Category Archives: El Salvador


departure preparations

The fundraising is complete and the final departure preparations are winding down.  Thanks to the generosity of family, friends and colleagues, we raised enough money for the trip contributions, including extra funding for special supplies that we will bring to the local families and schools.


Our Habitat for Humanity of Dane County team will be headed to Ahuachapan, El Salvador this Saturday for the Global Village build trip. We will be building homes during a 10 day program helping low income and deserving Salvadoran families. The group will build side by side with the Salvadoran families. The group leaves on Feb. 2 and returns on Feb. 10.

Our team of 23 volunteers is part of a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of El Salvador and Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.  The partnership includes awareness, financial support for housing needs in El Salvador and a three-year volunteer building program. Leadership of the two groups will meet in El Salvador to share ideas and best practices.

Habitat for Humanity of Dane County will head back to El Salvador in 2014 and 2015. Read below  or click the HFH DC links to learn more about our partnership with El Salvador.

Habitat Board approves El Salvador Partnership
Twelve El Salvador families will become homeowners in the next three years thanks to the efforts of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County. The Habitat Dane Board of Directors approved a three-year agreement with Habitat El Salvador at its July meeting. The agreement states that HFHDC will provide Habitat El Salvador $28,000 per year for three fiscal years starting in fiscal year 2013.

By fiscal year 2015, the $84,000 will construct 12 homes in El Salvador. According to the agreement, HFHDC may sponsor up to four volunteer teams per year through the Habitat Global Village Program in order to support the construction of these homes in El Salvador and to provide opportunities to interact with and learn from Habitat El Salvador staff.

John Stolzenberg, a member of the HFHDC Tithe Committee, said the committee wanted to be “more intentional” in its tithing efforts and to focus more on one country.

Habitat El Salvador, Stolzenberg said, has a strong, innovative staff, that are very well organized in their building efforts.

Ann Eaves, another committee member, added that El Salvador is growing economically and that corporations in the United States are doing more business with the country. “It’s a good fit for us,” she said.

Stolzenberg has taken or been an assistant leader for five teams of volunteers to the El Salvador in the last six years. He said the trips have been a “fun and exciting way” to reenergize himself and he’s learned a great deal about global poverty. “The trip has been much more than a Habitat construction project. To me, it’s been a real eye opener on poverty in the world.”


beyond borders & beyond architecture


A good friend and colleague recently sent a group email describing his upcoming volunteer work trip to Guatemala to help repair schools and work on stormwater projects.  Steve Wayland is a Civil engineer and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on several sustainability projects, including the first pilot LEED Neighborhood project on a historic restoration of the old Pabst brewing complex in Milwaukee.

Steve’s Guatemala project is another great example of how we can give back using our skills and sharing our knowledge.  The irony is that we often find that we receive in return much more than we give.   Steve’s two college aged sons will also be joining him on this trip. I asked Steve if I could share his ‘beyond borders’ story about a project that is ‘beyond architecture’, he generously agreed. Below are two excerpts, one from Steve’s contact in Guatemala and the other his letter describing the trip.  Enjoy.

Here are a few notes from Steve’s Guatemala connection, Gary A. Teale, Executive Director, Avivara:

205_Don_Pancho_School_Entrance_1-3x1_p1200_900dpi_medwebviewCivil engineering projects: According to your group’s itinerary, you folks will be going to Coyolate on Monday, which as I understand it is related to a water project. Also, your group will be working for several days in the village of El Yalu. This is a very poor village with many issues around water supply, sewage, etc., so you will have an opportunity to see their situation first hand and get a better sense of the challenges facing the rural poor.

215_Study_Girl_Small_Web_viewFinal Thoughts: When we first came to Guatemala to work in the Guatemala City garbage dump, we thought that as U.S. university-trained educators, we had it all figured out and would have much to offer to the Guatemalans to help them provide a better education and life for the students here.

