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Casita Linda Provides San Miguel’s Poor with the Dignity of Home Ownership

Familia feliz al recibir su nueva casa

Mujeres asisten a las pláticas informativas

By Jesús Aguado

Sagrario Vallejo had given up. Although she’d always wanted a “proper” home, she’d given up thinking she would ever achieve that goal. She and her husband didn’t make nearly enough money to build or buy even the cheapest of homes in the cheapest of locations. But she decided to give her luck one more try and filed an application with local NGO Casita Linda, which said that if she was approved, it would build a house for her to live in.

Around a month afterward, Vallejo’s eyes were filled with tears as she received the keys to her new modest but sturdy and weatherproof home in Palo Colorado. Hers is just one such story of hope regained among many San Miguel de Allende families that have benefited from Casita Linda, which seeks to extend a hand up out of poverty by providing families with the stable foundation of home ownership.

The organization got its fundraising start in 2001. Currently it collects enough funds to build up to eight homes annually. Its funds are raised through just one annual event—a gala dinner in October.

Casita Linda helps the other San Miguel that isn’t mentioned in breathless travel magazine articles and promotional videos about “best city in the world to visit.” It is the San Miguel of the poor, who might have only four beams to their name, over which they stretch a tarp—or maybe just old grain sacks—to create a makeshift living space. People live in these insufficient spaces in places that lack basic services, places like the communities of Ejido de Tirado and Palo Colorado, where residents battle unsanitary conditions like fleas and lack of toilets, cook in the open air, and fend off cold, rain, and flooding. Often, there are no beds, no heaters, no wastewater drainage, and no privacy or security.

For people like Vallejo, obtaining a proper house is an impossible dream. Their salaries are too low to ever consider buying or building a home. Some don’t have formal employment at all. Meanwhile, in many of the developments under construction in San Miguel, others are building second homes or homes purely for rental income.

Casita Linda’s website puts it plainly: “As of now, 52 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line. This is true even in San Miguel de Allende recognized by Conde Nast magazine in 2017 as the number-one city in the world). San Miguel is in Guanajuato, one of the poorest states in México.”

700 Dollars

Casita Linda president Louise Gilliam grew up and lived most of her life in the US.  She worked as an executive officer for several airlines until one day she decided that San Miguel was the place where she wanted to live. In 2001, Casita Linda invited her to become part of the organization. Residents Irma Rosado Soto and Jeffrey Brown had founded the organization just a year before.

“I don’t know how they found me, but I went to a meeting and found out that there were no funds. We then decided to organize our first fundraising event,” Gilliam told Atención from the small office where she works with three workmates and a council of six members.

This first event they organized showed a movie and provided drinks and enchiladas. They collected US$700.

“We felt as if we were in heaven,” she says, smiling.

From this victory, they went on to their first gala dinner at Los Senderos, which became an annual event. It eventually moved to the Hacienda los Picachos event center two years ago, and then most recently to the Hacienda los Arcangeles complex.

Building for future generations

The organization has built 113 houses, each having a value of US$15,000. Each home includes three bedrooms, one for girls, one for boys, and another one for the parents. There is one bathroom, a kitchen, a septic tank, and a rainwater collection cistern. Furniture is also provided, including a table, chairs, beds, and bathroom furnishings.

“Before owning a house, people slept in huts,” says Gilliam. “Sometimes people don’t realize that what those most needy require is help. They are hard workers, but they can’t move forward without a little push.”

With home ownership comes access to a better future, she explains. “When we deliver a house, we give them hope and dignity. We truly hope that what we do will help their children get out of poverty.”

That intergenerational boost comes indirectly with the current design of Casita Linda’s homes. At first, they cost less to build, but then the organization realized that that families would eventually leave the homes to their children. Thus the homes needed to be strong and sustainable enough to be passed on to the next generation.

Without a home of their own

The community of Palo Colorado is located off the road to Dolores Hidalgo. From the community, one gets a view of the town’s sanitary landfill, which some residents visit regularly to collect recyclable items they can sell for a few coins. Some 360 families live in this community, which has a kindergarten, elementary, and junior high school, as well as a distance-learning center that grants bachillerato degrees. Close to the outskirts of the community sits Vallejo’s Casita Linda home, where she invited us into her dining room for an interview.

