While on a Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, in late 2015, Rick White visited the Miracle of God Preschool. He found beautiful kids, dedicated teachers and woefully inadequate facilities. He resolved to do something about it.
He launched a fundraiser to pay for the addition of walls, safe electricity and running water, which he helped install. Then, he moved on to phase two of improvements, adding a covered patio and walled kitchen area. He and friend John Manchester went to Nicaragua last month to help complete that project. Next up is a weekend trip at the end of May to complete a latrine for the students.
While The Fuller Center for Housing is focused primarily on making sure families have simple, decent place to live, we are proud to be a catalyst for other improvements in communities and grateful to be associated with the good folks who go above and beyond to help build a better world.
Here are photos from last month’s work at the school:
Roughly two weeks ago, 12 Americans, a Canadian, and a Brit arrived in a new country. They represented different religions, world views, and occupations. With ages spanning a range of 60 years, they would converge on a little-known village in Nicaragua called Las Peñitas. Just over a week later, both the village and the 14 who were once strangers were changed in one way or another forever.
By Scott Brand
They say a true understanding of history requires time and context. Meaning, it is nearly impossible to see or comprehend the impact of a change until there is enough distance from it to see it with a broader perspective. This is our story from the perspective of one of those 14.
We all arrived with the best of intentions — aware of our differences, and wanting to ensure inclusion was evident. At first it was overt, asking each for input and all willing to make concessions to show support for the new strangers in our lives. We didn’t know that by the end, there would be no effort required. That, in a way, 14 would become an extended family, with a common understanding and respect for the other. Yet, when that first day of work began, it would have been difficult to predict that outcome with any confidence.
My journey began at the school, where the site was dirt, large boulders, and debris. Our first task would be to remove the several hundred pound boulders. We would try different techniques. Dig with shovels, use pry bars, and get in each others way quite a bit. About thirty minutes later, after several failures, we achieved our first goal and celebrated with high fives. Though the celebration was short-lived as shovels and pick axes were distributed to build a trench that would be two feet wide, a foot and half deep, and roughly 35 linear feet. No small task when considering the make up of the ground. The minority of which was actual dirt, occupied primarily by dense clay and rock. This would make up the majority of the remainder of our day. Our first day. The get to know each other day. The light day. It would end an hour and half later than expected, with just 20 minutes of daylight remaining and would finish with a fully poured concrete foundation. While all of this was happening, the remainder of our team was laying block, mixing concrete and sifting in 90 degree heat to build a home roughly 100 yards away. A humble description of the work our group wouldn’t come to understand until the following day.
Each of the following days would have team members rotating to different sites, swapping for fresh legs and giving others an opportunity to share a moment in the shade. Stories would be exchanged, sometimes one to one, others in small groups. With each story, each collaborative task bringing us just a little closer. In between the work, we would share meals with our extended Nicaraguan family who accepted us into their home. We would learn about the Nicaraguan revolution. Not as a historical event, but as personal accounts. A boy pulled from school at 14 to fight against those he now calls friends. A boy who would become a man through incredible adversity, tumble into despair only to emerge as a man who provides for his community every day with a smile and a Coke. This was no longer some distant country on a map. It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more. All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.
This was no longer some distant country on a map. It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more. All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.
Which brings me to the key ingredient of any great team, a great leader. There is a term that has begun to pick up popularity in the corporate world, and is quickly becoming the most recruited skill, but the most difficult to obtain. The difficulty is that it is not only rare, but it cannot be seen on a resume. That term is Servant Leadership. A servant leader is one who serves the team first. Not the boss, and not even the customer. It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her. She leads with influence, and reserves her authority only for safety or moments of crisis. She spends this authority wisely knowing that no one would challenge it when used so sparingly. Instead, she removes obstacles, gives a heavy bucket a little extra lift, and casually breaks up a task with conversation when a member needs a break but won’t ask for it. She has the unique ability to conduct the orchestra while playing percussion, setting the tempo, and allowing the orchestra to find the crescendo. With each eloquent piece of music forming organically, and changing shape as it develops. The actual outcome is undefined, unknown, and left to the symbiotic forces of the team. And what few realize as they are developing the outcome, is that it can be terrifying at times for the leader. The ambiguity, external forces, and knowing while the glory of success is shared by all, the risk of failure sits on the shoulders of one. It is both courageous and selfless. This team experienced the incredible good fortune of having that leader, and it will shape my own leadership for years to come.
A servant leader is one who serves the team first. Not the boss, and not even the customer. It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.
