Jeff vonKaenel

For the last seven years I have been on the Sacramento Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors, and for the last seven years the Sacramento Habitat chapter has routinely donated to Hábitat para la Humanidad Nicaragua. It is traditional for American Habitats to tithe 10 percent of their revenue to international Habitat organizations.

I was reminded of this contribution recently when the vivacious Vittoria Peñalba of the Nicaragua Habitat came for a weeklong visit to Sacramento. Our Sacramento director, Ken Cross, had met Vittoria at an international Habitat conference. Vittoria told Ken that Sacramento was by far the most important Habitat donor to Nicaragua. Soon after, she came to visit.

Daughter of a Nicaraguan diplomat, Vittoria now works for Hábitat in Nicaragua. She spent the week in Sacramento securing donations for her cause. The night before our board meeting, she explored Sacramento night life, where she immediately increased American interest in foreign relations, merely by walking into The Stoney Inn.

Speaking in flawless English, she also made a dramatic impact at our Sacramento Habitat board meeting. Both the American and Nicaraguan Habitats follow a similar model. We find people who currently live in substandard housing, but who have the means to pay back a no-interest loan on a house they help build. As the home loan is paid back, these funds enable another person to get a home.

However, the differences between the programs in the two countries are significant. According to Vittoria, 80 percent of the people in Nicaragua subsist on less than $2 per day. Thirty percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, and 30 percent of children die before they reach the age of 10. Substandard housing is the standard.

The Nicaraguan Habitat model assists those with an income of $200 to $600 per year, usually single mothers with children, or families with disabled members. Their existing home of tin sheets, plastic sheeting and dirt floor will be replaced by a 324-square-foot cement-block house with a floor, two wooden doors, two windows and an outdoor latrine.

These $4,400 houses, which take two weeks to build, make such a difference. Our Sacramento donations have helped build 112 homes in Nicaragua. We hope to do more.

If you have not yet firmed up your vacation plans, Vittoria has the vacation of a lifetime for you. You can fly down to Nicaragua, stay in a modest but clean hotel and work for five days making bricks, hauling mud and constructing a house. After the house is completed, you will have a few days off to visit one of the most beautiful countries in the world. All of this for only $1,800. You may find that a simple lunchtime spent visiting with a Nicaraguan soon-to-be-homeowner is much more enjoyable than any air-conditioned cruise buffet could ever be.

I think we can trust Vittoria on this.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.