Philadelphia to Nicaragua (and Back): Local Building, Global Impact

by Henry Randolph

Habitat Philadelphia builds and repairs homes locally, but we’re making a global impact!  Through the Habitat For Humanity tithe system, we donate a tenth of what we raise each year to Habitat affiliates across Latin America, where we’ve helped over 125 families since our founding.  Since 2010 we’ve focused our efforts on Nicaragua, where we’ve sent $112,000 and helped 25 families achieve safe, stable, affordable housing.

This summer our Executive Director Frank Monaghan and his son Dennis (who’s been dedicating his summers to our build sites in Philadelphia for years) traveled to Nicaragua through Global Village, a worldwide Habitat program that places volunteers in developing countries to help the local Habitat affiliate build for a week.  Frank and Dennis flew into Managua, the capital city, where they joined the rest of their team and staff from Habitat para la Humanidad Nicaragua.  As they traveled through the city’s outskirts to site where they’d be building, Habitat staff shared some sobering statistics about housing in the country, which they saw passing by in real time as they looked out the car window:  48% of households have a dirt floor, and 19% don’t have a latrine or outhouse.

Habitat Philadelphia's Global Village build in Nicaragua

Frank (left) and Dennis (right) take a break from building for a photo with Lehnar, 6, and his friend.

The volunteer team got settled and met the family they’d be building with:  Majikta, a school teacher who earns $400/month, and Lehnar, 6, her son.  Majikta owns a small property but they didn’t have the money to build on it; instead they lived in a makeshift shelter with tarp walls, slept on a single cot, and kept a kitchen set up outside.

Habitat Philadelphia's Global Village build in Nicaragua

The makeshift shelter that Majikta and her son Lehnar lived in before their Habitat house was built.

Frank and Dennis found that the house they were building was completely different from houses back home.  Each 280-square foot, two-room house that Habitat Nicaragua builds costs $4,500 from start to finish—and everything is built by hand.  “We had to mix all of the mortar for the cinderblock walls—which meant mostly me and Dennis!” says Frank.  By the end of the week every part of this two-room house was finished except the paint and the water lines (it would get running water and a toilet), and Frank and Dennis had some very sore muscles.

But they quickly saw that while building styles are different, the family and their dreams—decent housing as a source of stability and a brighter future—were entirely the same.   At the end of the trip, the neighborhood helped welcome Majikta and Lehnar home at a dedication ceremony, complete with a ribbon-cutting and balloons.  “Majikta was so unbelievably happy to have a house,” said Frank.  “It’s the same as one of our dedications here in Philadelphia.  This family is now safer than they were where they’d been living before.  They have such a better chance at all of the good things in life.”  And what’s a home dedication without a giant piñata hung in front of the house?  Kids from around the neighborhood lined up to hit it, and it was Dennis who took the final swing that broke it open, sending candy flying everywhere and dozens of kids chasing madly after it.  “The kids are kids, no matter where you are,” says Frank.  “That’s the human spirit.”

Habitat Philadelphia's Global Village build in Nicaragua: Home dedication

Majikta and Lehnar (center) at their new home dedication. Global Village volunteers helped welcome them home.

Watch a video from Habitat para la Humanidad Nicaragua about the difference that homeownership makes in the life of one family at


About Habitat Philadelphia

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is an independently chartered affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), the largest nonprofit homebuilder worldwide. Locally, Habitat Philadelphia is on a mission to transform lives and our city by building and repairing quality homes in partnership with families in need, and uniting all Philadelphians around the cause of affordable housing. Our Vision is a city where all Philadelphians live in safe, affordable homes.
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