Mexico City – Imagine the shed in your back yard.
You know the one. You splurged for it last year after succumbing to your penchant for a riding lawnmower.
Think of it again. And this time imagine it’s your house.
For many who live in this sprawling city, home is the size of your backyard shed. Or smaller.
Yet what’s most remarkable about Construyendo, a Mexican nonprofit organization committed to building healthy housing for the nation’s poorest families, is its focus on someone other than the family living in the small home. Construyendo’s priority is engaging volunteers in the self-improving act of helping those less fortunate lead healthier lives.
“It’s a simple idea,” said Alfonso Serrano Gomez, the 27-year-old founder and executive director of Construyendo. “We give volunteers the opportunity to change their lives by changing the lives of others.”
Having engaged about 25 volunteers to build each of the more than 180 homes it has raised, Construyendo has already helped more than 4,500 people experience the joy of giving. And with six volunteer teams set to build six more homes this weekend, things are just getting started.
“Doing good for others is extremely addictive,” Gomez said. “It’s stronger than any drug.”
Gomez got hooked nearly a decade ago. When he was 18, he and 16 friends spent Holy Week volunteering in a nearby village. Each evening after finishing their work, they met with villagers in the local church. One woman walked an hour to and from her home to join the group and, toward the end of the week, invited Gomez and his friends to her house for dinner.
After walking the hour to her home, they were struck by its small size. Even more amazing was the clear joy she felt in sharing it with them.
“It was a tiny home – half the size of this office – and the meal was very modest,” Gomez said. “But she said she always received more than she gave when she opened her home to others.”
Gomez decided that evening to form Construyendo. He had experienced the joy of giving the entire week and had seen firsthand the need for safe, healthy housing.
For the first year after his Holy Week experience, Gomez worked to get the organization off the ground. He remembers spending four months after Construyendo built its first home, each of which costs about $4,000, raising money to pay for it. About 18 months later, a donor helped Construyendo hire its first employee, and that’s when things took off.
Construyendo now has six full-time employees who, with the exception of Gomez, are paid competitively. “I will finally begin to draw a salary soon,” he said with a chuckle.
Gomez believes Construyendo – which provides pre- and post-training to volunteers and requires families who receive homes to learn budgeting, healthy living and other practical skills – has the potential to expand throughout Mexico and in other countries. He acknowledges other organizations that build homes for those in need, but is passionate about Construyendo’s unique focus on volunteers.
“We build houses because they’re needed,” Gomez said. “But they’re also a permanent and standing reminder of our service which, hopefully, inspires us to spread the word and keep on giving.
“Everybody can give something,” he said. “We want to help them.”