Rescue. Restore. Empower.

Dona vicenta’s new home: a habitat partnership

There are seven siblings living in a Horizon Micro Community right now. Their mother desperately wants them back. This is the story of Horizon’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity to get Vicenta the home she needs for her family to be reunified. 

To anyone walking down the tree-lined sidewalks at the Zacapa community, nothing would seem out of place. Children run around their backyards before school, poking mangoes with long sticks until they fall from the trees. Giggling, they collect them and line them up on the porch to save for an after-school snack.  

Later they’ll practice instruments in music class, read books and eat frozen bananas at snack-time – this part of Guatemala can get quite hot — before heading back home to those mangoes in the afternoon.  

This is the kind of life we think kids should have, right? A childhood that is fun, safe, and educational, too. And it’s true — but it’s not the whole truth. 

There is something out of place in this picture: their mother.  

There hasn’t always been distance between Vicenta Gonzalez-Lopez and her children. She and her husband, Genaro, had been married for 25 years and had ten children together. They lived and worked on a farm with their children, making some extra money collecting plastic waste and aluminum cans on the street.  

“When we lived on the farm, we milked cows, and I used to make and sell balls of cheese,” Vicenta said. “The boss used to bring us food.”  

Life got tougher on Vicenta and the children once they moved — Genaro struggled with alcohol abuse, which led him to quit his job on the farm, taking the family with him to find a new place to live and work. They continued to collect plastics and aluminum as a source of income, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the family.  

“I also did other jobs: laundry, cleaning homes. Before my kids were taken from me, I used to take two of them to collect bottles. The rest were with my mom. I couldn’t get another job, as I had little kids…I also can’t read, and for a job you must have literacy.” Vicenta didn’t have the opportunity to go to school as a child, which has made finding good work that much harder. 

The Gonzalez family later moved into a makeshift home beside a municipal dump. Their home was assembled from wooden walls and zinc-sheet ceilings, where the siblings shared two rooms with their parents and two cousins.  

Genaro’s addictions and Vicenta’s struggle for stable income became major sources of the family’s poverty. Then Genaro sadly passed away, adding to their grief. Now a widow, Vicenta’s options for providing for her family were small. She risked losing custody of her children. 

Eventually, that is what happened. 

Seven of the Gonzalez children moved to Horizon’s Micro Community in 2018, a decision the National Council for Adoptions made due to inadequate housing. (Their other three children were already adults). “Dignified, adequate and healthy housing” is a right for Guatemalans, as defined in article 6 of the Housing Law. Houses must provide protection from the elements, be structurally safe, hygienic and comfortable, among many other qualifications. Homes must “develop the health and physical and mental attitude of its inhabitants, while protecting the ecosystem.” 

Vicenta maintained some contact with her children once they came under Horizon’s care. “I saw them two months later, and I was happy because they were fine. I brought them candies and cookies, and they were so happy to see me. They were different: clean, well-dressed, hair done.” 

The children received safe and clean shelter, regular nutritious meals, access to education at the on-site school, and care specific to their needs. They required specialized care, as they had been adversely impacted by malnutrition that set back their development in some areas and faced learning difficulties. The kids received extra academic support, as they were attending school for the first time. Eventually they began to flourish, even completing multiple grades in a year to bring them back up to speed. 

While the children were having all their needs met and rights restored, the Horizon team broadened their focus to Vicenta. Regular connections with her through visits to the Micro Community enabled them to maintain and build their relationship. Vicenta has received resources for both parenting and life skills, working toward the goal of one day reunifying her with her children. Even though the Gonzalez children needed rescue from the scarcity in which they lived, true restoration and empowerment is achieved when the whole family is empowered to live together again, with access to food, safe shelter, and livelihood opportunities. 

A key element needed for the Gonzalez’s reunification was proper housing. Without a home to call her own, Vicenta would not be able to care for her children. 

That’s where Habitat for Humanity comes in.  

Habitat for Humanity and Horizon have partnered to build a house for Vicenta to welcome her children home again — because poverty should never be a reason for family separation. In December, Vicenta was presented with her brand-new home: a three-bedroom concrete house, with the space and appliances needed to hold the entire family. 

Dona Vicenta, right, with her daughter Rosa, left, at the presentation of their new home.

With the oldest two children now more equipped to support the family through training in cosmetology and barber school, it won’t be long before they’re together again. Combining the empowerment of the children with the ongoing support of our team in Guatemala, the prospects for a healthy family reintegration are good. The Gonzalez family is living out the cycle of Rescue, Restoration, and Empowerment in such a tangible, beautiful way – a family in need of help, restored to wholeness. 

The Gonzalez family home’s construction is only part of the work to be done in Habitat and Horizon’s partnership, which is dedicated to providing more decent housing for families in eastern Guatemala, paving the way for more families like this one to live together once again. 

Rosa and her mom, Vicenta, in front of their new home.