Building a ‘Habitat’ for those who need it most

When Dave and Jan Kozlovsky, retired North Branch Area Public Schools teachers, arrived in El Salvador Feb. 15, they were taken aback by the housing in which many of the country’s residents live.

By American standards, the dwellings some El Salvadorians reside in wouldn’t even be considered livable homes.

“(The houses) are made out of bamboo sticks and plastic — that’s what these people were living in,” Jan Kozlovsky said.

Dave Kozlovsky added that there’s no indoor plumbing or power, and the floors are made of dirt.

Washing the clothes is done outside with water from buckets, and the meals are cooked over wood fires.

“There’s a constant haze from burning wood,” Dave Kozlovsky said.

He added: “If you take the poorest person you know, and if he brought whatever he has over there, he’d be considered rich. They have nothing.”

But now, thanks to the Kozlovskys and other volunteers with Habitat for Humanity International, more El Salvadorians have homes to call their own.

Jan Kozlovsky’s brother, Tom Wochos, invited his sister and her husband on the weeklong trip through his church, First United Methodist of Madison; none of them had volunteered with Habitat before.

“I always thought I wanted to get involved with Habitat when I retired, but I didn’t think my first time would be in El Salvador,” Dave Kozlovsky said.

The Habitat group paired with two local men on the construction, one of whom would be living in the house in the town of Getsemani with his family once it was finished.

The work was difficult, but the Kozlovskys found it rewarding.

Dave Kozlovsky said it was amazing how much they were able to accomplish with very few tools.

He said the only tool he saw was a pair of wire cutters; otherwise, everything was done by hand.

One of the workers bent rebar by hand, they used a plumb bob hanging on a string as a level, and the workers even mixed their own mortar, which also required sifting sand.

“For probably about a day and a half, all I did was hold the sifter,” Jan Kozlovsky said.

Working as a cohesive unit, the volunteers and their local helpers got the concrete house up, block by block, overtop the rebar supports.

When the Kozlovskys and their Habitat group left, the house wasn’t quite finished, but a photo of the home was sent to them after another assembly of Habitat volunteers wrapped up construction.

It’s a humble house — a living area, kitchen and two bedrooms — but it’s far more of a home than what the family was living in before the Habitat volunteers arrived.

Jan Kozlovsky said the family was very appreciative of the generosity of Habitat and its volunteers.

She noted that the family’s mother was excited to have her baby take his first steps on the floor of their new home, rather than on dirt.

Dave Kozlovsky explained that the effort by Habitat is to help 138 families by building 90, low-income houses in the Getsemani area, but the residents do not live in them free of charge.

“It’s going to cost the owner $50 a month for seven to 10 years to pay for this little cement house,” he said, adding that plumbing and power are not covered by Habitat, so if the family wanted those amenities, they’d need to have them hooked up on their own.

The Kozlovskys said volunteering through Habitat in one of the poorest areas of the world made them reflect upon just how fortunate they are.

“I’ll never complain again when my power goes out for an hour,” Dave Kozlovsky said. “These people have never had lights, never had a bathroom. It (volunteering with Habitat) was quite an experience.”

 

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