What my experience in Nicaragua taught me...
Giving back has always been a part of my life and career, and when it comes to philanthropy, I believe any intention is a good one. However when I was challenged to put my physical labor where my heart was, it was time to wield a hammer for good. Admittedly not the most experienced at construction work, I was still excited by the opportunity to build a house in Nicaragua with Giveback Homes.
While there, I experienced the personal difference between writing a check and donating my effort and time to a community and family. Giveback Homes has created a wonderful opportunity and safe environment for Realtors everywhere to give back, spread joy and make a difference in many different capacities.
My career as a real state agent centers around the idea of “home”…of finding properties for my clients to live in, raise their families in, and make memories in. Physically constructing a home for Josefa and her family has been the most rewarding “home” experience in my career thus far.
Josefa Baltodan is a 68-year old woman, who is the hardest worker with the kindest heart. Imagine working your entire life as a maid, while holding down a second job at a nearby sugar mill and still not having the means to provide a safe home for your family. This is the reality for Josefa, who lives with her three sons, two daughters, and her extremely intelligent granddaughter, Charlie (all of whom I had the pleasure of getting to know on my trip).
Josefa has endured struggles and obstacles her entire life and has worked harder than you, or I, can imagine in order to provide food and shelter for her family. Her family tries to find work as tuk tuk drivers, gardeners, and sugar mill workers, for an unimaginable combined average monthly income of $75/month. Unfortunately, with Nicaragua being the poorest country in Central America, her struggles are not uncommon. In learning Josefa’s story, I was extremely eager to get to Nicaragua and start the building process. I had the pleasure of working alongside fellow Giveback Homes Realtors: 10 amazing human beings from all over the U.S. coming together for one shared goal: Josefa!
On the first day, our crew arrived to the construction site, (which is right next to where they currently live), and we were able to see the family’s current living conditions. Josefa’s home was a structure made of scrap wood and metal, with holes in the roof, totaling about 200 square feet. It had a small kitchen area, shelving, and 2 mattresses pushed together that looked like they had been rained on for years. I could not imagine how the entire family lived in such a small space which lacked many of the essentials that we take for granted: a faucet with running water, floors, kitchen vents, and locks on the doors.
Aaaand then the work began! Within an hour of the first day, my hands were extremely blistered. It was a welcomed pain as we slowly saw the home coming together. We worked together to mix concrete, make cables, and crush existing cinder blocks into small enough pieces to fill blocks, creating structure and stability for the home. By day two, all of the children from the community knew my name and I knew theirs. The children were the best part of the trip. They were true beacons of light and happiness and we enjoyed many moments of dance parties and games like musical chairs. They showed our entire group that simple happiness doesn’t depend on material possessions. I also really loved getting to meet other people in my profession with a philanthropic passion. I’m now inspired, motivated and ready to share all of the amazing takeaways with my peers throughout the country.
We ended the three days of work, with a celebration for the entire community and had a moment where we all put our hands on the walls of the home and dedicated the home to them… that’s when the tears came. No matter where you are in your life (happy, lost, frustrated), I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity to join Giveback Homes, and potentially go on a build trip. After all, who doesn’t like a little blood, sweat and tears (of happiness….lots and lots of happiness)?