Four family members stand within a makeshift shelter.
Hipólita Moctezuma stands with her family inside their stick-and-tarp home in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu, Guatemala.

Cross Catholic Outreach Tackles Housing Crisis in Another Guatemalan Diocese

Since 2014, Cross Catholic Outreach has worked with Caritas in southern Guatemala’s Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima to construct nearly 400 homes for families in dire need. Efforts are now underway to extend the same blessing to an even greater number of Guatemalan families by launching a housing program in the nearby Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu.

Guatemala’s Housing Crisis and the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu

More than half of Guatemala’s population lives below the national poverty line, and almost one-fourth of the people live on less than $3.20 a day (CIA World Factbook, World Bank). A large majority of rural Guatemalans work informal jobs, often earning meager wages as day laborers on local farms or large plantations. The work is strenuous and the rewards are few, making it extremely difficult for many people to buy their daily bread — much less afford a safe place to live.

As a result, many families scavenge for castaway materials (often large sticks or planks, tarps, palm fronds and scrap metal) they can use to build makeshift homes. It would be bad enough if these were temporary shelters, but most families actually end up living in these structures for decades — sometimes generation after generation. It is a tragedy that so many must struggle to raise their children in feeble dirt-floor dwellings, which offer almost no protection from harsh temperatures, rain, snakes or insects.

Jacobo Recinos Rosales, who lives in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu, knows these hardships all too well. The people in his community have none of the opportunities or infrastructure available in larger towns, and they cannot afford to move elsewhere. Jacobo is a case in point and was forced to end his education after sixth grade to work in the fields and help his family.

“We are a people who live on scarce resources,” Jacobo shared. “There is no stable work for us. There are people who don’t have a job and also don’t have a piece of land to harvest. They barely have enough space to build a house, so they build [what their] strength allows. These people have the right to live with dignity.”

Through his involvement with the Catholic Church, Jacobo has become a leader in his local parish, and today (though he himself lives on scarce resources) he helps implement and oversee the diocese’s development programs in his area. One of the greatest challenges his neighbors face is the lack of safe housing, but by working together as the Church, we can help leaders like Jacobo to bless their communities and share God’s love with families in need — families such as Vicenta and Otilio González’s.

Six people outside their home.
Vicenta (seated left) and Otilio (seated right) live in this home with their children and grandchildren. One grandson (pictured between them) recently recovered from a near-fatal illness.

One Family’s Plea for Safe Housing

Vicenta and Otilio live with their children and grandchildren in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu. In all, eight people are crowded into one small house. Their little shelter has a dirt floor and walls mostly made of wooden planks with some concrete blocks around the base. They work very hard to keep it nice, but it provides little protection on wet and windy days.

“We don’t feel safe because we are afraid. The house is not well covered,” Vicenta said. “The children suffer.”

Snakes often slither inside the house, slipping through any gaps they can find, and recently, the family was startled to find a rattlesnake hiding among their possessions. The wet, drafty and sometimes chilly conditions are also hard on the children’s health. Not long ago, one of the grandsons became so ill that the family feared for his life.

“When I have a more dignified house, the children won’t get sick anymore, because this child just got sick with vomiting and diarrhea,” Otilio explained. “In the end, like a miracle, he was cured, but it came close. It was serious. It was very worrying, but thank God, (my grandson) was finally rescued.”

Vicenta and Otilio are deeply grateful for this answered prayer — and they continue to pray for a permanent solution and a safer place for their grandchildren to grow up.

“I pray blessings for my family,” Otilio said. “May God give us health and take care of us, and, if possible, may he give us something for our benefit — a decent house. I ask that God would allow us to be able to give more security to our family, to have a house of dignity.”

A girl holds her backpack inside a bedroom with gapped wooden-plank walls.
Sonia Interiano Gomez prepares for school inside her home. Stronger houses would give children a safer, healthier place to study and rest before school.

Working With Caritas to Build Safe Homes in Southern Guatemala

The Gonzálezes are just one of many families in need of safe housing in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu. With a population of nearly 900,000 and a high incidence of poverty, people in remote communities throughout the diocese are longing for stronger, healthier homes in which to raise their children.

Since 2018, we have worked with the diocese’s Caritas organization to engage in various works of mercy such as:

  • Providing more than 2 million nutrient-rich meals for hungry children and families.
  • Equipping 400 families with seeds, fertilizer and agricultural training to bolster their nutrition and strengthen their harvests.
  • Installing a solar-powered water system to bless more than 270 families.

Now, we are working to make an even greater impact by launching the diocese’s first housing program and funding homes for 59 families. Our plan for a typical home includes:

  • Three modest rooms.
  • Concrete walls and flooring and a galvanized steel roof.
  • A secure metal door and shuttered windows.
  • A sanitary latrine.
  • A washbasin.

The diocese is buzzing with excitement over the transformation that these homes could bring to needy families in the area — but Caritas still needs labor, materials and other resources to begin breaking ground.

That’s where our compassionate U.S. supporters can make an incredible impact!

 

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A mother and young daughter stand within a shelter built from sticks and sheet metal.
Cristina Yanes and her daughter, Mariela, live in a stick-and-thatch home in the diocese. Here they stand beneath the rudimentary structure where they cook and wash clothes.

Bless Families’ Lives With Safe Shelter

We have already seen from our work in the Guatemalan Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima that safe housing has a lasting impact on families’ overall well-being. Safe housing transforms lives by:

  • Providing a dry, more sanitary living environment to improve family health.
  • Giving children a peaceful place to study and get a good night’s rest before school.
  • Freeing families’ limited resources to focus on other priorities such as spiritual formation, income-generating activities and simply spending time together.
  • Restoring a sense of hope and peace to families who have long been praying for help.

Please consider donating to help launch the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu’s first housing program. Our hope is that this outreach will endure for years to come, ultimately blessing hundreds of families with strong, healthy homes. Give now to transform lives with safe shelter!

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