I actually met Elle around 8 years ago, and she is second from the left in the group photo.
If you are a young woman growing up in Barrio Blanco like Elle, you have limited choices. You make these choices between ages 8 and 14.
What is normal is that 90% of barrio women see their futures as finding a man, having his babies and becoming homemaker as the man is breadwinner,
and this is what Elle did. I got to know Elle as we began Project 1 in January 2012. Elle is 19 years old and showed me her 1 week old baby joining
her daughter 3 year old Eliana. Eliana became my #1 girlfriend in the barrio. She's spunky, and loving.
Elle's parents died when she was 7 years old, and my friend Regina, and barrio leader, adopted her. Elle had been married for 3 years and her husband left her when she was eight months pregnant with a second child. They had been renting a two room hut for $60 per month, but when he left, she had no income. None. With a new baby and a 3 year old, she was stuck. If she didn't pay rent within 2 months, she was to be evicted. Elle had graduated from high school and aspired to become a teacher, but gave up when faced with college expenses...and then babies.
I told her story to one of our most generous donors who had already sponsored a different home. She was moved by Elle's plight and told me
to immediately buy land (which I found cheaply) and to begin building a home for her if we could because she would sponsor a home for Elle too.
I told Elle this, and she was elated.
A requirement of each resident who was receiving a home in Project 1 was to give me a worker "Strong like a Man". This is a Latino culture, and this is how it was expressed to me. Elle didn't have a man. She went to her (abandoning) husband to ask him to work for a home for his children. He agreed on condition that he would become part or full title owner of the new home.
I think always of how people in the barrio can earn a living. Because of this I asked Elle to write me a short story about her life to see if there might be opportunity to help her become a selling writer.
Her story made me cry, but wasn't marketable. She had written about what the new home would mean to her. She wrote of the choices that she needed to consider to support herself and her daughters. She was seriously looking at prostitution. Her story, presented to me with tears of gratitude, told of how this donor and I were rescuing her. This was a very real and personal human drama. I had become attached to Eliani and I was also affected by Elle's plight. Without our efforts, Eliani's future would likely go the same way as her mother's.
For the next 7 months, Elle worked shoulder to shoulder with the men. At 19 she had never worked "a job" before much less building.
You can see her in many photos or videos during construction, and typically she is carrying 2 buckets of cement.
It was hard work for Elle during those months. When she was eventually evicted from the rental hut, we scrambled to build her a temporary
dwelling that was assembled by two men in the barrio out of scraps salvaged from the building we had demolished to erect the school.
Her "home" with her babies for over 5 months was a 6 by 6 foot shack that was erected on top of a septic tank.
The land we bought "cheaply" for $1,040 was a nightmare to prepare. It had been a garbage dump for some years, and it took us 3 days, 17 workers each day. We needed a backhoe (who got stuck), 5 large truckloads of garbage to be removed, and 4 large trucks of fill brought in. I had to buy rubber workboots for the workers in calf-high sewage and garbage. It was hard work for all.
The work was tough on her. Her hands hurt, her body ached yet day after day this gentle young woman became stronger… inside and out and she learned that she was able to accomplish great things from her hard work.
Elle and I shared tears over those building months, but none like what flowed as she received her Key for her new home. It was incredibly emotional.
We "titled" Elle's home in her name with a restriction that it could not be sold or her ownership diluted for 5 years, and today Elle's an independent young mother who owns her own home. Elle would welcome you to her beautiful new home with pride. This is only one "human drama" story among several of how our project affects human lives. Yes, we made a "lasting improvement" in this young family's life.