Back to 14 Nicas and one more term that received some attention this week. Gestaltism, which means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As I look back over the week, my belief in this phenomena is reinforced more than ever before. Hundreds of buckets of gravel, sand, concrete and mortar were hoisted. Blocks moved, staged, and placed in just the right place. Scaffolding built, lumber transferred, and mortar filled. Every single one of these tasks alone were essential. Down to the last block, bucket and trowel. But in the end, it was a home and a school annex. In time, no one will focus on any of the parts. They will see a family in a home, and children learning and enjoying a meal in school. And through all of that, there was a third thing built. It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched, but it is as real as any structure. It is the 14 Nicas and the relationship we have developed. The memories made, the lessons we’ve learned, the stories we shared. There were tears, sweat, some blood, and so much laughter my greatest injury is probably in my abs.
You each have my unending gratitude. Each and every one of you has changed my perspective in some way or another, and together you have made a meaningful impact on my life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
(Dedicated to Liz Bellantoni, a true servant leader, and to The Fuller Center for the great work they do around the world.)
Scott Brand is Senior Vice President in charge of North American Operations for Nielsen, an S&P 500 company.
Photos from Nepal, Haiti, Nicaragua, Thailand and Peru are among the 17 finalists in the Fuller Center Global Builders’ annual photo contest, and contest organizers would like your help in selecting the winner. The final two will be revealed on Friday, December 16 for the deciding round of voting.
The Fuller Center for Housing has seen an influx of new covenant partners over the past couple of years, especially from groups that formerly had been associated with other housing nonprofits. Reasons they often cite for joining The Fuller Center include having the ability to make decisions at the local level and not having to pay fees to a bureaucratic overseer where they consider their fees going too much toward overhead and not enough toward work in the field.
When Millard and Linda Fuller founded The Fuller Center in 2005, they saw it as an opportunity to return to the grass-roots, Christian principles with which they started the affordable housing movement more than 40 years ago. One of those principles was that day-to-day decisions are best left to local groups who know best what their local community’s needs are and the best ways to meet those challenges. They believed that headquarters’ role was to facilitate — and not dictate — the work in the field, in the United States or around the world. They also believed that local partners should be encouraged to tithe toward the ministry’s work elsewhere but never required to pay fees to be a part of the ministry.
We lost Millard in 2009, but The Fuller Center has not wavered in its grass-roots principles and never will. We still believe decisions are best made at the local level, and we do not require our local covenant partners to pay fees in order to go about their work in the field under our umbrella. We stand ready to help local partners in a multitude of ways, but, ultimately, the work is up to those hard-working folks in the mission field.
It’s one of the reasons The Fuller Center is succeeding in hard-to-work places like Haiti. While many U.S. outfits have parachuted into the country believing they know best how to work there, The Fuller Center worked to find Haitian partners willing and able to put our partnership housing principles into action.
When Millard and Linda Fuller founded The Fuller Center in 2005, they saw it as an opportunity to return to the grass-roots, Christian principles with which they started the affordable housing movement more than 40 years ago.
The Fuller Center’s mission is to help families have simple, decent places to live. That means different things in different places. To partners like Louisville and Philadelphia, that means resurrecting once-vacant, dilapidated properties and turning them into like-new homes. In Indianapolis, it means raising the walls of new homes. In Perry, Ga., and Tallahassee, Fla., it means repair projects like new roofs and wheelchair ramps. In El Salvador and Bolivia, it means building whole communities. In India and Nicaragua, they’re taking it one home at a time. And in places like Hammond, La., it’s new homes, repairs and helping people recover from historic flooding.
We encourage everyone to visit our international headquarters in Americus, Ga., but we must warn you that while it will be enlightening, it might not be terribly exciting. It’s a small, simple building with no fancy offices or lobby adorned with ornate fixtures. In fact, you might ask, “Is this it?” Well, yes it is. However, if you go visit our local partners, you will find excitement as that’s where the action and real work of this ministry happens. Sorry, though, you still won’t find any fancy offices. None is interested in overhead.
Local partners also happen to know best how to tell their stories. I hope that you will take a look at a couple of new short videos below — one produced by our partners in Philadelphia and one produced by our partners in Louisville. Both are fighting blight and empowering families by resurrecting vacant properties. It’s just one area of focus for our ministry, but it is one that they feel best suits their communities’ specific challenges.
When you consider your year-end giving options this year, be sure to support grass-roots nonprofits who direct your generosity to where it is truly needed — in the mission field.
Reasonable people — and sometimes unreasonable people — can disagree on the issue of illegal immigration to the United States. Get 20 folks in a room, and you might get 20 opinions on the issue. It’s been a wedge issue in American political campaigns for decades, perhaps never more than it’s been this year.
