In 2006, more than 1,000 families in extreme poverty, most of them Nicaraguan immigrants, were evicted from a shantytown called La Candela behind the Juan Santamaría International Airport, north of Costa Rica’s capital.
The community pleaded with government officials for more time: Parents wanted their children to finish the school year, and they had to find affordable places to live.
But in just two weeks, the shantytown was cleared of its residents, and the shacks were destroyed. (The Tico Times reported on this on April 21, 2006.)
In response, a group of women from several communities organized a housing association, the Mothers-Teachers Association Project, and with the help of a priest and many donors, worked for seven years until they finally were able to own their own homes.
More than 80 families founded the association, but only 23 remained at the end. Eleven of those families are from La Candela.
The seven-year process was marked by challenges met with hard work and perseverance. Each family saved about $1,000, worked at monthly fundraising events and sold raffle tickets, produce and other food. But the hardest part, the families say, was dealing with discrimination and what they describe as “swindles” by public and private organizations.
To buy each lot and build each home, families received a grant from the Costa Rican government of $28,000. Their status as immigrants made it extremely difficult to obtain this grant. Members of the association saved money and raised more than $120,000 to pay for construction and land.
Three years ago, the first few homes were turned over to families who were up to date with association fees and responsibilities. The last key was given to the last family on Dec. 16, 2012. That day, the association threw a party to inaugurate the new community and their new lives.
The families of the Mothers-Teachers Association Project say they will never be homeless again. Here are their portraits and their stories.