New Homes and New Beginnings in Tijuana, Mexico

August 3, 2023

Many Hands Make Full Hearts

By: Jimmy Galt

Building an entire house in a single day? I would never have believed it unless I saw it for myself.

On the far east side of Tijuana, you’ll find street upon street of undeveloped, haphazard shelters.Half-finished cinder block structures stand alongside makeshift huts, their walls composed of discarded wooden pallets and zinc metal sheeting. Waterproof tarps keep the rain out (mostly) in addition to offering a hiding place from the sun.Unfortunately, managing the dust is another story as paint-peeled sedans creep through dirt roads throughout the day.

Neighborhood residents often burn their trash, sending plumes of black smoke into the air. The smell of melting plastic is a common occurrence, hardly noticed by anyone.

It was over a year ago when a next-door neighbor carried his trash out to the burn pile and kindled a small flame. It was a routine chore done so many times before. However, on this occasion, the fire greedily crept outside its designated boundaries. It made its way into one house, then another house, and soon another. Six homes became engulfed in flames. There were no fire hydrants or emergency services available. The Hernández Orduño family could do nothing but watch as billows of black smoke carried away everything they owned.

After the coals had died and the debris cooled, the family rummaged for what they could find, starting over at square one. On the same piece of land where their house once stood,they salvaged plywood and discarded sheets of metal. They found a tent that was eagerly pitched next to their single-room shelter. The eight-person family was grateful for every extra square foot.

International Relief Teams(IRT) discovered the Hernández Orduño family through street outreach and knew they would be a perfect match to partner with. It wasn’t long until plans were made to provide a house large enough to accommodate the entire family andensure them much-needed peace of mind.

There was no time wasted when three cars, packed with volunteers, arrived at the build site. After a formal introduction and delegation of tasks, everyone sprang into action. With hardly a moment to turn my camera on, a flurry of hammering erupted as nails were repeatedly driven into wooden boards.

With their tried and tested blueprint, the IRT crew operated as a well-oiled machine. Everyone understood their job and labored with cheerful determination. Even the family pitched-in by carrying trestles or painting walls. It was a beautiful sight watching the mother guide her young son’s hand as he eagerly brushed paint up and down the wooden boards they would soon live inside.

The sun was still high when the IRT volunteers began packing up their tools. The final coats of paint were still wet as hands loaded workstations back into trucks. The construction had proceeded so quickly that most of the volunteers were covered in paint stains,as the walls hadn’t yet dried before they were hoisted into place.

I still couldn’t believe how fast this houe had been erected. Yet, there in front of us stood a completely finished home. We had arrived at a concrete foundation covered with a pile of lumber and now faced a beautiful house and a wide-eyed family. TheHernández Orduños’ entered their new home with a mix of marvel and gratitude.The children ran upstairs to dangle their legs from the balcony as the adults' shed tears of thankfulness. A lasting embrace between father and daughter seemed to say, “Yes, this is real. And yes, there are people who genuinely care about us.”

International Relief Teams wants to thank the employees from SILLMAN, a San Diego Architecture and Design firm, for volunteering to help build the Hernandez-Orduno family a home. We would also like to thank all the other amazing volunteers who joined the build!

No items found.
see all other
projects >
< Back to all blog posts

Sign up to receive inspiring stories and learn how you can help.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form