Thursday, February 03, 2011

Checking in on that ´helping out´goal...

 I´m helping to build a school. Well, actually, we´re adding on to an existing school. I´m working in tandem with the orgnizations Mano a Mano and Sustainable Bolivia. Mano a Mano builds schools and clinics all over Bolivia, the country that has the highest dropout rate in South America, especially among girls, because many kids have a  4 hour commute to school. Mano a Mano makes it their mission to build schools (and clinics) that are excessible to remote places. They built a school in the village of Apote, outside of Cochabamba, years ago, and attendance rates have gone up so much, they need to add on. We are at the foundation level of what will, in 4 months, be 12 new classrooms.
I have spent months staring at Mexican contruction sites wondering what they could possibly be building out of a bunch of randomly cobbled together wood. Now, I am randomly cobbling wood eveyday. The construction process is much slower when you don´t have proper lumber. You just use what´s there. That means finding old ladders and pulling the nails out of them one by one. Or carrying tree trunks to the work site. You make the size piece you need. You make the plumes. It looks like a mess. There is order, but it certainly doesn´t come together like a shopping list at Home Depot.
The other volunteer from Sustainable Bolivia that I am working with is French guy named Bruce. Our common langauge is Spanish. Our boss, a Bolivian named Renee, is about 5 feet tall, works in rubber sandals, and climbs around the worksite like a monkey. His boss is a fat guy, also in sandals, that chews coca constantly and has the final word on every leveling question.
Bruce and I spend a lot of time painfully constructing sentences the other one doesn´t understand. There is a lot of ´No Entiendo´and a lot of laughter. Laughter must be good for something, even on a building site.  Renee either thinks its funny or annoying that we don´t understand eachother and barely understand him. I´m leaning towards the latter.
We are raising and leveling rebar columns and the project is visibly coming along, which is rewarding. It is as safe as you would imagine a worksite where most of the workers wear rubber sandals and are climbing ten feet into the air on homemade cobbled structures over uneven gravel pits. But so far, the biggest injury is sunburn.


Shannon said...

Just added your blog to my list of favs...because it is! So interesting what you're doing. Keep the info coming and pics when you can.

Jed said...

Fat guy coca leaf boss must have "an infallible eye" for leveling, or he wouldn't hold any authority, I would think.