anything, or they just make all these great promises they don’t follow through with.”


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