Small Things Count (Even Shelves)

G.O.D. International sent three families as representatives to El Salvador this February. The Johnsons, Reyes’, and Watsons recently moved into three houses and are currently making them into homes and getting to know their neighbors. Michael Johnson, an accountant for G.O.D. International and skilled in working with his hands, shares a moment when a seemingly small task evolved into an opportunity to help three fatherless boys tackle their first construction project.

Michael Johnson teaches a neighbor boy how to use a power tool for the first time. With many fathers absent due to the civil war, or allure of life in America, many young boys miss out on learning basic practical skills to improve their environment. 

Michael Johnson teaches a neighbor boy how to use a power tool for the first time. With many fathers absent due to the civil war, or allure of life in America, many young boys miss out on learning basic practical skills to improve their environment. 

Moving into our neighborhood in Sitio Nuevo, El Salvador, we have not arrived unnoticed. We built three homes ourselves, and are continually working to make them safe, organized, and pleasant to be in. We have an audience no matter what we are working on. And our houses have proved to be quite different from the ones they are used to. For them, their homes are small, rectangular structures that lack permanent interior divisions. Their cinder block construction almost always lacks plaster, leading to a cold and dismal feeling for their inhabitants.

One of the ways we have been organizing our new homes and the items we have is by building shelves. Shelves allow for accents, placement of home furnishings, add character, and keep important things off the ground and from the reach of children. Pictures settle nicely, reminding us of friends and family we hold dear. All of these additions help to make our space into a home. Basic shelving can allow clutter to dissipate, and organization and functionality increase.  Ordering is one of God’s foremost activities in creating an environment (the world itself). We think that part of our creative process should come in ordering environments for families to find health within.

Unexpectedly, our shelving brought intrigue from others in the neighborhood. When we asked what the word for ‘shelf’ was in Spanish, everyone responds with a shrug of the shoulders and tilt of the head, “no se” (I don’t know). Of all the people we have spoken to thus far, no one knows the name of such a simple contraption because they have never seen or used one.

Michael Johnson not only taught the boys how to use tools, but also how to solve basic math problems related to building. On average, a child from rural El Salvador only attends school for 3.7 years. 

Michael Johnson not only taught the boys how to use tools, but also how to solve basic math problems related to building. On average, a child from rural El Salvador only attends school for 3.7 years. 

Because resources are scarce for people here, the poor typically hoard anything they can acquire. Homes are filled with items they think will one day prove useful. Little is thrown away. Shelves could greatly aid in organizing such clutter and provide for them more living space in their small (often one room) homes. In addition to the clutter, shelves can bring some warmth to a home by allowing for pictures to be set. I believe that human beings don’t just deserve a shelter, but a home. I also believe that they could utilize innovation and creativity to make their home inviting, even on limited funds. I am glad I could be an example to them in that, even unknowingly at first.

This week I completed my first custom order to build a shelf for one of our neighbors.  She is a subsistence farmer who raises fruit to sell in order to support her three sons. Her husband left her and the kids for the U.S. I took the opportunity to teach them how to build a shelf for their mom. They made all the measurements, calculated the space it would fill, and used saws and a drill to cut the wood. They learned and grew in confidence in their ability to utilize their hands to change their home environment in a small but meaningful way.

With a genuine smile of appreciation, their mother thanked me and asked me how much she owed me. We negotiated to a price of three bunches of bananas from her trees. Both her family and my own were happy we could mutually benefit one another in this way.

Written by Michael Johnson