Meet five homeowners—Rosa, Ramón, Hilda, Heriberta, and Blanca—who were determined to save what one of the strongest earthquakes in Mexico’s history tried to take.
Just before midnight on Sept. 7, 2018, the earthquake struck. It registered 8.2 magnitude on the Richter scale—making it the strongest registered quake in Mexico in the past century.
A small, indigenous community on the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca felt the brunt of its power. Tehuantepec is a famously matriarchal society, and many families who live there make a modest living by farming, fishing, or selling arts and crafts.
The quake toppled half of Ramón and Rosa’s home in seconds. Theirs was one of more than 153,000 homes damaged in Oaxaca and Chiapas.
State engineers determined Ramón and Rosa’s home was too dangerous to live in—and would need to be torn down. For the couple, and many other families on the isthmus, recovering from the loss of a home felt impossible.
Ramón and Rosa—and 63 other homeowners—never had to face that reality, thanks to the generosity of the GlobalGiving community and the hard work of our partner in Mexico Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C.
The nonprofit is reconstructing damaged homes for the most vulnerable homeowners in the region, including elderly and single women. The new homes are being built by local laborers. They’re using materials and long-lost, traditional building techniques from the region, which are naturally resistant to the notoriously powerful earthquakes and winds of Mexico. They’re also helping earthquake-affected homeowners build traditional comixcal ovens. Made of bricks, the square ovens are perfect for baking a regional favorite, tortilla toast.
Meet Rosa, Ramón, Hilda, Heriberta, and Blanca, five homeowners who partnered with Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C to rebuild what the earthquake took.
The verdict from state engineers shocked Rosa and Ramón.
“They told us that our home was damaged and that it needed to be demolished,” said Rosa.
Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C. renewed the couple’s hope.
“When you came, you told us that it was not necessary—that the house was still good. They came to us twice to demolish the house. We told them ‘no.’ Only half of the home, nothing else, was damaged,” Rosa said.
When the engineers came the second time, Ramón confronted them. “If you demolish it, you will be responsible,” he told them. “Better not touch it.”
Together with masons from Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C., the couple worked from morning through night to rebuild their home. In two months time, the job was finished.
“We are happy because I didn’t want it to be demolished,” Ramón said.
Hilda and her husband rebuilt their home, brick by brick, sometimes competing to see who could accomplish more in a day.
Hilda makes a living sewing. During the reconstruction, she traded threads and needles for pants and sneakers. On one productive afternoon, the couple laid 70 bricks.
“We were able to rebuild half our home with the bricks we received,” Hilda said.
In this photograph, Heriberta stands next to the comixcal oven that a team from Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C. constructed for her.
“We are grateful because there is support. We support others when someone is supporting us. We support in giving food, as much as possible,” Heriberta said.
Traditional comixcal ovens are perfect for baking a regional favorite, tortilla toast.
After the earthquake, 12 days passed before Blanca felt safe entering her home. Then, heavy rains followed and soaked all of Blanca’s things.
Engineers determined her home had sustained too much damage to be safely inhabited.
“They told me it was a total loss,” Blanca said. “But I believed it could be recovered.”
In partnership with Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C., Blanca’s belief came true.
When masons from the nonprofit came to lay her new foundation, Blanca wanted to feed them.
“Here I had nothing,” she recalled. “I borrowed a pot, a casserole, a pan, and so on. I went on planning it. I borrowed a table, as well.”
Thanks to Blanca’s determination, the meal was a success. Her home reconstruction is a success, too.
“It’s the first time that I’ve seen this kind of foundation, but I like it. Mine is better than others I’ve seen,” said Blanca.
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