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Based in Antigua, Constru Casa seeks to provide basic, safe housing to families across Guatemala who live in extreme poverty. Similar to the model used by the international organization Habitat for Humanity, Constru Casa’s recipients participate in the construction of their home and pay for a portion of it (roughly 25 percent) through an interest-free, four-year loan. The target beneficiaries are families whose income is US$65-270 per month. Volunteers and the home recipients work together under the supervision of a local mason to build a three-room, concrete and corrugated iron house in two weeks’ time.
[pullquote align=right]They built or improved approximately 90 houses and community projects in 2012.[/pullquote]Constru Casa also works with partners and individual families in a variety of support programs, such as helping with small-scale health care and educational projects, paying teacher salaries, offering improved stoves and water filters to beneficiary families, and carrying out home maintenance. They built or improved approximately 90 houses and community projects in 2012.
Volunteer workdays are 8am-5pm, with a break for lunch. Cultural experiences such as climbing a volcano, taking a tour to visit traditional weavers, visiting a coffee or macadamia nut farm, or making an excursion to Lake Atitlán can be organized for the weekend. The cost of weekend trips ranges from US$10 for a half-day excursion to US$45-250 for an overnight trip.
Antigua is a lovely historical town full of colonial churches and adobe-walled homes. Founded in the early 16th century, it was the capital of Guatemala until 1773. Locals flock to Antigua from Guatemala City on the weekends to walk its cobblestone streets, eat in its many restaurants and cafés, and shop for high-quality handicrafts. Although beautiful, Antigua still has some petty street crime, so volunteers should be careful with their personal belongings, avoid flashing expensive jewelry or electronics such as MP3 players, be discreet with their cameras, and avoid walking alone at night, especially on dark or quiet streets (taxis are inexpensive). When taking a hike or nature walk outside of Antigua, it is recommended to go in groups rather than alone.
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Application Process: To apply, send an email. Volunteer slots can fill up in advance, especially during busy times of the year. Individual volunteers must be at least age 18; those age 16 and 17 may volunteer with parental permission and an adult chaperone. Families with children age 13 and older are welcome.
Cost: Volunteers are asked to fundraise for the house they will work on: US$350 for individuals and US$4,000 for groups (which covers the entire cost of a house). There are no other program fees. Volunteers are responsible for their own expenses.
Placement Length: A minimum placement of at least two weeks is encouraged, in order to stay to see the house built.
Language Requirements: Spanish is useful but not required.
Housing: Constru Casa can arrange local accommodations, either in a homestay (US$90/week, meals included) or in a hostel or hotel (US$9/night and up). Volunteers who stay in a hostel or hotel are responsible for their own meals.
Operating Since: 2004
Number of Volunteers: Approximately 220 in 2012.
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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.