Former Estevan resident Jami Carter (nee Suchan) has found a way to help people in Honduras while studying for her master's degree at the University of Manitoba.
Carter has been studying biosystems engineering, with a focus on alternative building. During her studies, she has helped initiate a program named El Pueblo Creciente (The Growing Village). She is currently one of the program's coordinators.
She recently returned to Canada from Honduras, after spending seven weeks building a home for a needy family in a small Honduran community.
The idea for El Pueblo Creciente came two years ago, when Carter started working on her master's degree. She spoke with her instructors about travelling to a developing region, and building a home using alternative materials. She was introduced to another student from Honduras, who connected her with people in that country who could make the project happen.
"The idea is that every year, students will work in the same community, and tackle design problems from the community, whether it's the housing issue or the building issue or something like that," said Carter.
Students will study a design issue in the fall, and then travel to Honduras for two weeks in the winter semester to implement their ideas. Engineering students have been the first to be involved with El Pueblo Creciente, but Carter said the program could one day be extended to departments like education or nursing.
"The idea would be that the community would learn from new ideas, and the students would learn from the cultural experience, but would also learn from actually putting theory into practice, having to deal with things such as resource shortages, time constraints and cultural differences, and would get a broader experience overall," she said.
Carter spent a week in Honduras last year to meet with World Vision representatives, who then helped her determine where the home would be built, and which family would benefit.
"They were able to help us find an appropriate family, and talk with the community so that there wasn't any jealousy of why this family was getting a house built, and not another, and they also helped us to find places to stay, and who to go to find certain materials, or for specific work done," said Carter.
They chose to build the home in the rural village of Consonlaca, which is near the city of Gracias. Consonlaca's proximity to Gracias made it easier to ship materials.
And the family they chose was an elderly couple living with three grandchildren.
About 60 per cent of the country lives in poverty, Carter said, and poverty rates are higher in rural areas.
She returned to the country from January 8 to February 28 this year to spearhead construction of the home, an adobe structure which measured six metres by six metres.
"Adobe is a mixture of soil with straw, or some other organic materials such as blue grasses or pine needles, and padded with water and formed into blocks," said Carter.
Carter, the family members and some Honduran workers did the excavation, the foundation, the footing and the walls for the home.
Then in February, a group of 10 engineering students from the University of Manitoba arrived in Honduras to spend two weeks working on the project.
They were divided into groups and tasked with completing the latrine, the water collection and filtration system, the stove and the sink. They implemented their design ideas for those components to improve living conditions for the family.
Requirements and conditions for those four components are very different than in Canada.
"The sink they use … has a large, open basin for water storage, but the problem with that is that the water is open, so it attracts mosquitoes … so the water gets contaminated really easily, because they're using the sink for washing clothes, washing the dishes and washing your children," said Carter.
The house was finished on time, and was slightly under budget.
"We built the house in 35 days, not using any power tools or electricity or anything," said Carter. "It was just manual tools, because everything was built by hand."
The Honduran family that will occupy the home is very, very pleased with the finished product, she said.
"For them, it was a huge blessing to have us come and help them, because for them, a house like this is something they could never afford," said Carter. "Their old house was very small, basically one bedroom with no windows. It was very, very dark. The roof leaked, and it wasn't a pleasant place to stay in."
Carter said it was nice to see the changes that occurred in the family during her seven weeks in Honduras. Initially, they were apprehensive about the project, but as construction proceeded, the family became more open to the project, and more willing to assist with its construction.
"It was an amazing experience to see that change over time, and to know that you made such a huge difference in somebody's life," said Carter.
The family was chosen not only because of their financial need and the age of the grandparents, but because they owned the land where the house was to be constructed.
"If you don't own your own land, and a new house is built, then the land owner can just take the house from you," said Carter.
El Pueblo Creciente is going to be an annual program at the university, she said. A governing board has been set up, and Carter is one of the board members, although they'll have to hire a new coordinator. They're seeking multi-year endowments, and the remaining financial needs will be tackled through fundraising.
Carter said it's a nice feeling to know that she has created a program that will continue to be part of the university, and that will continue to help people in Honduras.
“I didn't really plan this when I started," said Carter. "I just knew that I wanted to go into a country and build alternatively. The fact that we were able to create this program that will go on each year, we know we're going to be able to help more people. It's a really nice feeling."
And they have built up contacts in Honduras who are now on board for future projects.
Now that she is back on Canadian soil, Carter is working on her master's thesis, and she expects to graduate from the program in April.
Carter is a captain with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), but has been on a leave of absence while she completes her master's studies. She'll return to the RCAF once her master's is finished.