Ironmen in Ecuador

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"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  -Proverbs 27:17

Ironmen meet every week to teach and discuss ideas and strategies on being better men. From June 11-18, 12 of us went to Guayaquil, Ecuador to build 9 homes for the poorest of the poor in conjunction with Hogar de Cristo. This is the fourth year for this trip, it was my first.

Day 1: We arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador late Friday night after a 5+ hour flight. Half of us had been bumped up to first class, so we weren't exactly roughing it. I contemplated the irony of our good fortune contrasted with our mission of helping the poorest of the poor. Our accommodations: a serene Catholic retreat center called Schoenstatt Casa de Retiro. We settled in for a big day ahead of us.

Day 2: Saturday morning, after grabbing supplies at the local hardware store, all 12 of us went to the first building site. I have never seen poverty like this first hand. It gave me new understanding of the term "dirt poor." With the help of our "maestros", Ivan and Gato, we completed the building of our first Hogar de Cristo home by 4:30pm.

What impressed me most the first day was the smiles and laughter of the children in the neighborhood. We seemed to be the local entertainment for the day. We were a bit overmanned at times, and I was able to break off and visit with some of the local children. While language was a bit of a barrier (mi espanol no es muy bueno),

we found some common ground in the King of Pop. Yes, Michael Jackson has fans in the slums of Ecuador. The MJ dance off was one of the many highlights of the day. Seeing a mother and her 5 children smiling on the steps of their newly built home topped them all.

Day 3: On our second day of building we broke off into 2 teams. Chuck Roberts lead our team and Gato was our chosen maestro. We travelled to a very remote area in the outskirts of Guayaquil to build for an older woman- the sole caretaker of a young boy with Down's syndrome. She had taken him in when nobody else wanted him. To the side of the building area there was a mattress, a small grill, and a bag of clothing. I was told later that this was 100% of the possessions of this woman and child. By 3:30pm they were smiling on the steps of their new home.

Day 4: We built homes #4 and 5 today. This property seemed a bit more "upscale" comparatively- it was fenced off, across from a school, with a bunch of chickens and a couple of dogs running around. We had a bit of a competition going with the other team to see who complete the build faster, (we lost this one). We were blessed with clouds sheltering us from the hot Ecuadorian sun and all in all it was a pleasant day of work and mixing with locals. By 3pm a mother and her 5 children were moving in.

Day 5: Today we toured the Hogar de Cristo facilities. Hogar de Cristo's mission is to help the "poorest of the poor," mostly women and children, many of whom suffer from severe hunger, malnutrition, and abuse. In addition to building on average 50 houses per day for the homeless, HDC is producing and distributing soy milk to children in schools, resulting last year in a 20% reduction in the number of children with severe anemia.

Luis Tavara, director of HDC, told us the reason he enjoyed working with the Ironmen group every year was because of our smiles. He said our smiles convey hope and possibility to the people we meet in the slums of Ecuador. I thought to myself how great it was seeing the families we met smile and made a commitment to smile more.

Day 6: Built homes #6 and 7. Another "typical" situation- we built for a single mother with 5 children from several different fathers, none of whom were around. I really enjoyed the kids, especially Esteban. He was a little firecracker- laughing, running around, constantly babbling (although I have no idea what he was talking about) and just having a great time.

Apparently no one told him he was poor and he must've forgotten that he was hungry. He was just a kid being a kid- a happy kid. Early in the trip Chuck asked us to be aware of where we see God. I see Him in the children. I see Him in their enthusiasm. I see Him in their smiles. I was reminded of that old song... "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red or yellow black or white, they're all precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world."

Day 7: Each of the 2 teams completed our final builds today (#'s 8 and 9). I am present to a bit of sadness and a lot of gratitude. More than one out of ten people in Ecuador are homeless. Guayaquil has the 3rd highest percentage of homeless people of any major city in the world. They are born into it and the vast majority will be in it the rest of their lives. We put 9 of these homeless families into homes, and I grateful to have been a part of it.

I am grateful for the men who made this trip happen. I am grateful for my family and friends who supported me in participating. I am grateful for the many blessings in my life. I am grateful to have served. I am grateful for the many smiles of the men, women and children we met along the way.

Day 8: Today we say "hasta la vista" to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I am having a hard time coming up with the proper adjective to describe this experience. It has been humbling, enlightening, beautiful, exhausting, extraordinary, saddening, uplifting... 9 houses have been built, 9 families have homes, 12 men are forever changed. At least one of them will be smiling more often...

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