The man who built a town

March 12, 2019

·       John Zawis has built more than 120 homes for poor families in Tijuana, Mexico.

·       He did it all as a volunteer!

John is not an ordinary volunteer. Not only has he been on 43 teams with IRT in the last four years, he has become the key figure of IRT’s New Homes, New Beginnings program building homes for poor families. After 44 years in the Navy, John has devoted his retirement to improving impoverished communities in Tijuana, Mexico.

When John first volunteered with IRT in the isolated, dusty,squatter’s village of Fuentes del Valle, he saw a sea of 150 shacks, where families lived in makeshift shelters with dirt floors and tarp roofs. “It was a hopeless place,” he said.

Day after day, John immersed himself in the community,getting to know each family. After four years, John has helped turn Fuentes into a community where families safely raise their children, send them to school, and work hard to better their circumstances.

John leads IRT volunteer teams to Fuentes to build homes for poor families. Now, John reports the community has changed; it is an expanse of brightly colored homes. John also designed and built an elementary school in Fuentes.

Walking around Fuentes, it is clear that John is beloved. He greets everyone by name. The children run up to give him hugs.

“They understand that I care about them. That’s all that matters.”

“There is a lot of poverty in the world. We can’t solve everything atone time, but if we work with a group of like-minded people, we can help one family at a time. We can give them a glimmer of hope. That is what motivates me.”– John, with the Alvarez family in front of their new home that he helped build in Fuentes del Valle, Mexico.

In addition to his work in Tijuana, John travels with IRT to Louisiana to repair homes for Hurricane Harvey victims and to Guatemala and Southern Mexico to distribute eyeglasses and conduct screenings in poor communities. In his rare free time, he hikes with his wife of 44 years and plays with his five grandchildren.

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