However, it did not take us long to come to the realization that the most important thing for us to do was to listen and learn. Only by doing that could we begin to understand the cultural norms and long-term desires of the people we were working with, and then, and only then, develop sustainable strategies for helping that were fully owned and implemented by the Guatemalan people themselves. On our website at we have a couple of articles that touch on this and that you might find interesting reading. (Look for the section in the first article entitled “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and the second article, “What do the poor deserve?”)

Here is Steve’s  letter describing the trip and asking for equipment donations:

Hi All,    Michael, David and I have the great opportunity to travel with a group from our church- Covenant Presbyterian in Madison, WI to Guatemala in January, 2013; and work on several service and construction projects related to schools in rural areas around Antigua and Guatemala City.

Michael, David and I will also be organizing casual sports camp, giving tips on playing the sports, and/or just helping to facilitate pick-up games of soccer (what they call football), frisbee throwing/ultimate frisbee, and/or baseball/softball…with the Guatemalan children, youth and teens. .

Here’s where you all come in. 🙂   The boys and I would like to collect “gently used” sporting equipment (SOCCER BALLS, SOCCER SHOES, GOALIE GLOVES, SOCCER SOCKS, SHIN GUARDS…AND ANY FRISBEES , STANDARD, ULTIMATE, AND/OR FRISBEE GOLF TYPE) from our friends and families. We are planning to bring a couple large suitcases, with these things in them, with us to Guatemala, to give to poor families and children in the country.

Any of these items that you could send to me, or that I could come pick up, would be so greatly appreciated.

If you would prefer to send a check or give cash that I could use to purchase these items at a store like Play it Again Sports, that would also be most appreciated.

I will also be helping out with several projects and speaking with town leaders to discuss issues and solve problems related to: stormwater management/flood control, water & sewer utilities, and “sustainable” design and construction. I will have the opportunity to take a look at infrastructure and construction related issues in some of the poorer areas that we will be vesting in Guatemala. I hope to learn as much as I can from the Guatemalans; with respect to these things, while I am in the country.

Please contact me with what you’d like to donate by next Friday, January 4th, 2013.  You can email or call me anytime if you have questions or want more information on this.  Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for whatever you can contribute.

Take care,  Steve

Steve Whayland, PE, LEED AP




12/31/12 Contributions Deadline

HFHI logo        global village logo


Tax deductible contributions deadline is December 31, 2012.

As part of my Habitat for Humanity – Global Village El Salvador fundraising campaign, I’m running a half marathon, 13.1 miles, on January 20th and challenging folks to pledge toward my goal.  Would you like to pledge $1 a mile, $2 a mile, or other?  A warm thank you to those who have already pledged and contributed toward my goal of $2,000.

CURRENT: AS OF 12/12/12
$1268.40 raised
121 training miles run

$ 731.60 yet to raise
104 training miles yet to train

CONTRIBUTION LINK:  Visit the Habitat for Humanity Dane County website to make a tax deductible contribution directly toward our El Salvador trip:

1. Donate by Credit Card or PayPal: Select payment type

2.  DONATION AMOUNT: Select amount or enter amount.

3. DESIGNATED FOR:  Select  “Habitat El Salvador Partnership”

4. I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE THIS GIFT:   Select “In Honor Of”.  Enter my information and then yours. Janine Glaeser 5108 Tonyawatha Trail, Monona, WI 53716

5. Complete account information and submit.

Thank you for your support of project “architect unseen” and the February work trip to El Salvador.  It is my hope that this is only the beginning of something bigger, a campaign that will bring awareness to the unseen side of architecture where architects are using their skills to build stronger communities.

Reservations, part 2


This Saturday’s run was the hardest yet.  Mile 7, I broke down in tears, 2.5 more to go….. when did I decide that this was a good idea?  I know I can do this….but at that mile 7 moment; I had reservations.

Saturday night, a few hours after the long run, I’m out with a group of close friends.  One shares the fantastic news that her employer will match her contribution/pledge towards my run – $5 a mile baby, times two!  Wow!  I’m floored that she pledged and went to so much trouble to submit the request to her employer.  Thank you, friends, for the faith you have instilled in me, but guys, I’m feeling the pressure now.  Feet, don’t fail me now.

