Irene with her children and grandchildren in front of their Amor house
Irene shakes the sleep from her eyes as she reaches to greet me. She is only 42-years-old, but she moves with the weight of a much older woman. She lives with her husband Rogelio in an Amor house that was built last April. She never went to school. Her husband taught her how to write and read, although he only finished sixth grade. Three of their children and their two grandchildren live with them.
Rogelio used to work in construction, but today he can only take smaller jobs as a handyman, making about $52 a week. When he can’t find work, Irene has to make their food stretch for the rest of the week. "Where one eats, two can eat...that's what I say."
Their daughter Juliana is their only grown child still living at home. She's 26 years old and works at a factory. She makes $48 a week. Her partner and father of her daughter left to join the Mexican military a couple months ago. "It's a well-paid job, and it will give us some security,” she says with uncertainty in her voice.
Irene and Rogelio lost two children in the period of one year. Her daughter died in a car accident with her husband, leaving two children orphaned. The couple took in the youngest while the older one went to live with their other Grandparents. "I didn't want to separate them, but we just couldn't afford to keep them both and we didn't have enough room in the house we were renting."
They also lost a son in an unfortunate accident. He was hit by a truck when he tripped and fell as he started to cross a street. He was killed immediately.
Her husband was so distraught over the losses that he felt he couldn’t handle his pain anymore and he tried to kill himself. “He spent a month in the hospital. He never was the same after that. I was never the same.”
At that time, the couple lived in a hardly-livable shack of two rooms that they were renting for 1500 pesos ($82), a hefty sum when you can’t always afford food, “We got tired of throwing our money in the trash, so we decided to build our own home." Irene secured a plot of land for less than 1000 pesos ($54) where they constructed a rudimentary home.
A while later, Pastor Fausto learned about the family’s situation from one of their neighbors. He came to visit and offered to build them a safer home.
"My children live happily in our [Amor] house. They sleep comfortably and now we are not afraid anyone will break in to steal the little that we have.”
The family also receives help from another one of their neighbors who brings food when she knows Rogelio hasn't been getting any jobs. Irene confesses that they still suffer deep sorrow at the loss of their daughter and son, and if it wasn’t for the help of neighbors and strangers who came and loved on their family, she doesn’t know how they would have gotten through that time.
Their Amor house represents the acknowledgment that they are not alone, a place where they can find respite. A place they can call home. A place where they can find hope.