Many Latin American families — and sometimes children traveling alone or with smugglers — face an arduous journey if they choose to leave their homeland and try to start a new life in the United States. We can all agree that this is very difficult decision to make.
We also can agree that the vast, vast majority of Latin American immigrants are hard-working folks. They often work long hours for low pay (sometimes under-the-table cash less than minimum wage) — and perform jobs that few Americans would want. I’ve witnessed an awful lot of Spanish-speaking guys working through the South Georgia heat in the construction of my new home this summer. I don’t know much Spanish, but I know what it means when a brick layer wipes his brow and tells me it’s “muy caliente.” I’m happy to offer them plenty of cold agua.
Rightly or wrongly, for decades the primary point of discussion has been about Hispanics and those south of our border. I’ve yet to hear anyone complain about Swedes infiltrating America — at least not since “Dancing Queen” was a big hit.
What Americans can’t seem to agree on is what to do about it. Some say let everyone come as they wish. Others want to build a wall and deport unauthorized immigrants. Most come at the issue from somewhere between the two extremes.
Emotions run deep and voices run loud on the issue, and perhaps that’s why I’ve never heard anyone talk about stemming the tide of illegal immigration at its source — poor families’ homes and communities. Or, perhaps I’ve never heard anyone talk about it because it hasn’t been brought up enough, if at all. Either way, I’m bringing it up today.
A typical shack in Nuevo Cuscátlan, El Salvador
If we could help Latin American families and communities develop better places to live in the first place, isn’t it likely they wouldn’t have much interest in sneaking into the United States? Isn’t it likely that these families would much prefer to stay home if possible?
And, yes, before I go further, I realize there are immigration concerns beyond Latin America. However, rightly or wrongly, for decades the primary point of discussion has been about Hispanics and those south of our border. I’ve yet to hear anyone complain about Swedes infiltrating America — at least not since “Dancing Queen” was a big hit.
The Fuller Center for Housing builds simple, decent homes in partnership with families in 20 countries around the world. Several of our international building partners are in Latin America — including in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Bolivia and Peru. If your home is safe, your children are happy and your community is thriving, why would you bother immigrating to another country — legally or illegally? I can pretty much guarantee that no one has left the security of their Fuller Center home to sneak into the United States.
Yasmina, in front of her Fuller Center home in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua
Fuller Center covenant partners — both here in the United States and internationally — build modest homes. Internationally, these homes generally cost about $5,000 to $6,000 each. They’re safe and structurally sound, but most Americans could not imagine living in such simple accommodations. To a family that has been living in a shack made of tin and plastic, these might as well be mansions.
It’s hard to plant the seeds for a healthy community in the pavement of slums. But we see rural communities thrive when basic housing needs are met.
The Fuller Center’s international building also usually is done outside the big cities and slums. We find that rural areas may have the same levels of poverty and terrible living conditions as the urban slums, but there is more opportunity to acquire land and facilitate healthier, more sustainable living conditions. It’s hard to plant the seeds for a healthy community in the pavement of slums. But we see rural communities thrive when basic housing needs are met. Strong families are the foundation stones for a healthy community — and it is in the home that families grow and are nurtured. That’s where success begins.
Fuller Center volunteers and local laborers work together in Pignon, Haiti.
We not only work with local building partners on the ground in these countries, but we work with agencies here in the United States to help raise funds and acquire volunteers to work through our Global Builders program. From time to time, we’ve run into agencies who aren’t interested in working outside the spotlight of overcrowded cities like Port-au-Prince or Managua. They want to make sure their efforts are seen. We want to make sure our efforts are worthwhile, and that our supporters’ generosity is maximized.
We also run into partners here in the U.S. who recognize that our approach to building healthier communities makes good sense. Most recently, New Story Charity has teamed up with us to fund two communities in El Salvador and another in Bolivia, where the building is centered around getting families out of the mud huts that allow Chagas to fester and spread. The United Church of Christ has funded dozens of homes in Haiti and Nepal. And other groups from small like-minded nonprofits to individual churches have stepped forward to make a real difference with us.
Not only is building a home a life-changing experience for the partner families, but it also is the experience of a lifetime for our Global Builders volunteers. The use of volunteer labor allows us to keep house costs as low as possible, and the volunteers’ fees help pay for the homes. However, they do not take jobs away from the local community. In fact, our volunteers work alongside skilled masons and builders while also supporting jobs of drivers, local artisans and the staffs of hotels and restaurants. And, while volunteer teams come sporadically, the work of local covenant partners continues throughout the year.
