‘Curious George’ goes to Guatemala

Washougal woman reads children's books and helps build a home

Catherine “Cath” Alvey, of Washougal, and a few “Curious George” books recently made an impression on some children in Guatemala.

Alvey, 63, was among 10 people representing Evergreen Habitat for Humanity who helped build a 500-square-foot house during five days in September.

She is a volunteer. There were also some staff members and donors from Clark County, who traveled to San Marcos, to participate in Habitat’s Global Village program.

Clive Rainey, the first volunteer for Habitat for Humanity International after it was formed in 1977, brought four different “Curious George” books, in English and Spanish.

Alvey taught high school English for 35 years in Wisconsin before she moved to Washougal three years ago.

She had traveled to El Salvador three times previously on church mission trips, not affiliated with Habitat for Humanity.

This was her first time in Guatemala.

“It was amazing, uplifting and inspiring,” Alvey said. “So much of what we did we were able to do with a family who was getting a home.

“There’s a great deal of sadness in Guatemala — malnourished children and poverty,” she added. “It puts a different slant on the feelings. What we were doing felt good, because we got to meet the people who were getting a home.”

The home building process involved hauling and splitting rocks, sifting sand, making concrete, building walls and mixing mortar.

“We worked very hard,” Alvey said. “During all of that, I don’t recall a time that we weren’t smiling and enjoying the work.”

The Habitat organization in Guatemala hires masons, so the visitors from other countries are helpers.

“Only six percent of what is done there is done by volunteers from outside the country,” Alvey said. “The Guatemalans have stepped up to the plate to do the volunteering.”

According to Alvey, 50,000 Habitat homes have been built in that country. The families that receive the homes have to provide sweat equity, by helping construct their houses and others.

It was Rainey who brought the concept of sweat equity to Habitat.

The representatives from Clark County were in Guatemala during the rainy season, which meant there were downpours in the afternoon.

Their hosts provided an ice cream cake after overhearing that the volunteers were missing ice cream during their overseas stint.

“We felt we had known the people a lot longer,” Alvey said. “They were a very appreciative family.”

A typical house in Guatemala takes 21 days to construct. It includes cement blocks for walls.

The home partially built by Alvey and others is for two parents and two children, who were living in an apartment badly damaged during an earthquake in 2012.

“It was probably not structurally sound,” Alvey said.

She credits Josh Townsley, executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, for putting the trip together and holding meetings beforehand.

“Everything went smoothly and was positive because of his leadership and organizational skills,” she said.

Alvey has also helped construct Habitat homes in the Clark County area. She is a volunteer member of the family selection committee, which makes recommendations regarding future projects to the board of directors.

The Evergreen Habitat for Humanity offices recently relocated to 10811 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver. For more information about its programs, call 737-1759, email volunteer@ehfh.org or visit www.ehfh.org.

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