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Giving Hope Through Homes

Story: Maggie Wehri

Photo by Maggie Wehri

In Choluteca, Honduras, brick homes and dirt floors are common standards of living. While many American families enjoy comfy couches and flat screen TVs, families in the rural suburb of Siete de Mayo struggle to afford their basic needs. Striving to improve living conditions through an entrepreneurial project, Fisher students Jeff Chen, Paul d’Hyver and Kelsey Rumburg give hope to the people of Choluteca.

The Honduras Sustainable Housing Project is a two-year interdisciplinary team of students composed of architecture, business, civil engineering and construction systems management students. The team works together to design an improved, affordable and replicable housing solution.

While much of the housing development in the past has been on aid and charity based arrangements, Chen, dHyver and Rumburg are constructing a seed fund that would grant loans to families without access to credit. “It will likely be a $3,000 home over a 5 year loan once we secure more details,” says Rumburg. “We’re working with a local credit union to develop a structured loan that will carry on in the future for those who lack access to credit.”

This holistic solution will eliminate the temporary housing projects of the past. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch flooded over 25 Choluteca neighborhoods, washing away thousands of homes. Today, Ohio State alumni Larry and Angie Overholt work as missionaries and collaborate with the students to create sustainable change in this environment. “There’s a lot of charitable work that’s already been done in these areas, but they often lack sustainable infrastructure,” states Rumburg. “We’re working through our alumni contacts to train and teach local entrepreneurs how to build these homes and maintain the fund.”

As a third year student, Rumburg began his work on the project last year by overseeing the financial side. Rumburg explained a shocking email received this past February stating that the family chosen to receive the loan braved the death of the father. “As a widow with 3 kids, we decided to give Esperanza and her family the house,” expressed Rumburg, “Her name actually means hope in Spanish so in a way we were able to give her back hope even without her husband. People still care and it was truly incredible to see how many community members came to help us construct the home so they could help her.”

As project manager, Rumburg will be returning in May to construct the new and improved pilot home with Chen and d’Hyver. “Last year we engineered our house a little too well,” says Rumburg. “We made the roof so that it could support someone walking on it, which is a standard in America. But in Honduras that’s not necessary. So this time we were more resourceful with our materials.”

Leaky clay tile roofs and poor ventilation are no longer problems. This year’s pilot home features what looks like drywall on the inside, a rubbery roof covering, cement floors and a cookstove on the porch. “Normally the cookstove would be inside the house,” states Rumburg. “But using an open flame creates a lot of smoke in their house so we tried to innovate and put it on their porch so it’s covered but not inside the house.” The team also built an outhouse or a “healthy combo” which includes a toilet, washpool and shower separate from the house.

Over the past few months, Chen and d’Hyver have discovered the challenges and rewards of working with other disciplines. “This project has been a great experience for me,” says d’Hyver. “I like working with different kinds of people and it’s interesting to see the types of questions other students ask. I leave every conversation thinking about a new aspect of the project I didn’t before.”

Chen also comments, “Personally, I’ve always done a lot of projects with other business majors, so having a different perspective that’s more quantitative and technical is really cool. We talk about everything from airflow to the roof design. It’s just a different mindset.”

Amid countless meetings and development plans, Chen, dHyver and Rumburg continue to make bigger contributions than just completing an assignment. New homes for Choluteca families provide opportunity and a chance to live a better life. Most importantly, it offers hope to families – like Esperanza and her children.

“This experience has been life changing for me,” concludes Rumburg. “It made me so grateful for the resources that we have at Ohio State. I never thought as a business major I’d be constructing a house in the middle of nowhere yet completely changing someone else’s life. It’s truly amazing.”

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