Same evening, friends asked if I still had reservations about El Salvador.  My response, “Of course.”  Second question, “Well, it is different than Haiti, right?”  I respond, “Well, yes – with Haiti, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, this time, I’ve no excuse.”  I remind myself, this is the right thing to do. 3 months of running every day, and I don’t even like to run.  Social life in the toilet – Friday nights early to bed and Saturday night, I’m too tired to go out.  Dating?  Maybe a lunch, but- oh, that’s right, I’ve got to go for a run over my lunch hour because I hate running in the cold DARK.

I have to ask.   Perhaps even Gandhi  or the Dahli Lama have faced a question of self…. at some time? Right?  “If you can, help others; if you can’t, at least don’t harm them,”  Dali Lama.  “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,”  Mahatma Gandhi.

Thinking back to my reservations the night before I was leaving for Haiti…. Nervous and sick to my stomach, I called my dear friend Joe, “What am I doing – what is it going to be like, can I do this?”  He responded, “you asked for this – remember. Go for a bike ride right now, you’ll feel better; tomorrow, you go.”   Friends, please, be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.  Two months from now, in El Salvador, I’ll remember that this is what I asked for; a wise man once told me so.


who inspires you?


Inspirations come from many different places, usually unexpected and often in hindsight.  Most of my inspiring souls are not architects, but they inspire me none the less.  All have a trait I truly admire, its called “gumption.”  Here are a few for starters…..

brad-kulaThree months ago this Monday Dec.3rd, a friend suffered a spinal cord injury while mountain biking during our Utah trip.  Brad Kula was told that he would never walk again..  Yesterday, he posted this video on Facebook. it!  Click this link for the video:   Brad’s Video -Dec. 3rd Walking  He is so awesome!

“3 months today!!!! Give me 3 more and see what I can do with them! “Never walk again is not going to happen. I will walk, run, ride, and do everything I can to survive again!”.

This man doesn’t take no for an answer – I love it!   

FinbarwebRobWorking as a mate on a topsail schooner in Key West, I met a scurvy old sailor by the name of Captain Finbar. The owner and builder of the Schooner Wolf,  Finbar taught me how to see outside my world and appreciate diversity.  The Wolf’s main gig was daily sunset sails, but when the need was there, she sailed relief trips to bring medical supplies, food, or clothing to nearby regions hit by hurricanes or earthquakes, including Haiti.  Here is the link to the full story: Wolf Departs on Haitian Mission of Mercy


I didn’t know it at the time, but Finbar inspired me to think globally.

GUMPTIONguts, spunk, resourcefulness, initiative, determination, discernment, spirit, boldness of enterprise, spirited resourcefulness, courage, and my favorite… true grit. 

A dear friend once said, ”I know you’ll always be ok, cause you’ve got gumption.”   I think that might have been the best compliment ever.

scottWhile searching for the Port au Prince boarding gate in the Miami airport, I kept a look out for our trip leader Scott Douglas.  This was his second trip to Haiti.  It wasn’t until months after our return, that I became fully aware of how his determination formed the NGO relationships that made it possible for us to reach so many.

12 volunteers 300 buildings 15 days. 

Scott, your spirited resourcefulness and kindness of heart  inspired all of us to stay strong during those long hot days.

Who brings out your inner super hero? 

Who helped you discover your true grit?  

Who inspires you to press on when the odds are against you? 


reservations, not the good kind

Today, Mom asked if I had any reservations about this trip to El Salvador.  First, I was ecstatic that she read my blog as I often wonder if she thinks I’m a little crazy for the things I take on… traveling to third world countries and doing a lot of work for free, often paying money to do.  Of course, I have reservations about traveling into a distant rural area of a war torn foreign country to work hard construction labor for people I’ve never met, again- paying money to do so.

