Once a year, a Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity board member is asked to provide a time of reflection to begin our monthly meeting.
If it sounds quasi-religious, it is no coincidence, as Habitat’s founders, Millard and Linda Fuller, created the nonprofit with a mission statement that starts with, “Putting God’s love into action.”
The Fullers weren’t preachers but were unabashedly Christian and considered their life’s work a mission. Millard Fuller, honored at a National Press Club dinner in 1996, said, “We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, morally, politically and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness.”
There is no religious requirement for volunteers, board members or partner families. People of all faiths participate, including many with none. But all believe lending a hand is a hand up, not a handout. And all believe the motto of providing simple, decent housing.
A couple of meetings ago, it was my turn for the reflection, but spotty international internet connections kept me from the start of the meeting. Executive Director Kurt Krahn graciously stepped in to cover the reflection.
Had I made it, this is what I was going to say:
A simple, decent house seems like such a simple concept. But relative to what? Even in the U.S., it varies and is a not-so-simple concept. What we build for our families in Santa Fe would probably blow the minds of Habitat families in rural Mississippi or many other places.
For the four Costa Rican men currently remodeling our home in Ojochal, Costa Rica, the adjacent 450-square-foot shack on our property is an upgrade from the tin-roofed lean-to shed they lived in for more than a year while building the new, high-end home for the Canadian neighbor on the lot below ours.
The crew is from Arenal, a five-hour drive in the volcanic region north of the capital of San Jose. They started on the house in April 2021. The first thing they built was the corrugated shed to store materials at one end, with 15-by-15 living quarters at the other. There, they cooked, slept and watched futbol at night and lazy Sunday laundry days. Every other long weekend, they drove home to see families.
Our arrival at our new home in June happened to coincide with them completing the Canadian’s home, which meant tearing down the storage shed and their dormitorio. The guys said they’d work on our house if they could stay in our shack. At first, we were aghast. It seemed uninhabitable to our sensibilities. They said there was no problem. It had electricity, water, a bathroom and a cement floor.
These men chose to leave families to work down here because of higher wages than what they earned in their home area. They are highly skilled tradesmen and seem grateful for a few more weeks of good pay.
The condition of their own families’ homes is unknown but are likely not the worst in their neighborhood. Still, they are undoubtedly nowhere close to what we build for our families.
The national catchphrase of Costa Rica is pura vida — pure life. Everybody says it all the time. It consistently scores as one of the happiest countries in the world on global happiness polls and always well above the United States. It’s humbling to be around.
The bottom line is that a simple, decent Habitat home in Santa Fe is a mighty fine house indeed. We can be proud of what we and our partner families are able to provide for our community.
Kim Shanahan has been a Santa Fe green builder since 1986 and a sustainability consultant since 2019. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.