Monday, March 7, 2016

Colombia #14- Construction Project

Explaining what we did in the aspect of construction is very difficult, because for us as Americans, the methods are unfathomable and unconventional. However, how they do construction- how they guided us to do the construction- works to accomplish the end result with the resources they have.

Most every task was done by hand. We shoveled nearly 3 tons of dirt and we picked at just that much to break in up in order to shovel it. We put in a septic system. We dug a hole for a cistern. And Gil fixed some of their broken pieces, like the water pump and the generator.

When we first arrived, the primary act of business on the construction site was setting up the cabana. Remember, Colombia is on the equator, and very hot. For anyone, but especially those of us entering that territory from a state full of snowflakes, that is a definite difference and with few trees around, the cabana offering shade was a necessity. The setting up of that was an interesting task in and of itself. With rope and poles and a giant "net", we worked as a group to erect this makeshift shade. That took us most of the morning. However, we were very grateful for that restful area as we worked in the heat all week.
The worksite and cabana from a distance

Eric and James under the cabana

 When it comes to what the projects were to be accomplished through the week, we had a couple of "to-do's". One of the first was to set the septic tank. Now, mind you, this is far different from how we do this, or even what we use as a tank here. A giant, plastic round container was put in place by the guys on the team once we had the area cleaned out of rocks and sticks and trash and patted down evenly. The barrel was brought over by many of the men, and set in tightly. Once it was "set", we shoveled dirt in around it. the same dirt that we had just worked to shovel out. (In Colombia construction, there is a lot of shoveling dirt out to shovel it back in, time and again with the construction projects.) You'll see a picture below of kids with buckets. They helped by carrying dirt from another area, carrying it over to me, who was standing behind the septic tank on the wall in the corner, dumping the dirt behind the tank, filling in that space, as the others shoveled on the sides.
 The kids had so much fun doing this. I loved watching them get so involved and so eager to help. You'll see a board across the tank in one of the photos. That was how they leveled the tank.
  You might wonder how the tank works. Well, basically, there is a pipe that runs out of the tank, and when it becomes full, they drain the liquids. They will scoop out the solids, using the solids as fertilizer. Nothing goes unused; everything is a resource.
Putting in the Septic Tank
Leveling the Tank

Paula in the trenches shoveling dirt around the tank

The kids and their buckets

 A second task we had to accomplish was to dig a cistern. That was a production as well. The hole needed to be 6 feet deep. (side note, they measure in meters there, and math is not my strong suit, but I really wanted to comprehend what we were doing, so I had a conversation with the construction leader about conversions. Essentially, we were digging 2 meters, which is just over 6 feet.) The lines were marked, and the task began. Pick, shovel. Pick, shovel. This took days, and the progress seemed slow, but by the time we left, we had around 4 feet dug. The deeper we got, obviously, the less people could be involved, so it became one person pick, next shovel, another person pick, the next shovel. We had a good rotation going.
James at the start of the cistern

Eric, digging deeper

Me, Juan and Eric at the end of the week 

 A third task we worked diligently on was shoveling dirt back into the trenches you see. The team members who had already been to Brisas del Mar laughed many times during the week about this, because in their years prior, they spent their whole time there digging those trenches! The trenches had to be dug at the onset of the building project and a retaining wall put in because the building has a bit of  a downward slope. There were team members who have been going since 2013 who were part of that project, so you get the idea of how long the building projects last. They dug out the trench, eventually a retaining wall was put in (cement mixed by hand, mind you) and now we were filling those trenches back in. This is progress, even though it may not seem like it. Filling the trenches back in means the building is making another step towards its completion.
The trenches

Before we filled them in

Paula and Michael shoveling, Keith dumping the dirt

Other pieces worked on while we were there:  Gil worked diligently with them to fix their broken water pump and work on their generator. It was a blessing to have him there, because none of them had the knowledge to do this, and the clinic needs both of those things working efficiently.
 The perimeter was marked out for the building, posts put in place to keep it marked. I worked with the contractor to level each post. That was a long task, as our level was a long tube filled with water that we had to get level in each place. Sometimes, we had to start over because a bubble got in our tube. Sometimes we had to start over because as we worked our way around, one post wasn't high enough for the "level" area, so we had to go back from the beginning. The process worked, it just took a lot of patience and a lot of time.

 Interesting piece we all took away from this project: what we would throw away because of being broken, they find a way to fix . The wheelbarrows we were using were very rickety, but 2 guys spent time patching one of them up so it could be used.
James displaying the wheelbarrow

James and Christian working on the wheelbarrow

 The picks we used would come loose on the head of it often, and rather than just toss it aside, Jon or Juan found a way to tighten it.
 Sometimes we ran out of poles to use or sometimes handles would break on the tools. Juan would walk away for a few minutes and come back in no time with a newly whittled stick to use in place.
Everything has use there.

And when Paola was asked frequently by team members if they could purchase new tools for the village, she had to explain a concept hard for us who are well off to understand. If a person was going to give money, the village would rather see that money be used for food to feed the children than to buy new tools.

 Construction is done differently in Brisas del Mar, for sure, but this farm girl worked harder than I ever had before and was humbled in all new ways. I came home greatly appreciative for our way of doing life, and trying to find ways to implement their resourceful living at the same time.
  One day at a time.

The next blog will be about our trip into Alto de Julio. Another experience I won't forget.

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