A House Is More Than A Home

(excerpt from Gail’s journal)

Last night I went to a meeting of the Santa Ana municipality in the local community. This is an effort the new mayor is  making to reach out to the people at a grass roots level to address their needs and to hear their concerns.

When I walked in the room, I was so proud to see the representatives of the  La Promesa women’s community in the room. They were all neatly dressed, had on makeup and were listening attentively.  They asked respectful and appropriate questions.  Why was this so special?

Ten years ago, their presence at the municipality meetings was a rabble rousing riot group. They were angry, they yelled, they were dirty. They wore old shirts with holes and rubber sandals. Their kids ran all over the room. They threatened to tear down the municipality or to break the windows or to disrupt the meeting.  They created chaos with their presence.

I wondered how they got from there to here.  So I reflected.  First, a lot of group meetings and therapy sessions.  The lived in a slum, houses made of cardboard and tin.  Old plastic covering their ceilings. They had no water, no electricity. They bathed in the river.  They used outhouses as toilets.  They got evicted from these homes and were spread to the four winds.  But somehow, they stayed together, and ultimately got housing bonds to get their own homes.  They moved into their government funded houses with the clothes on their backs, tables with three legs, old plastic furniture, lumpy mattresses.

They have now lived in these homes for five years. What has this meant for them?  A stable place to “be”.  A true sense of community.  Flower gardens that they grew themselves.  Each house has its own details….An extra room, tiles on the floor, a painted wall. 

And now, there is  even a community center that is full of flowers, painted, and furnished.  They can have group meetings. They have cooking classes, they have yoga classes, they have classes for their children.  They are  learning English so they can speak with the visiting tour groups they attend.  They make and sell crafts from the seeds and shells and sticks they see around them

Slowly, we have watched these women blossom like so many lovely flowers. Now, they talk to one another with courtesy.  They look forward to activities. They are neat and nearly on time for their classes. 

So, the houses that these women have so longed for have now become homes for them and their families. Their children go to the local school and have a bright future.  They are earning money from their tourism project and their catering service. They are organized and structured. 

And they can finally go to the local government meetings with pride and dignity. 


© Gail Nystrom 2007. All rights reserved.