In 2007, a Peace Corps Volunteer named Meghan Haslam was teaching in the rural schools around El Sauce. Everyone in the community was friendly and warm, and as soon as she met someone, they would invite her over for a cup of sugary coffee or a plate of gallopinto (rice and beans). Everyone except for her best friend. Meghan asked where Juan Pablo and his mother Margarita lived, but they always evaded a visit. After months, she finally discovered why – Margarita and Juan Pablo’s home was made of crumbling mud brick, plastic sheets and bits of cardboard. Rain filtered through the holes in the plastic roof. They were humiliated by their situation.
After she saw the house, Meghan was shocked. And it wasn’t just Margarita’s home. Dozens of families lived between mud brick walls that disintegrated in torrential rains or shredded plastic sheets. But no one was doing anything about it. Meghan scribbled down a project proposal: help poor families replace plastic and cardboard with four sturdy brick walls. She photographed the houses. Evidence in hand, she went home to the US and asked family and friends to donate $700 to help four families rebuild their homes. In January of 2008, the first 4 Walls Project bricks were laid.
That same month, Meghan met Bonnie Yannie, an emergency room nurse from Rochester, NY who was volunteering in El Sauce’s health clinic. Bonnie came to El Sauce seeking change; rebuilding her own life after a tragic year. Early one January morning, Bonnie enthusiastically volunteered to help move 2,000 bricks to a 4 Walls Project construction site. When the truck carrying the bricks started up an incline and bricks slid off the back of the truck, Bonnie was amazed to see the entire neighborhood turn out to help – children, grandmothers, teenaged boys – everyone lent a hand to get the precious cargo safely to the house. Bonnie was so inspired, she said, “Meghan, we have to do this again! We have to bring more people here to be part of this!”
A woman of her word, Bonnie put her energy and her ‘fire’ for 4 Walls to work. By the end of 2008, a group of volunteers was headed to El Sauce to build houses. No one has looked back. Today, numerous groups of 4 Walls volunteers travel to Nicaragua to build homes and connect with families every year.
Through Bonnie’s connections, the 4 Walls Project was incorporated into the Rochester, NY non-profit organization Journeys of Solutions (JOS) in 2009. Since then, JOS has helped with publicity, financial management, and non-profit status. Most importantly, JOS guarantees that 100% of donated funds go straight to the project! The combined generosity of donors, JOS, Bonnie’s fire, and a lot of sweat, cement, and hard work have kept the 4 Walls dream alive.
4 Walls is growing: one brick, one volunteer, one family at a time. We have a board of directors in the US, as well as a committee – made up of beneficiaries, a project manager, and other local members – on the ground in El Sauce.
Let’s keep on building!