Connecting Globally: Milwaukee Habitat builds in El Salvador

Connecting Globally: Milwaukee Habitat builds in El Salvador

Milwaukee Habitat Global Village Trip

On March 25th of this year, a team of Habitat staff and volunteers traveled to El Salvador to help a local family build their future home. José, Ana, and their two sons Wilmer (21) and Axel (5) have been living in a shack that’s vulnerable to weather, earthquakes, and theft. The family runs a small business making rope where they make about $18 to $20 a day. 

Our team, the El Salvador Habitat team, and José’s family spent a week building a home out of cement blocks and hard work. While José managed the family business, his eldest son Wilmer pitched in to assist the mason on his family’s future home.

The family’s dedication and sacrifice motivated our team to spend hours moving cement blocks everyday to bring a safe, affordable home to the family. 

For Mirella Reyes, Milwaukee Habitat Homeowner Selection Coordinator, this trip was unique. This was her second Global Village trip but her first time traveling to El Salvador. Her first trip was to Guatemala where she met the homeowner and her daughter once during the trip. This was the first time Mirella worked on the home alongside the family the entire time.

“It was a different experience having them on the build site the entire week,” Mirella said. “It made it very special.” 

Ann Van Dunk, Assistant Executive Director of Milwaukee Habitat, was also on the trip and agrees that working alongside the family brings a different perspective to the week.

“When you bond with a family, it makes it different,” Ann said. “There is a whole new depth that comes from working alongside people… I think we all felt it.”

Not only does Milwaukee Habitat volunteer across the world, we also donate 10% of our unrestricted funds to ensure even more families have a safe, decent place to live. This donation is known as a tithe. Currently, Milwaukee Habitat is partnering with Habitat for Humanity affiliates in El Salvador and Zambia to build safe, affordable homes. Since 1998 Milwaukee Habitat has partnered with Habitat El Salvador, donating nearly $2 million to serve local families like José’s. 

During the trip, the team was also exposed to the local culture and spent time touring the capital city and learning how to cook pupusas, a popular local food. 

“I didn’t feel like a tourist,” Johanna Jimenez, Milwaukee Habitat Board Vice President said. “I felt like I was being immersed. Everyone was so nice and welcoming.” 

Born in Puerto Rico, Johanna said this trip reminded her of her own culture.

“This trip was emotional in a good way,” Johanna said. “It connected me to my roots. I had to call my grandma [to share it with her]. It was humbling for me because it was the type of environment I come from.”

On top of being an influential member of the Milwaukee Habitat board and being in a place that connected her to her culture, this trip was special for Johanna in another big way.

Johanna is a Milwaukee Habitat homeowner. 

Because of this connection, Johanna was able to share homeownership experiences with José and his family which resulted in an emotional goodbye when the trip came to an end. Milwaukee Habitat has a tradition to give each homeowner a Habitat windsock when they move into their home. Just as Johanna received one when she moved in, she was able to give one to José and his family at the end of the trip. 

United by a week of hard work and dedication to the Habitat mission, the team left tired but fulfilled.

“I don’t think any of us wanted to leave,” Johanna said. 

Soon, José, Ana, Wilmer, and Axel will move into a safe and affordable home where they can feel secure.

Pat Keller, Milwaukee Habitat Finance Director, summed up the week by sharing that “it was a lot of hard work and a lot of smiles.” 

Interested in learning about future trips? Sign up to get updates here.

Global Advocacy

Not only do Habitat affiliates join each other to build safe, affordable housing across the world, they also unite in global advocacy. Habitat international recently launched the Home Equals global advocacy campaign. Home Equals is a five-year global advocacy campaign dedicated to achieving policy change, at all levels, to ensure that people living in informal settlements have equitable access to adequate housing. 

Although the location that our team built is not an informal settlement, they do exist in other areas of El Salvador. Similar to the shack that José and his family lived in, informal settlements lack basic services and climate resilience. In addition, people living in informal settlements often lack access to clean water, do not have land rights, live in poorly built homes, and struggle to have their voices heard as civic participation is limited. 

The people that live in informal settlements are not treated as equals. Let’s change that. Together we can change policies and level the playing field. Join us in creating a more equitable world through housing.

Pledge your voice to support the one billion people living in informal settlements: Pledge your voice. 

Want to do more? Visit this page to learn how to further get involved in the Home Equals campaign.

Help break down the barriers to first-time homeownership for more local families.
Give your time and talents in our ReStores, on our build sites or join a committee.
Donate gently used furniture, appliances, home goods and more to support our work to make the cost of home something we all can afford.