The river swelled and prevented his crossing. When Guadalupe Trejos was ordered to oversee the safe passage of El Christo Negro back to El Guayabal, a number of strange occurrences befell him. The final one sent him to his grave. The statue of the Black Christ would remain where it had been placed, beneath the willow tree (in Spanish el sauce) in the rich emerald valley. Catholic officials from Guatemala would twice more attempt to return El Christo Negro. Twice more the river would rise, malaria would strike and those sent to remove the relic would perish. El Christo Negro refused to move, and with that the now sleepy cowboy town of El Sauce, Nicaragua was born.
Since then, the “land of milk and honey,” as El Sauce is called, has played host to a number of miracles attributed to the presence of El Christo Negro. The latest was witnessed in 1999, when the Templo de El Sauce, where El Christo Negro was kept, went up in flames, but the relic was unharmed. Today, though, seen from the heights of the new church where the statue is now situated, another miracle is taking place in the barrios of El Sauce.
Rebuilding, Brick by Brick
Years of war and corruption have left the breathtaking landscape of Nicaragua pitted with pockets of poverty. Interspersed with the coffee-tree-covered mountains, the crystal-blue sweet-water lakes and the volcanic arc that stretches through this country are houses of sticks and mud, plastic and cardboard. But that is all starting to change. In the United States, based out of Rochester, New York, 4Walls Project has for the past five years been helping to build safe, sustainable housing for underprivileged families in El Sauce. What started as a two-woman project has quickly blossomed into a yearly pilgrimage for volunteers from all across the United States.
Finding an adventure off the beaten path can be difficult in today’s age of capitalism, where signs for Starbucks and McDonald’s now plague even the most remote of landscapes. El Sauce, Nicaragua, however, has remained untouched. It is an oasis in a desert of skyscrapers and chain stores. Volunteers in El Sauce enjoy the relaxed way of life, and the traditional food and culture, without the presence of strip malls or supermarkets.
The volunteer work itself is multi-purposed. 4Walls Project is about construction – expect to get your hands dirty – but it’s also about connection. Colleen Dunham, a returning volunteer, says “It’s about families, mucho fun, grande joy!”
Along with hand-mixing cement, laying bricks and cutting wire, volunteers work alongside local families, with whom they trade stories, share customs and learn together. So in addition to the structures, relationships are built. “Most volunteers return home feeling as if they have left their hearts in El Sauce,” said 4Walls founder Bonnie Yannie. “The only cure is to return again.”
How It All Started
Meghan asked her family to hold off on the Christmas presents that year. “I want money to buy bricks and cement for Marguerita’s house,” she told her parents. Meghan was a Peace Corp volunteer living in El Sauce in 2008.
Although she and Marguerita had been friends for some time, Meghan had yet to experience the big-hearted hospitality that had embraced her everywhere else in the country. Then she saw why: Marguerita’s small plastic house. It was no more than weathered pieces of cardboard covered where the plastic had ripped. The rain would inevitably find its way through this temporary patch and onto the dirt floor inside. The soupy floor and the poverty that caused it were the reasons Marguerita had neglected to invite Meghan to visit her home.
That same year, as Meghan was rebuilding a different house, Bonnie Yannie was looking to rebuild too. She had recently lost her husband and was adrift at her home in Rochester, NY. She came to El Sauce as a volunteer nurse in the nearby hospital to ease her restlessness, but it wasn’t helping. Upon meeting Meghan, Bonnie jumped at the opportunity to help reconstruct Marguerita’s new house.
At 7 o’clock one Saturday morning, the two women set off in a truck full of thousands of earthen orange bricks. The road to Marguerita’s, like many in El Sauce, was a rough hewn and strewn with rocks. It wasn’t long before the bricks began to fall off. “It was like watching precious dollars crashing to the ground,” Meghan recalls. Hearing the commotion neighbors ran to the scene. In a flash, children, teenagers and adults formed a fire line and passed the bricks from the truck. “It was that moment that changed my life,” said Bonnie. “This genuine act of goodwill created an energy among us.”
With just over US$1,000 and the generosity of the communities in the U.S. and in El Sauce, Meghan and Bonnie completed Marguerita’s beautiful new casita. Feeling renewed from the experience, Bonnie began thinking “Geez! We can do this Megan. Next year I can return with some volunteer friends. We can raise money. We can do this again!”
Meghan and Bonnie started 4Walls Project/Proyecto 4 Paredes that same year and to date have built 59 houses.