“I was 19 when my husband stole me away,” she said. “We lived together for four years and then got married.”

Her husband never thought about where they would live, she said. His family lived in a home with bedrooms and a kitchen, and they moved in with them.

“My husband shared a room with his brother, and when I arrived, his brother had to move to the parents’ room, where there were already other brothers,” she said.

The family later built another room made out of rocks collected from the hills around them. They made the room into both a kitchen and a bathing area.

“We all had to leave when someone wanted to bathe. The cold season was the worst,” she remembers.

Looking for support, Sagrario signed up for as many municipal government programs as she qualified for, but to no avail.

“They were giving away sheets, heaters, DIF housing, materials for construction, but I never got anything.” Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (Integrated Development of the Family) is a quasi-government organization that economically assists poor families.

Members of Casita Linda came to the community looking for those most in need, and her luck finally changed.

“When they told me they would be giving me a house, I was left speechless,” she said. “I told my husband. And he even said I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But when they gave me the house, I cried. We now have a proper space.”

However, the story that her 19-year-old self lived is now repeating itself: Vallejo’s 19-year-old son lives with his partner in the old room that she and her husband lived in inside her in-laws’ rudimentary home.

“There is nothing to do but offer support,” she says.

Finding those in need

Potential candidates for Casita Linda homes are identified by social worker Magdalena Pérez, who early in the process signs up these candidates for programs that teach participants a variety of skills: teamwork, setting goals and objectives, conserving water, making natural remedies, organic gardening, and childcare, among others. They also learn about sexuality and family planning.

Leticia Aguilar, who lives in Palo Colorado with her two children and received a house from Casita Linda on a lot donated by her father-in-law, says that not just the house but also the workshops she was required to attend changed her life. She learned how to live in a violence-free environment and, above all, how to engage in dialogue with people instead of fighting. Recipients of Casita Linda homes must earn less than 4,000 pesos per month and live in a violence-free, drug- and alcohol-free home. To find out more about the organization, visit casitalinda.org

Casita Linda Provides San Miguel’s Poor with the Dignity of Home Ownership

By Jesús Aguado

Sagrario Vallejo had given up. Although she’d always wanted a “proper” home, she’d given up thinking she would ever achieve that goal. She and her husband didn’t make nearly enough money to build or buy even the cheapest of homes in the cheapest of locations. But she decided to give her luck one more try and filed an application with local NGO Casita Linda, which said that if she was approved, it would build a house for her to live in.

Around a month afterward, Vallejo’s eyes were filled with tears as she received the keys to her new modest but sturdy and weatherproof home in Palo Colorado. Hers is just one such story of hope regained among many San Miguel de Allende families that have benefited from Casita Linda, which seeks to extend a hand up out of poverty by providing families with the stable foundation of home ownership.

The organization got its fundraising start in 2001. Currently it collects enough funds to build up to eight homes annually. Its funds are raised through just one annual event—a gala dinner in October.

Casita Linda helps the other San Miguel that isn’t mentioned in breathless travel magazine articles and promotional videos about “best city in the world to visit.” It is the San Miguel of the poor, who might have only four beams to their name, over which they stretch a tarp—or maybe just old grain sacks—to create a makeshift living space. People live in these insufficient spaces in places that lack basic services, places like the communities of Ejido de Tirado and Palo Colorado, where residents battle unsanitary conditions like fleas and lack of toilets, cook in the open air, and fend off cold, rain, and flooding. Often, there are no beds, no heaters, no wastewater drainage, and no privacy or security.

For people like Vallejo, obtaining a proper house is an impossible dream. Their salaries are too low to ever consider buying or building a home. Some don’t have formal employment at all. Meanwhile, in many of the developments under construction in San Miguel, others are building second homes or homes purely for rental income.

Casita Linda’s website puts it plainly: “As of now, 52 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line. This is true even in San Miguel de Allende recognized by Conde Nast magazine in 2017 as the number-one city in the world). San Miguel is in Guanajuato, one of the poorest states in México.”