Happy homeowners in Nuevo Cuscátlan, El Salvador
Lastly, and perhaps best of all, The Fuller Center provides a hand-up instead of a handout. For many charities, that phrase might be cliché. But it is the very essence of how The Fuller Center works. Families contribute sweat equity in the building of their homes and repay the costs of materials over time, on terms they can afford, with no interest charged and no profit made. Those payments go into a local fund to help others in their community get that same hand-up.
Instead of the usual charitable approach of “look what we’ve done for you,” we allow partner families to retain their pride and see what we’ve done together.
When we first began working in Haiti, we saw that decades of well-meaning handouts from U.S. groups had created and/or exacerbated a culture of dependency in which too many Haitians simply waited for help from Americans. But, given the chance to build a community and a new life for themselves outside Port-au-Prince in the beautiful countryside around Gressier (near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake), Haitian families seized the opportunity. The empowerment was contagious, and the 56-home Lambi community they built stands out as a sustainable example of how best to help Haitians thrive, not just survive.
The Fuller Center’s Lambi Community, Haiti
Our hand-up approach to partnering with families instead of doling out handouts means that our partner families are not charity cases. In fact, by repaying the costs of materials to help others get the same help, they become givers themselves. Instead of the usual charitable approach of “look what we’ve done for you,” we allow partner families to retain their pride and see what we’ve done together.
On my trips to the little fishing village of Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, I’ve been struck by how hard-working these families are. It doesn’t require much of a hand-up to make a difference in their lives. They’ll do the heavy lifting … literally. I’ll never forget the images of mothers lifting overfilled buckets of mortar and handing them to 10-year-old boys laying block high upon a wall. The determination in the eyes of parents and children building a new home is permanently etched into my memory.
So, in the end, we can loudly shout and endlessly debate whether or not it’s worth it to build a wall. But when it comes to building a home, there’s no debate — it’s clearly the best approach.
Spending a week helping Nicaraguan families build simple, decent houses through The Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders program always has a deep emotional impact on the volunteers who give their love, sweat and tears for the wonderful families of Las Peñitas. But very few have been able to put the experience into words the way North Central College student Maria Requena has in a new blog post.
Every Fuller Center Global Builders team that spends a week working with our covenant partner in Nicaragua ends with a good many tears. Tears flow freely at house dedications, but our recent team of Global Builders from North Central College of Illinois shed tears for another reason — they weren’t ready to come home. In fact, says photography expert Karli Anne Saner, some from the team say they now want to live in Las Peñitas, the poor fishing village where we have helped nearly 100 families move out of shacks and into simple, decent homes. That’s certainly a testament to the joyous, hard-working people of the community and our dedicated local leadership. We’d like to thank Karli for sharing some amazing pictures from their week. Please check out the gallery below, and click here if you would like to see more photos from the trip on the Global Builders’ Facebook page.
The Fuller Center for Housing’s work has transformed lives in the Pacific fishing village of Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, through the construction of dozens of simple, decent homes. Thanks to The Fuller Center’s generous donors and many Global Builders volunteers, the local leadership on the ground expects to hit the 100-homes mark in Las Peñitas before this year is over.
That means that The Fuller Center will be wrapping up Phase I of the Las Peñitas project, putting us halfway to completely eradicating shack living in the community.
Many of the Global Builders who have worked in Las Peñitas have fallen in love with the hard-working, friendly people of the community. Among those is Rick White of Maryland.
Now a Control Specialist at Coastal Automation in Texas, White started a fundraising page through The Fuller Center to raise $4,200 to provide the school with walls, water for washing, safe electricity for lights and school supplies. Not only did the gifts quickly flow into the fundraiser, but also the work has been completed.
“I’m excited to see the completion of this phase and to know the children will have class on a regular basis,” White said. “I know the kids might not be thrilled about it, but hopefully they will thank us when they get older.
“I am also humbled to know that I have the type of friends who will support this with time, money and talent,” he added. “To see the involvement of the parents brings it full-circle. I can’t wait to get the next phase going.”
The next phase will be another fundraiser to help the school build a kitchen and a bathroom for the students.
“There are many needs in the communities where we work, and we’re proud to be a catalyst for others to come in to help meet those needs.” — David Snell, Fuller Center president
“The Fuller Center knows how to get houses built, and our success is due in part to the fact that we stay focused on house building,” Fuller Center President David Snell said. “But there are many needs in the communities where we work, and we’re proud to be a catalyst for others to come in to help meet those needs.
“When Rick White and his intrepid band of friends decided to raise money to help finish a schoolhouse in Las Peñitas, we were honored to welcome them into the neighborhood,” Snell added. “Now the school is done and dedicated — looking forward to see what these good folks come up with next!”
Here are some before-and-after photos from the Miracle of God Preschool: