We went to build homes in Colombia - and here's what happened

On the last Friday in May, 60 Journeyers met in Cartagena, Colombia to build 10 homes for families living on the outskirts of the city. They met over a casual welcome dinner and discussed what they expected from the weekend.  

But when the group arrived Saturday morning to the build site and broke ground, the conditions were exponentially more challenging than expected. 

drone video by David Yarus. 

The existing community was built on essentially a landfill: layers of trash and debris instead of soil, and the pillars needed to go many many feet into the ground (not the typical 2-3 feet in). All of Day 1 was spent digging holes. 

By Day 2, it became clear that the majority of homes would not be finished in 2 days' time. The conditions were like nothing the Journey team had seen, nor the partners at TECHO could have predicted. For the rest of the day, Journeyers threw themselves into the work: breaking apart pieces of cement deep in the ground, navigating around pockets of water, and filling in cement and dirt around each post that finally reached the depth needed to be stable. 

The team packed up at the end of Day 2, and the Journey leaders made the hard decision to stick to the itinerary and continue to the next phase of the Journey. This is the reality of real-time decisions, when our team must weigh the importance of seeing the project through to the end, with practical logistics of organizing, hosting and transporting a group of 60 in another country. 

In the end, a plan emerged: the core team of TECHO volunteers would remain an extra day or two and finish off the homes with local help. Team members sent photos of each home when it was done (see below).

For this and other reasons, Journey always partners with expert nonprofits in-country. This is how we know that projects will always be completed responsibly and with proper oversight, that they are sustainable for the long-term, and that communities have the support and infrastructure needed to continue to move forward, improve their quality of life, and ultimately break cycles of poverty. 

A Journey home build experience has many layers, and its purpose--besides providing the homes--is to raise more questions than answers for its participants: questions about extreme poverty, about our acceptance of the status quo, about our individual potential to make change. Everyone reacts differently to the challenge: some double down on hammering and perfecting the buildings, some can't get enough of time spent with the kids. Some are sad, some are struck when they witness joy within families with next to nothing. Everyone shows up differently, and everyone takes something different with them. 

And so, we continued on to the integration part of the Journey. We couldn't be there to finish the homes, but we had been there for the families, and we knew it was a team effort: the homes would be completed, and we would celebrate the families. In the end, our funding had made 10 new homes possible, we had made new connections and new learnings, and our hearts were open to new possibilities.  

House 1.JPG