Volunteers build houses and hope in La Cuenca

June 2, 2016

Scraps of corrugated roofing tin and sheets of old metal nailed together form the roof and walls of hundreds of small homes in La Cuenca, an impoverished community in the province of Heredia. Candy wrappers, used diapers, and other debris litter the muddy street and float with gray-water runoff into the nearby river. It flows black from the garbage, wastewater and mud.

Here, concealed behind the significant sprawl of the Paseo de las Flores mall, 21 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Many families lack basic necessities such as adequate shelter. This is where the organization TECHO comes in.

With locations throughout Latin America, TECHO (recently rebranded from Un techo para mi país or A Roof for my Country) was founded in 1997 in Chile. The Costa Rican branch opened in 2006 and has constructed 1,214 transitional houses here. The most recent project took place June 22-24, when more than 100 workers and hours of planning resulted in nine new homes in La Cuenca.

Sofia Yglesias, director of communications at TECHO, said the group of volunteers was as diverse as it was dedicated. “Two of the houses were built with the help of important members of the community such as artists, musicians, legislators and community leaders,” she said. Guitarist Federico Miranda, TV host Viviana Calderón and lawmaker José María Villalta were just a few of the celebrities who worked alongside numerous university students and other volunteers.

The community of La Cuenca is located in the town of Guararí, which is home to 1,400 families. It’s also known as one of the largest slums in Central America. Since there is great need and limited resources, TECHO conducts an intensive interview process to decide which families will receive houses. Ana Lucía Fernández, a mother of five is thankful to be among recipients. “TECHO gives so much, and in a community where not many people get the privilege to have a house,” she said.

The nonprofit and youth-driven initiative welcomes volunteers to help with construction projects and encourages students and young people to take on leadership roles.

The next big project known as “the collection” takes place in San José July 27-28, with a goal of raising $250,000. Around 5,000 volunteers in red shirts are expected to take part. The slogan of the event is “Un rojo por un techo” indicating the need for more red, 1,000-colón bills. TECHO is also seeking more volunteers and individuals or small businesses willing to donate.

The Collection is a national fundraiser that will provide the main source of income for TECHO projects in the upcoming year. Those interested in donating or finding out more, see www.techo.org/costarica.

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