Project 1 – 2012
|To raise $60,000 in order to:||Raised $200,000|
|Build ten new homes in Barrio Blanco||Built eighteen new homes|
|Built a new school|
|Designed and built a new water system for the barrio|
Between September 1 and January 10th 2012 donors gave just over $50,000 to build homes in Barrio Blanco. Enough to build 10 homes. By the time we finished, over $168,000 from 150 donors was given to build. Our donations and work have changed lives in very personal ways.
I arrived on January 23rd and spent the next two weeks gaining government permissions to build our new homes, and we broke ground on the first home for Domingo Kin’s family on February 7th.
You would think one of these shacks would just blow down, but it was hard work demolishing and preparing the site. At one point 37 people were working on this one home! It was a community event. Each family receiving a home was required to supply me a worker, and yet several people worked “con espera”…(with hope) that we might find them a donor too (and we did for several). We all worked “con junta”… (together). During the entire project we had 20 to 30 workers every day.
Videos of Project 1 construction
There were some basic requirements for our homes: To be elevated from floodwaters entering the homes, dry from the rain, and with a basic septic system for an interior bathroom. To accomplish two of these, we first excavate the perimeter and pour a concrete footing. Following this, we build up with 5 cinderblocks and create a septic tank and drain field, and then…a concrete floor. Our plan was to first build Domingo’s home (and learn from it), and then the others in groups of three. As we built the walls, the home became known as “Domingo’s mansion”. When we put his roof on, it began to look like a real house. It was at this point I sensed a bit of worker discontent.
People working were concerned that if they were among one of the later groups to build…that those whose homes had already been built might not work on theirs. So we had a meeting and agreed to erect everyone’s homes in steps at the same time. We paused Domingo’s house, and for the next several months we used his “shell” as our warehouse. Everyone was happy with this, and within 2 days all the shacks were torn down.
Imagine that. A gringo comes to Barrio Blanco and asks people to tear down their family’s home…for a promise. Would you? What this meant for each family was that they needed to find a temporary dwelling for the next months. The temporary conditions were even worse than the original terrible homes. In addition to losing their homes for the ensuing months, I needed “their worker” … normally the family breadwinner, to work full time building. It was very difficult for these families. They will forever remember this tough time, and perhaps it makes their new homes that much sweeter.
There were many adventures and challenges along the way. Many. And, as more people saw what we were really doing, more donors came forward. We were able to build more homes because of these new donors, and some of those working “with hope” were rewarded with new homes for them too.
The water for Barrio Blanco comes from the main coastal road on a big pipe, but within most of the barrio, a hose would stop giving water at 4 feet high because of bad tubing, so we needed to increase the water pressure. A very generous donor gave the money to install a new water distribution system throughout the barrio, and also worked on-site to install it. Now, there is very good water pressure all through the barrio, and our showers work great.
In May, some (again very generous) donors contributed money to buy land ($7,700) to build a school-community center which cost ($12,800). This building was large enough to hold a small clinic area.
Building through the summer was HOT. At times, sweltering, but as people saw their new homes taking shape, they became more and more motivated. Each beneficiary began dreaming of their new home, and how they wanted it to look. This was an unimaginable dream before. Others in the community saw all this going on, and some joined the effort simply to be a part of something good. Instead of “no hope”, there was a glimmer.
All work was done “by hand” with the exception of a backhoe to excavate our water lines 1 day and 3 futile hours trying to dig out a footing for Elle’s home. We used more than 25,000 cinderblocks, thousands of cubic meters of sand, gravel and fill called “caliche”. Thousands of bags of cement. All concrete was mixed by hand…on the ground and carried by buckets where needed. It is hard to describe how inspirational this was to me and others. People working very hard for the opportunity to improve their own lives.
By the end of July we had roofs on all homes and the school (which became our new warehouse). The project had taken longer to get to this point than planned (surprise surprise), but as each home got “dryed in”, the residents began moving in …and thankfully, out of their temporary dwellings. For the next 3 weeks, I returned home to Oregon while the families applied stucco (called “panete” for smooth, or “fraguache” for rough) textures to their homes’ exterior. Some people got fancy with this and made attractive design elements.
When I returned on August 23rd, we continued on with painting, installing electrical and plumbing fixtures, and as well doors, windows (slatted and called “pensianas”), and finishes. Our main material supplier, LLibre, donated a lot of ceramic tile and almost all homes used this in kitchens and shower areas.
We marked completion of the homes and the opening of the school on Fiesta Celebration day, September 28th, and it was the most emotional day of my life (after the birth days of my two children). The Dream Project, a wonderful non-profit school for poor children began the celebration launching the school in the afternoon. We had a “Key Ceremony” where 125 people held candles as each family’s name was called to come forward to receive their Key. Two donors gave house-warming gifts of door numbers, door knockers, rice and beans, and ceiling fans.
The residents began calling this “Project 1″. Pretty sterile name for a very emotional effort, isn’t it? Our project was a complete success! We have all joined our efforts and accomplished our goals of improving the living conditions for these families’ futures. And we have begun to change the mentality and reputation of what had been known as “the worst place to live”.
None of us could have done this alone. Not the residents, not the donors. Not me. If you are one of those who donated to Project 1, take a bow. You are a hero or heroine to many people living in Barrio Blanco. I do not take the credit for this. It was not me alone, it was US. We have done this wonderful thing to help others with our humanity…together.
But we are not done. There’s more to do, and hence…Project 2 !!!
The most satisfying thing about what we have done together is that We Really Did It. All of us can see it. It is real, and it changes lives forever. And when you look into the faces of these people, and hold them in embrace, you can feel the love. The strength of this appreciation. How would you feel if you were them?
Let’s spread the love further with Project 2.