700 Dollars

Casita Linda president Louise Gilliam grew up and lived most of her life in the US.  She worked as an executive officer for several airlines until one day she decided that San Miguel was the place where she wanted to live. In 2001, Casita Linda invited her to become part of the organization. Residents Irma Rosado Soto and Jeffrey Brown had founded the organization just a year before.

“I don’t know how they found me, but I went to a meeting and found out that there were no funds. We then decided to organize our first fundraising event,” Gilliam told Atención from the small office where she works with three workmates and a council of six members.

This first event they organized showed a movie and provided drinks and enchiladas. They collected US$700.

“We felt as if we were in heaven,” she says, smiling.

From this victory, they went on to their first gala dinner at Los Senderos, which became an annual event. It eventually moved to the Hacienda los Picachos event center two years ago, and then most recently to the Hacienda los Arcangeles complex.

Building for future generations

The organization has built 113 houses, each having a value of US$15,000. Each home includes three bedrooms, one for girls, one for boys, and another one for the parents. There is one bathroom, a kitchen, a septic tank, and a rainwater collection cistern. Furniture is also provided, including a table, chairs, beds, and bathroom furnishings.

“Before owning a house, people slept in huts,” says Gilliam. “Sometimes people don’t realize that what those most needy require is help. They are hard workers, but they can’t move forward without a little push.”

With home ownership comes access to a better future, she explains. “When we deliver a house, we give them hope and dignity. We truly hope that what we do will help their children get out of poverty.”

That intergenerational boost comes indirectly with the current design of Casita Linda’s homes. At first, they cost less to build, but then the organization realized that that families would eventually leave the homes to their children. Thus the homes needed to be strong and sustainable enough to be passed on to the next generation.

Without a home of their own

The community of Palo Colorado is located off the road to Dolores Hidalgo. From the community, one gets a view of the town’s sanitary landfill, which some residents visit regularly to collect recyclable items they can sell for a few coins. Some 360 families live in this community, which has a kindergarten, elementary, and junior high school, as well as a distance-learning center that grants bachillerato degrees. Close to the outskirts of the community sits Vallejo’s Casita Linda home, where she invited us into her dining room for an interview.

“I was 19 when my husband stole me away,” she said. “We lived together for four years and then got married.”

Her husband never thought about where they would live, she said. His family lived in a home with bedrooms and a kitchen, and they moved in with them.

“My husband shared a room with his brother, and when I arrived, his brother had to move to the parents’ room, where there were already other brothers,” she said.

The family later built another room made out of rocks collected from the hills around them. They made the room into both a kitchen and a bathing area.

“We all had to leave when someone wanted to bathe. The cold season was the worst,” she remembers.

Looking for support, Sagrario signed up for as many municipal government programs as she qualified for, but to no avail.

“They were giving away sheets, heaters, DIF housing, materials for construction, but I never got anything.” Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (Integrated Development of the Family) is a quasi-government organization that economically assists poor families.

Members of Casita Linda came to the community looking for those most in need, and her luck finally changed.

“When they told me they would be giving me a house, I was left speechless,” she said. “I told my husband. And he even said I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But when they gave me the house, I cried. We now have a proper space.”

However, the story that her 19-year-old self lived is now repeating itself: Vallejo’s 19-year-old son lives with his partner in the old room that she and her husband lived in inside her in-laws’ rudimentary home.

“There is nothing to do but offer support,” she says.

Finding those in need

Potential candidates for Casita Linda homes are identified by social worker Magdalena Pérez, who early in the process signs up these candidates for programs that teach participants a variety of skills: teamwork, setting goals and objectives, conserving water, making natural remedies, organic gardening, and childcare, among others. They also learn about sexuality and family planning.

Leticia Aguilar, who lives in Palo Colorado with her two children and received a house from Casita Linda on a lot donated by her father-in-law, says that not just the house but also the workshops she was required to attend changed her life. She learned how to live in a violence-free environment and, above all, how to engage in dialogue with people instead of fighting. Recipients of Casita Linda homes must earn less than 4,000 pesos per month and live in a violence-free, drug- and alcohol-free home. To find out more about the organization, visit casitalinda.org

 

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