Casita Linda was founded in 2001 to address the extraordinarily difficult living conditions in which many rural families found themselves. By building homes for those living in extreme poverty, the organization enables families to move from dirt-floor shacks into homes with concrete floors, separate bedrooms for girls and boys, a real bathroom, actual windows, a water cistern, basic furniture, and doors that lock. Moving into a home that is safe, secure, clean, and big enough is a life-changing event.
Photo: From Casita Linda
I sat down with Anne Marie Jackson, Vice President of Casita Linda.
How did Casita Linda get started?
Casita Linda was started about 15 years ago by an American man and a Mexican woman during a harsh winter in San Miguel. They were worried about the families who didn’t have proper shelter in the cold. They got together with a group of friends to come up with a way to provide better homes for the rural families who needed them.
Louise Gilliam, who has been the president for about 7 years, was the one who turned Casita Linda into the professional organization it is today.
What exactly does Casita Linda do?
We build homes for families in need in rural communities of San Miguel de Allende, focusing on families with children. Most of these families make under $300 US per month.
We just built our 113th house, and we have a goal to build 10 houses per year. Initially we were building a house here and and a house there, but over the last few years we have been able to go into communities and build several houses over a period of time.
In January 2016, Casita Linda began offering a series of intensive workshops to the recipients of our homes that are are led by two gifted and impressive Mexican women, one of whom is a social worker and the other a lawyer. By engaging with the whole community, this lets us know who in the community is most in need of a home, but they also benefit the community as a whole. The social workers report back to the board who they think should get a home and then the board votes on it.
Tell us more about these workshops.
The workshops are twice a week for at least nine months, and they cover topics such as goal-setting, nutrition, child care, home care, water conservation, organic gardening, making herbal remedies, other income-generating projects, sexuality and family planning, addiction, and domestic violence.
By holding these workshops, we come to know the families we build homes for, and we learn more about the huge challenges they face in their daily lives. These workshops are always meant to be empowering. We present the information and it is up to them what they want to implement and bring into their communities.
Is anything required of those who receive a home?
There are some criteria we require of the families. They have to commit to keeping their kids in school, avoid alcohol and domestic abuse, and there is a sweat equity commitment, meaning they are part of the process of making their own home as well as others in the community.
Tell us about the homes.
It takes 1 month and $12,000 to build a house, depending on a variety of factors. We use eco friendly bricks from the local company, ARMO, that fit together like legos. Because of the way our ARMO bricks work, we’ve significantly reduced the amount of water used in the construction process, which is very important because water is scarce in these communities. And the ARMO bricks are better than regular bricks at retaining heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.They are also comparable in price to regular bricks, and allow us to build the homes quicker.
Over time the process has gotten faster, and the quality of the homes is better. We used to build just one big room, but now the homes have separate bedrooms for girls and boys, a real bathroom, solar lights, an eco-stove, actual windows, a water cistern, and basic furniture. Every bed gets a big, bright knitted blanket that is made accordingly for each family member thanks to the Blanket Babes.
It is amazing the impact just having a door can make for a family. It isn’t uncommon for someone to have to stay at home to protect their few belongings. Once they have a door to lock it opens up opportunities to leave the home for employment. Having a functioning bathroom and protection from cold also increases the health of the kids.
What other local nonprofits does Casita Linda work with?
We partner with several other nonprofits in San Miguel. Caminos de Agua has taught members of the community to build water cisterns and rainwater catchment systems on our homes. The Blanket Babes knit and crochet bright blankets for every single bed. Escuela de Educación Especial de San Miguel de Allende (School for the Deaf) makes the basic furniture for each home. Amigos de Animales comes out to spay and neuter the animals. CASA will come and talk about contraception, if that is something the community wants. Older students from Academia Internacional come out to help paint the houses. We also send referrals to Patronato Pro Ninos for children in our communities that are in need of medical or dental help.
What is Casita Linda’s greatest need?
What we really need is more money for houses and workshops. We host a large gala fundraiser every year as well as a Mother’s Day brunch, but rely on donations from private individuals throughout the rest of the year.
We are not in need of volunteers, but if there is a group that would like to come down and help build a house, we can accommodate that if planned in advance. Ideally we would like them to raise donations to help pay for the house.
We are a Mexico AC and a US 501(c)3, so all donations are tax deductible. Donations can be made directly through our website here.