Today was immunization day, at least one of two before traveling to a country where health care is minimal and preventable diseases are still prevalent.  Both arms ache like mad, and, oh by the way, so do both legs from today’s run.  Reservations?

I listened carefully to the doctor’s lecture on the perils that await in the region I’ve chosen to travel to.  “What will you be doing in El Salvador?”

I said, “Building homes, construction.”  She followed with a lecture on potential for getting hurt on a job site and the unknowns of healthcare available in a third world region.  My mind drifted back to some very unpleasant memories from Haiti.   Had I known before Haiti what I know now?  This and many other reasons, my friends, are why I have many reservations about travelling to El Salvador.

The reservations won’t stop once we are in El Salvador, nor will they cease upon return.  I recall a conversation with a colleague while walking along a dirt road in Petit Goave.  We had just worked 10 long sweltering days surveying buildings – we were all tired, dehydrated, shocked,  restless, and feeling hopeless.  There was no end in sight.  I looked at my friend and colleague, “It seems like we are making little progress and it is hard to tell if we are really helping anyone.”   My body was recovering from a terrible bug; at that moment, my reservations where fierce.

With the an amazing calm, he took my hand, “If we helped one person today, one person on this entire trip, would it be worth it?”

Without hesitation, I clamored, “Of course.”  I wish I could say that at that moment, his words made my reservations go away, but they didn’t.  Looking back, it has helped me to grasp the bigger picture of what was done in those 15 days we spent surveying post earthquake buildings in Haiti.  Looking forward, it provides a clear understanding that there is yet so much yet to be done in so many places for so many people…..  then a purpose begins to slowly replace what was a reservation.

I found this dinner photo with three colleagues/friends I had the pleasure of working with in Haiti. Thank you Kai Ki, for reminding me on that day when we were walking along a dirt road, that there is a purpose.  Thank you Jill for your amazing faith in people and love of children.  Thank you Tim for your working hard through the long days, pushing us all to keep going.

El Salvador: geography, culture, & construction

In a little more than two months, our team will be boarding the plane to San Salvador, El Salvador.  Nervous about the challenging physical labor and third world conditions, I have to remind myself that this won’t be like Haiti…..or will it?  The people in El Salvador still carry the scars from war and natural disasters.  How will what we do help them?


Unique in geography & Location, El Salvador is bordered by Guatemala to the west, Honduras to the north and east and the Pacific Ocean to the south. For the most part, El Salvador is lush, green and surrounded by cloud-misted hills. Over 20 volcanoes dot the countryside, the largest of these being San Salvador. Ever since the civil war ended in 1992, El Salvador has been working to rebuild and redefine itself.

Home to almost 6 million people, El Salvador is also the smallest, yet most densely populated country in Central America. Still struggling with the consequences of a 12-year civil war and constantly affected by natural disasters like earthquakes and tropical storms, almost 3 million Salvadorans live in inadequate housing made of stick, mud, plastic and scraps.

 The National program, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador, began in 1992 in the Santa Ana department, where the first 29 houses were built. Since 1998, program renovation and organizational growth have also taken place. As a result, the organization has provided a more effective response to families who have lost their homes to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch and the severe earthquakes.

The earthquake-resistant houses are made of concrete blocks and structural steel reinforcement. The roofs are made of fiber-cement sheeting, and the floors of cement brick. They have two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room and a latrine or toilet. Windows are shutter type, protected by steel bars in order to provide adequate lighting, ventilation and security.

Of the total cost of each house, 85 to 90 percent will cover direct costs (material, labor, transportation and legal expenses), and the rest will go toward indirect costs (office staff, rent and other administrative expenses). Financing must be repaid by the families within a 10-year period, which means that most will pay a monthly average of US$60.

For families who are unable to afford the standard model, there is another housing option called the “Progressive Model.” Depending on the family’s future resources, these houses may be expanded and improved in stages. This model is available in two sizes: a 40-square-meter construction area (US$6,000) or a 30 square meter construction area (US$5,500).


a few special “Thank Yous”

Thank you for your support of project “architect unseen” and the February work trip to El Salvador.  It is my hope that this is only the beginning of something bigger, a campaign that will bring awareness to the unseen side of architecture where architects are using their skills to build stronger communities.  This project will serve as a resource for architects in search of a way to give back.


