Note: ENCompass Editor Kris Dreessen is in Nicaragua with Geneseo students, who are participating in improvements in El Sauce in the College's service-learning program. This story details the first work day, tearing down a wall to build a new one. For more information, visit the On Scene blog at http://geneseoonscene.blogspot.com
We're going to tear it down and then rebuild it with Pepe, a 26-year-old who lives here with his mother, where the paved road meets the dusty dirt one. The homes here typically don't have running water or bathrooms and sometimes electricity. Pepe's house is 70 years old and the adobe this wall is made of is crumbling. It's going to come down, if not by us by the torrential rains that will flood the streets this spring.
Every rainy season streets flood up to two or three feet high, before it washes away. The black marks show the flood line on Pepe's house, just before the door. The adobe wall takes the brunt of it.
Adam is working with the 4 Walls Project, a grassroots improvement program started by Peace Corps worker Meghan Haslam. Kellan Morgan '06, runs the service-learning program in Nicaragua and is working with Haslam to bring 4 Walls to students.
She teaches environmental education here and was inspired to start the program in 2007 after her dear friend, Juan Pablo, wouldn't invite her to his house. Finally, she convinced him to do so and she saw why. His adobe wall had fallen in and they could only cover it in plastic. He was embarrassed.
"It was just a really sad place," Meghan told me as we sat on a stoop across from Pepe's house, as he and Adam and Pepe's friend, Noel, dug away dirt. "He was worried that I wouldn't want to be his friend if I saw his house."
She decided she could do something, and when the floods forced evacuation from her home that week, she dreamed up a proposal: Collect money from friends and family and fix his house. Then, fix others. The idea took off and now she receives some donations from those friends and family as well as some supporters.
Since 2007 the 4 Walls Project has built 14 sturdy walls of brick and cement for the neediest residents, as well as a few roofs of corrugated zinc. Pepe is a mason and volunteered to frame two houses and so Meghan is helping his family now by providing supplies to fix the wall. Each wall costs $250 in materials — bricks, bags of cement, iron bars and iron wire. The families provide the labor and work with volunteers when they are here and sign a contract that they will not sell supplies, will provide transportation to pick up supplies and will do an environmental improvement, such as planting a tree, when finished.
Pepe borrowed his uncle's truck and the bricks are piled in one of the family's three rooms. Five people live here, in two bedrooms. There is an outhouse, a place to wash dishes outside over a table and the family room is bare except for a wooden chair and a table. Pepe says it ould take six months or more to save the $250 needed to replace the wall, but he and his mother can't, because most of their earnings go to food. Adam is the first Geneseo student to volunteer for the 4 Walls Project and Pepe never expected help from a college student.
"It's a totally singular experience," said Pepe, with the help of Meghan translating. "I never thought that I would work with someone from the United States or a student from the U.S. and I'm surprised he wanted to do this."
This is hard work.
First, Pepe shows Adam how to pry the nails off the wood slats on the exterior adobe wall and then take the rotten wood planks off. They pile them in the drive and I haul them out back near the latrine, navigating around one very large rooster.
Noel finds me another crow bar so we can all hack away from the inside at the adobe and plaster, Adam and Noel on homemade ladders. We're done in half an hour.
"The wall was not strong at all. It came down with a few smacks," said Adam, staring at the open space that was once a wall.
A Spanish major, Adam is testing out his real-world skills. It is his first time traveling outside the United States.
"This is brand new for me," he said. He came because he wanted to get his feet wet with an international experience. The El Sauce service-learning program is a way to really use what he's learned in his major.
After lunch, we dig out the rest of the dirt that fell with the wall — many wheelbarrows full — and toss the rocks in a separate pile. Everything gets reused here and these will be too.
Pepe brings out weather-beaten sawhorses and he and little Omar show Adam how to bend metal into squares. After completing the first, he shows it to Pepe, who laughs. It's right, more or less, he said.
"Less," said Adam in Spanish, laughing.
Meghan cuts wire into twist ties and after we place large bars side by side, we slip on the squares and tie the wire to secure them. This bar will strengthen the brick wall when they make it.
Everything in Nicaragua is done with manual labor. It takes us many hours to make the bar. We could probably buy it at Lowe's premade for about $50. It's a struggle in the heat but standing there, we like that we are making the wall. When it is done, we will be a part of it.
Read more at http://geneseoonscene.blogspot.com
January 7, 2009
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