Sunday, January 15, 2012

Let the Construction Begin!

A muchacho that has been there every step of the way....
He is always in the middle of the action, even when we dont want him to be

Digna watches over construction
She has become my main project partner. She is in charge of all the other health promotors and without her my project would not have gotten off the ground.

Anacelia y Glenis. We are building Anacelia a latrine.

Anacelia's pup deciding that after we cleared the sand and cement it would make a perfect bed

My two masons: Rafael y Jodolis sawing plywood in the Catholic Church, we are also storing all of our materials inside :)

Everyone is helping: Thank goodness I dont know of anyone enforcing anti-child labor laws in the DR

Filling the toilet mold


mixing cement

one of the beneficiaries looks on

Early morning tools

Putting up the walls and putting in the rake holes


making a chicken wire, rebar sandwich

Getting the tools ready

Inside the warehouse for our tools: the Catholic Church. Jesus has been watching over the project as my neighbors like to say and making sure no one steals our materials.

Some tools

Cutting electrosoldado: Day 1, 7:30 AM

Andrea and I, working hard.
Andrea came to help me the first week and as a volunteer who has made quite a few of these eco-banos she got to boss my masons around.

I am tired, no, I am exhausted. Spiritually, mentally, and physically, in that order. Please don’t think I am complaining though. It feels wonderful to feel tired. Peace Corps, for me, and I am sure this is not unique to my situation, has been rife with extremes: highs, lows, happiness, loneliness, frustration, but above all, lots of growth. I told someone recently, a fellow volunteer, “You know, I think I have changed and grown so much in my service but not necessarily in ways I imagined or even wanted to, but I am certainly not the same person that came into the Dominican Republic in March 2010.” As my service draws to a close, I have taken a bit of time to reflect on how I have changed in the past two years. I am more trusting, more confident, more willing to ask for help, more likely to wait patiently (sometimes), less idealistic, and more certain of what I need and don’t need to be happy. I am also less shy, and because of the endless embarrassments that I have committed in front of a crowd, I take myself a bit less seriously. Did I say I am much more willing to let people know I need help? Que mas? I can drink a lot more juice, I can eat more mangos, avocados, and rice (and crave rice and beans around noon everyday), and I know and appreciate what it means to live in a community: the sharing of gossip, food, coffee, and opinions.
One of the biggest challenges I faced in Peace Corps were the months when it seemed there was nothing to do. As a volunteer, you have lots and lots and lots of free time and then all of a sudden, you are so busy you need an assistant. This is not really free time, because if you don’t have a 9-5 job, and hardly anyone does in Peace Corps, then every moment in your campo is basically free time, deciding how to fill your day. The difference between Peace Corps “free time” and what I would consider free time in the states, is the guilt factor. 90% of my service was spent hanging out in the community. This is hard to explain when someone says what did you do, because sometimes other than throwing rocks with the kids, laughing at the chickens and helping neighbors cook, not much else happens in a day. Sharing my free time, sitting in a plastic chair, and learning about life in a small rice and banana community on the dusty border of Hispaniola. That is what I did. There was a lot of,"Ugh, I have nothing to do, ugh I am a lazy volunteer, I should be constructing a school, giving classes, filling my days, checking things off lists." But I sat, and I planned, and I shared my dreams and you I was taught life lessons from old women and young mothers while I helped peel the yucca.
But then, all of a sudden all the two years of gaining trust in the community and organizing groups and looking for funding all came together and I am ready to do something that will be able to answer the question: so what did you do for two years in the Dominican Republic? I will say, oh, I built composting latrines. But to people that have kept in touch with me through my service or that have done Peace Corps, they know that this is only the manifestation of the real work I put in: sitting, drinking coffee, sharing my time and learning about my community and Dominican culture for the past 20 months. When I leave people will say an Americana, a rubia lived here, she had a dog she loved, she drank coffee at my house, she walked around a lot and said hi to everyone, oh and she built composting latrines!

I returned to my campo on January third after taking a two week break for Christmas. I had relaxed, I had seen my friends, and I was finally ready to begin the daunting construction of the Eco-Banos, a project that I have wanted see come to fruition for a long time. Last March, I had a planning meeting with the community, formed a committee, worked out a preliminary budget and wrote two grants. As soon as I received grant money in September, I began the most crucial component of the project: education. An eco-bano is really neat, but it only works if you are using it correctly. That involves teaching families individually how to use their bathroom: Not peeing in the poop part of the toilet, not putting bleach down the hole, putting ash down after every use, moving the rake once a week to move the poop, etc. I organized a group of wonderful health promoters, eight in all. They continue to astound and impress me with their dedication to the project and their belief in its importance. I am certain that without these women the project would not have continued. Each health promoter was put in charge of four families and they had to make four house visits before construction began. They are going to make 4 more house visits over the next few weeks as well.

This week I started construction. It has not been a simple project. We are planning on building 30 latrines even though I budgeted for 35. Material costs have all gone up exponentially and unforeseen costs have come up, but I am proud of the project and the people involved. Stay tuned for more updates.

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