We can provide support for those that do not have the resources to build or rebuild.   This is not accomplished by building it for them, but empowering them to do it for themselves.   Lao Tzu said it best:  “Go to the people. Learn from them.  Live with them.  Start with what they know.  Build with what they have.  The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.”


Seven years ago, El Salvador was hit by earthquakes and today, an organization has created a program that empowers the people of El Salvador to rebuild their communities.  I will be working alongside the mason, the framer, the roofer, the painter from El Salvador and following their lead.  I look forward to witnessing a successful program, one that could somehow happen in the Haitis of this world.

It is difficult to fully express my gratitude to for the many different ways that family, friends, and colleagues have provided support in this project.  Many have offered much needed encouragement, several have pledged a donation for the fundraiser, a few have provided great advice for running training, and others have provided good direction for the blog, challenging me to find focus.   I am grateful to be starting this journey with you by my side.

 A few special Thank Yous:

Family: On Thanksgiving Day, my sister proposed something different for Christmas this year.  “We don’t need more things – what do you say that instead of exchanging gifts this year, we make a contribution to Architect Unseen – project El Salvador?”  Thank you, family, for this generous idea.

Friends:  Without your words of encouragement and generous donations toward the running fundraiser, it would be much more difficult to stay motivated.  It is good to have you to lean on.

Colleagues:   Every challenging question has pushed this project toward a clearer definition of purpose.  Referrals have been proven invaluable. With this, I’d like to thank a few local professionals who have extended services in one form or another:

Catalyst: Thank you Jim for your running analysis and referrals

Mindful Motion:  Thank you Nathan for your exercise therapy suggestions for running

PR Chicago: Thank you Toni for your thoughtful questions

Regrets for having missed anyone in this post, we’ll be sure to mention in the next.      



merci beaucoup

merci beaucoup 

vielen dank 


muchas gracias 

hartelijk dank 



grazie mille  

Can you guess the languages?

“Merci beaucoup” – French for ‘thank you very much.’   The day after what we celebrate as “Thanksgiving Day”, a day to give thanks, we reflect on the many things to be thankful for.  Among the many things I am most thankful for are family and friends.   

Do what you can with what you have where you are.

“Do what you can with what you have where you are.”   Theodore Roosevelt


Considering recent questions on the purpose of project “Architect Unseen,” I respond with this.  All that remains undone is overwhelming and the path, at times, seems insurmountable.   However, if one can break down a big idea into manageable projects, it is possible.

The project launch is a focus on fundraising for a volunteer trip to El Salvador.  The purpose of this trip is to learn firsthand from a successful recovery program in a country similar to Haiti in climate and geography.  With hopes to bring home an understanding of what it takes to empower people with the knowledge to help themselves, I hope to apply this locally and globally – especially in Haiti.

My advice, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

 Following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, I asked – “What can I do to help?”  Closely connected to Key West, I traveled south to help pick up garbage from the shorelines.  Neither scientist nor marine biologist, the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.  On returning home, I asked the question a little differently, “What can I do as an architect to help?”  I searched for architecture volunteer programs and sent a few emails.  The next day, Rachel Minnery, co-founder of Architects Without Borders Seattle, asks if I would like to talk with her about an upcoming Haiti relief trip. Three weeks later, I am on an airplane to Miami to meet 11 architects and engineers and travel on to Petit Goave, Haiti.

It was the beginning of this journey and a fitting introduction to this project, Architect Unseen.

Visiting and working with people from other cultures provides an opportunity to learn more about one’s own.  Now certified as a disaster assistance – safety assessment program trainer, it is time to start training.  Exposed to the worst case situation in Haiti, it is time to find a way to prevent it.   With your help, project Architect Unseen will continue to evolve and find ways to help people.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.