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We use tools every day without giving them much thought.  We measure, sift, cut, pound, stir, spread.  But these tools were new to many of us.  We had come together, women of many ages, to measure, sift, cut, pound, stir, spread, but with bigger tools.  In a week’s time, we were going to build a house!

With mutual encouragement, we picked up saws.  We cut boards we had carefully measured.  We picked up hammers and pounded nails.  Built walls.  Raised a roof.  We sifted sand, removing sticks and rocks.  We picked up shovels and mixed concrete to a rich, firm consistency.  We held trowels and swirled stucco in big loopy movements onto chicken-wire we had stretched onto walls we had built.

With blistered hands and tear-filled eyes, we stood back in silence as a small house was lovingly blessed and presented to a family.  Then we crossed the border to return to our own homes and families.  The house we built, smaller than most of our living rooms, would shelter a family of seven.  The house they were leaving was patched together from cast-offs rescued from a dump: pallets, tires, shower curtains, cardboard.  The new house had a concrete floor, sturdy walls, and a roof that would shelter them from the elements.

Every one of us was changed by the experience.  Building a house was empowering, of course, especially to those of us who had never held saws or hammers before.  But even more life-changing was seeing, up close, the lives lived by loving families who scratch out a living in such dire conditions.  We came to respect one another, these sisters from both sides of the border.

Just outside the dump, on the outskirts of Juarez, there are hundreds of little AMOR houses built by groups like ours, by teenagers, by college students, by men, by women.  I shall forever be grateful for having the opportunity to participate in about a dozen of these builds.  Every one of them was special.  Both heart-warming and heart-wrenching.

(With gratitude to Amor Ministries and to all the sponsors and leaders of these experiences.)