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Building Walls in Nicaragua


By Kate Dernocoeur, guest blogger

The work isn’t terribly profound: demolish the shaky wall, dig a trench, line it with river rock. Fill the trench seven inches below grade with mescla (mortar) off the pile on the dirt floor where it has been mixed to the right consistency. Grab a brick, wet from soaking. Position it, fill the gaps with the trowel, do it again. And again and again, through the sweltering day.

What is profound: sharing the joy I see on the faces of this Nicaraguan family as, side by side, we work together to build them a better home. I’m part of the Four Walls Project in the small town of El Sauce. I’m happy, and so are Ysidro and his wife Blanca, and the (count ‘em) six daughters with which they have been blessed.

This place entrances me, now that the hardness of Managua is hours away. The people here seem shy initially, but they readily respond to the universal greeting: “Adios!” Coming or going, it’s always “adios!” and the reward for reaching out are delighted smiles and the abolishment of any sense of being a stranger.

In just three years, volunteers with the Four Walls Project have given some 36 families the things that come with losing walls made of crumbling adobe, or patched and wobbly concrete, or, worst, black plastic. Security. Safety. Dignity. Pride.

I love the work, the sweat, the dirt, the sense of accomplishment. In the eight days we’re there, our group works on four houses. Maybe Ysidro and his family are dearest to me because they are my first, or because of the way his little girls carry five-gallon buckets of water on their heads, or how the littler ones cheerfully heft and haul away the old adobe bricks. Then there’s Dema and his wife and child, and their 200 square feet of living space. And the family at the edge of town where the old wall came down in less than three seconds, given a good push by Juan Pablo, our in-town associate.

I guess these people can be regarded as living in poverty, but only if you don’t count richness of spirit.

Homestays have been arranged for many in our group. My host and his wife appear to be solidly middle to upper-middle class, with a lovely home on a quiet, paved street. Their son is at university, and the daughter will start at the private Catholic school in the fall. Even for them—as for the rest of the town—there may or may not be running water in the one-pipe shower when I get home . Where there’s one pipe, it’s never hot. Bucket baths work on such days, and soon I feel downright local.
Guest Blogger,  Kate  Dernocoeur,  recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Western Michigan University, travels the world constantly and is hard at work on a book about her experiences in Alaska.
Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Margaret Cheff
    Feb 5, 2011 Reply

    Nice article, Kate! I love sharing travel experiences with you “in person” but also enjoy reading your memories of the adventure trips I HAVEN’T taken with you!

  2. posted by
    Christa Sadler
    Feb 5, 2011 Reply

    Hey gal, nice blog! It’s fun to see the pictures and relive it all again with you. Coming next year? We’ve got a pre-Christmas trip going down, staying through the new year, so you get to see the El Sauce celebration! So glad to work and room with you this year, you da best!

  3. posted by
    Cindy Schad`
    Feb 6, 2011 Reply


    I enjoyed reading your blog about Building Walls in Nicaragua. It made me feel as though I was there “watching”….and I loved the pictures, especially of the two babies in the pot bathing!

  4. posted by
    Feb 6, 2011 Reply

    Great post, Kate. Thank you so much. I appreciate your sharing your experience on DesignDestinations.

  5. posted by
    Feb 7, 2011 Reply

    Folks like you deserve a special place in heaven!

  6. posted by
    Patagonia: The Other End of the Hemisphere | DesignDestinations
    Mar 4, 2011 Reply

    […] Enjoy her previous DesignDestinations post about her trip to Nicaragua. […]

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