We built a house!! Okay, we didn’t build it all by ourselves, but Ryan and I, along with about 40 other people, built a house in Tijuana over the weekend. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and an opportunity presented itself on a free weekend. A coworker has done over 100 of these builds with an organization called Corazón. (We learned more about the organization while on our trip and, in addition to building houses, Corazón helps with the cost of school – even college – for kids that participate.)
We left from San Diego and drove across the border on a bus. The border crossing took a while (we all had to have our passports examined and our bags x-rayed; the way back was way quicker, believe it or not!), but the actual time spent driving was very minimal. I had never been to Tijuana before or close to the border, so it was a bit shocking to see just how different things were just on the other side. Such a change from the nice San Diego homes and shops – small houses that were mostly falling apart, makeshift stairs and roofs, dirt sidewalks. And a lot of the houses had a view of San Diego – imagine looking over and seeing that million-dollar view, but being just out of reach (pictured on the left is the view from our build site). It was really eye-opening, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to help out a little. I know building one house isn’t changing the world, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Almost everyone on our build was a first-timer, so we were warned that there was a chance we wouldn’t finish. The first-time builders thing wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but we also had to deal with a “difficult” build site. Luckily the day wasn’t too warm (a high of about 90 degrees, but most of us were from Bakersfield so we were expecting a lot worse) and we were all prepared with light clothes, hats, sunscreen, and lots of water.
We had to walk up stairs made from tires and dirt (pictured on the right side of the picture above). We spent quite a bit of time in a daisy chain, bringing materials up and down the stairs. Much of the initial painting was done in the lower area, with the final exterior and the touch-ups completed once the house was up. Ryan and I both spent the first few hours down below, painting the large plywood pieces and trim (used for trim all over the house, and some interior rails and steps). We were called up late in the morning to see the walls go up, which was when it really hit us – this was actually going to be a house!
We were on track to finish before the end of the day, but there was still a lot of work ahead of us – putting up the roof (which was first priority after lunch), finishing the interior, putting up walls for the bathroom, and painting the exterior of the house. We took our lunch break around noon, and I was so excited and ready for our rice and beans – Corazón provides the family money to buy rice and beans and, as a thank you, they cook lunch for us. Imagine my surprise when we were presented with fish tacos topped with pico de gallo, lettuce, chipotle sauce, and salsa verde! The family also had two types of fruit juice and cups with fresh fruit for dessert. Lunch was absolutely delicious, and if I didn’t have a lot of hard work ahead of me, I would have eaten at least two more tacos.
The second half of the day was absolutely harder for me. I decided that I actually wanted to use the hammer I brought (and bought specifically for this trip), so I volunteered to get up onto the roof. The roof frame had been built before lunch, but it had to be carried and pulled up onto the top of the house (there were two pieces, to make the A-frame). This is where you really need a lot of people helping. Even once it was up on the roof, there were several people who had to hold up one side, while some of us started nailing it to the top of the house. With at least 15 people on top of the house, both sides of the frame seemed to be stable in no time at all, but there was a lot of extra nailing that had to be done to make sure the roof would stay secure during wind storms.
Scaffolding was up all around the house, which allowed us to get around relatively safely.
When the team started to nail down the plywood and put down the paper layer (before the shingles), I decided to stay on the scaffolding and work on some exterior painting (very hard work – trying to duck underneath the roof and paint without getting anything in my eyes). However, I joined them up on top when they started laying down the shingles. The smaller tack-like nails we used for the shingles were much quicker and easier to hammer in than the longer ones used to keep the roof in place. I think the shingles were made out of rubber – the material had a good grip, so I wasn’t worried about slipping off the roof. The only downside is that the sun made them VERY hot to the touch, so I had to be careful not to put my hands or knees down while I nailed.
By the time I got down from the roof (at least two hours after I started) the house was really coming together! I was so surprised by the amount of work that had been done to the interior and exterior of the house. From there, it was really just the finishing touches – finishing up the walls of the bathroom, adding the loft to the house, putting the trim on the outside of the house, touching up the exterior paint, etc.
The inside of the house had a loft area, and two small “rooms” separated by the wall pictured above. Not shown is the small kitchen countertop, a storage area on the other side of the house, and the small bathroom. The bathroom would eventually have a toilet, but we were told that the family would not have electricity or running water – the former could be added on, but running water was not part of the future plan. Some houses did have running water. While we were building, we had access to another family’s home for the bathroom – it was very nice with running water and a tub.
The family members, some of whom helped us build, were so grateful for their new house. I wish we could have done more to help! It didn’t seem fair that we were about to get back onto the bus, just 8 hours after we arrived, and go back to take a nice warm shower in our fancy downtown San Diego hotel. So, while I felt good about the work we had done, it just doesn’t seem like it was enough. We plan to donate to Corazón because I think they do a lot of good work with the donations (I was sold once I heard about the academics program). We were still smiling at the end of the day, so I think it’s safe to say we would definitely do something like this again! I can’t believe it took me this long to participate in a house build, but it was a great first build experience.