“Growing up in Argentina, I always saw poverty as a problem without a solution, a puzzle with no answer. I viewed poverty as something common, as if it was chosen by people to live under those circumstances, which in the case of my native country, it consisted of living under a tin roof, with no accessibility to filtered water, and living with just $1 a day. As I started to grow up, questions started to pop in my head. I would always ask myself: “What have I done in this life to deserve the things that I have?” and “What have others (those who live in poverty) done to live under such dramatic circumstances?” As Argentina suffered one of its biggest depressions in 2001, my family and I were forced to move outside of the country to seek new opportunities. Even though I moved away from my country, I still felt inside of me a need to help others. The question that kept on popping inside my head was: “What can I do thousand of miles away to help my country overcome this situation?”
The answer to this question came fast. I found about TECHO-U.S. on January 2013. At the moment, TECHO-U.S. was recruiting volunteers for their next trip to Medellin, Colombia. The common goal of TECHO-U.S. was to be able to raise $30,000.00 in order to help build more than 15 transitional houses in Medellin. As I joined TECHO-U.S., I knew right way that I had made the right decision. Workers and volunteers at TECHO-U.S. were extremely involved and proactive to making this trip happen, to help overcome this situation of poverty in South America. They put me up to date on what was happening, what kind of fundraisers they had mind in order to raise money, and gave me a great explanation of how TECHO started and what their objective as a nonprofit organization was. One thing was clear at the moment: TECHO is not a nonprofit organization that just builds houses in slums, which is the common mistaken perception about TECHO. Instead, TECHO builds houses just as an excuse to get in touch with the neighborhood. The first step for any human being is to be able to live under a shelter with food and water. TECHO in addition to building houses, works with the community to overcome any problem that may arise, such as building a new school or re-building the streets.
After four months of hard work, organizing fundraisers, and coordinating activities with 50 other volunteers, we (volunteers and TECHO staff), were able to raise the necessary funds to go to Medellin, Colombia. As I arrived to Medellin on Friday, June 6th along with 50 other U.S. volunteers, things really started to impact me on a positive way. I was immediately introduced to local Colombian TECHO volunteers. These volunteers gave us a warm welcome and a brief explanation of what we were going to be doing in the next couple of days. On Saturday, June 7th, we woke up at 5:00 AM and headed up to the slums in Medellin. Here, we were quickly introduced to each of the families. In my case, it consisted of a single mom, who was working at the time as a maid, making only $5 a day. Maria told us about her past, how she was not fortunate enough to finish middle school, due that she had to start selling arepas in order to be able to pay for her brothers’ school tuition. As I was deeply touched by Maria’s story, the volunteers, Maria and I started to build this transitional house. On the first day, it took us (7 volunteers) about 12 hours to set the foundations and beams. Even though this day was tough and involved great physical work, I was deeply shocked with Maria’s story. It was hard for me to understand how she was living under such conditions and still had a positive attitude to see things in a positive way, and how she always kept faith on how things were going to get better.
On Sunday, the volunteers and I woke up at the same time, due to the fact that we had a long day ahead of us. This day consisted of putting up all the walls, windows, door and tin roof. Even though in my case I was physically exhausted, the joy and excitement of knowing that I was changing and hopefully helping build a new future for a family, gave me the strength to keep on working hard. With the help of Maria and her two young daughters, we were able to put up the walls and doors in about 8 hours. Our biggest challenge was still ahead of us; putting the roof was definitely challenging. Here, we had to make sure no sun was going inside the house, to prevent the house from having water leaks. Finally, at 9:00 PM on Sunday we were done with the house. As each of the volunteers said goodbye to Maria and her two daughters, each of us had the opportunity to tell Maria and her family how each of us hoped this new house would bring a bright new future for them. In my case, I thanked Maria and her family for letting me be a part of this moment of their life. Also, I thanked Maria for showing me a different reality. Maria taught me a unique lesson: to never give up and to always try to look at the bright side of things.”
Joaquin Corvalan, TECHO-U.S. volunteer from Argentina currently living in Miami.