Josué “Jota” Ochoa, one of buildOn's construction supervisors.

From Fields to Foundation: Jota’s Journey With buildOn

By Sergio Matus, buildOn Impact Officer

Sergio, our Impact Officer in Nicaragua, returns to the blog to recount his interview with Josué “Jota” Ochoa, one of our construction supervisors.

“Thank you, Jota, for building my school. Finally, I’m going to study in a school where I won’t get wet or be exposed to the sun, and I will have a large space to play with my friends!” These were the grateful words a young boy in one of our buildOncommunities said to Josué Ochoa, one of our construction supervisors. “Jota” in Spanish means “J,” the first letter of his name, and that’s what pretty much everyone calls him, he says with a smile.

Meet Jota

Born in the community of Rancho Grande, Nicaragua, he spent his early years working in the fields planting beans and corn. Despite the difficulty of having to work as a child, he completed primary and secondary school. He even won a partial scholarship to study civil engineering at a public university. But by his third year of college, economic reasons forced him to drop out and return to living off the land in his community.

In 2020, buildOn started constructing a school, Colonia Agrícola #2, in Rancho Grande. His sister-in-law, a member of the project leadership committee that we formed to organize the community, called him to let him know that we needed a mason for the project. He was baffled by her request and even laughed at it. “I did not have the slightest idea of what a mason does,” he chuckles as he recalls. “Yes, but you are tenacious and smart! And the construction supervisor says he wants to talk to you,” his sister-in-law replied. Initially, he ignored her request, but she insisted two more times and he begrudgingly accepted to meet Marcio, our construction supervisor for that project. When Marcio interviewed him, his first question was “Are you a mason?” Jota just stood in silence. He recalls thinking, “What am I going to say? I don’t know the first thing about being a mason.” But he had faith in his talent, his God-given intelligence, and capacity to learn, and started nodding along. “I need someone who can paste, lay bricks, and run levels,” Marcio went on. Confident in his ability to accomplish those tasks, he decided to take the risk. They agreed on a salary and the next day he showed up.

Learning on the Job

Not having tools of his own, he grabbed a bunch of basic ones his father had lying around the house. His first task was to help Marcio trace the school’s axis on the ground according to the building plans. Jota laughs now as he recalls how most of the time the markings he made were not where they were supposed to be. He remembers poor Marcio scratching his head and sending him to help do rebar, letting another one of the builders do the tracing task. When he got to the rebar station and didn’t have the right tool, the other mason loaned him his. This sounds like a tough first day, but buildOn’s methodology is geared toward teaching volunteers construction skills that may be valuable in the future. Marcio was able to see beyond Jota’s initial fumbling attempts and appreciated his work ethic, willingness to learn, and humility.

The first school Jota built is still a fixture in the community in Rancho Grande.

After that, Jota improved so much that buildOn’s field coordinators started recommending him to different municipalities where we work to be hired as one of the two masons on each project. Along the way he kept learning a little from every construction supervisor and every field coordinator, improving incrementally until the country director and construction manager decided he was ready to lead a school build by himself as a construction supervisor.

“Yes, we get paid, but really you are doing it for them.”

Josué “Jota” Ochoa

“By that time, I felt capable of leading the people, which is the most important part. I had the experience of how to begin the work, how to assess it, how to explain it, and how to teach it.” Nevertheless, his first school as a construction supervisor wasn’t a walk in the park: a US Trek came to work in the community and the difficult terrain the school was being built on demanded that he make some modifications to the foundation plans. All of this tested his abilities. He was forged by fire there, and that cemented his self-confidence on the job.

A Crucial Part of Our Team

His work at buildOn has been fruitful in many different ways. One of them is that it hasimproved his family’s quality of life. 

“Thank you to buildOn for arriving unexpectedly in my community,” he says. “Not only did they help my community, but also helped me on a personal level. With the jobs that they have given me, I have raised my family and my children. The house I had when I first started working as a construction supervisor was in bad shape. I made up my mind to fix it. Within the first year of working, I completed the work on my house. I have my stuff, my tools. Thank God buildOn hasn’t abandoned me and I’ll keep doing my best to stay with them.”

Today, Jota is highly regarded as a very professional and skilled member of the team.

Best of all, he is now in the position where he is mentoring up-and-coming masons that he thinks have the capacity to become buildOn construction supervisors one day.

Jota, in the red hat, is now a school-building master.

His lunch break is almost over and people on the worksite need his guidance on the different jobs they are about to work on, but I couldn’t leave without asking him what it meant to him when that little boy thanked him for building his school. 

“I felt like I was a part of his future. I contributed something. Yes, we get paid, but really you are doing it for them. So that they learn well, that they have a roof, desks, and whiteboards. So they have enough space for leisure and learning.”

“Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” 

This powerful statement from the Bible’s Book of Luke has transformed thousands of lives around the world. It invites us to trust in our capacities, let go of our hesitations, and take the first step into the journey that we want to follow. Along the way, we’ll find people who will believe in us, share our vision, guide us, and even lend us their tools. And perhaps one day, we’ll be fortunate enough to experience the sincere gratitude of those touched by the fruits of our labor.

Help Jota and the rest of our construction teams transform even more communities by making a tax-deductible donation today.