Next Stop Guatemala

In Nicholas Sanders earlier blog, he wrote about his years of self-employment, his self-identified need for life changes and his first steps into volunteering abroad with Camp America.

In this second of a short series of articles, Nicholas discusses how he built on these first experiences, in “Next Stop Guatemala”

Why I went to Guatemala is easy.  I was told about Gap Year for Grown Ups before I headed off for Camp Northwood again in 2007. When I returned in October that year I got in touch with both to find out more.

I quite fancied going to Sri Lanka to do something related to rebuilding after the Tsunami. They had nothing like that, but they did have a building project in Guatemala. I thought, why not? So I planned it out and set off for Guatemala in February 2008.


From Houses to Homes (FHTH) is an American non-governmental organization with a local office in Antigua, Guatemala.

Antigua was at one time the capital. It has cobbled streets, multiple ruins and is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Fuego is very active and pumps out ash and lava on a daily basis. It erupted this last February but I missed it as I had left for Belize two days earlier.


FHTH was founded in 2005 by the late Joe Collins. It is legally registered in the state of New Jersey, USA. Please take a moment to visit their website,

Joe once told me how shocked he was at what he saw the first time he visited Guatemala. I can relate to that. I was shocked too. Tin or corn stalk shacks with dirt floors. There is usually a piece of cloth over a gap for a door. Some of the shacks have no access to a regular water supply. We all know this kind of poverty exists but it is easy to ignore or forget until see it face to face.

There are around 2.1 million corn stalk shacks in Guatemala. Joe’s goal was to replace them with concrete block homes. FHTH homes are approximately 19x13ft (6×3.5m). Built of concrete blocks, with a corrugated tin roof, metal framed window and door with a concrete floor. These are a vast improvement on the tin or corn stalk shack.


Here you can see a flimsy corn shack next to a new concrete home. 

To qualify for a home the family must be able to prove they own the land by producing the deeds to it. The family will usually have two or more children. I have built for the occasional family with one child but also for families with up to nine children. The family will be living in poor conditions, corn stalk house or such and, of course, be poor.

It takes five days to build a home.

One day to dig and pour the foundations, by hand. Day two and three the concrete blocks are laid. The fourth day we pour the floor. All mixed and done by hand. To waterproof the homes they are stuccoed. Time and weather permitting, this is done on day four before we pour the floor. However this can’t be done during the rainy season, so, if we can’t do it when the house is built, we go back and do this later.  On the fifth, the roof goes on, the door and window are fitted and we paint the house. We use powder paint similar to the stuff we used at primary school back in the day.


Over the years the project has progressed and developed. It now has a school, Escuela Kemma’oj, in Santa Maria de Jesus, a local town just outside Antigua. It is for ages from pre-Kindergarten  to approximately 12. The school is free to use and is for children from families that live in FHTH homes. There is also a medical clinic in Pastores, a town just outside Antigua. It has a doctor and a dentist and is free for all families living in FHTH homes and the local FHTH staff.

My next article will let you know why I love From Houses To Homes.


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