Monday, February 14, 2011

February 2011: First volunteer week complete.

Friday February 11 and our first week of constructing two houses in San Miguel Duenas is over.

On both sites the trenching having been completed, we began to lay foundations with the complexities of building in an earthquake zone. This required that we understand how the steel reinforcing rods needed to be placed in the concrete footings and the masonry walls. One of our first jobs was to fashion steel hooks manually to space the rods appropriately. We also cut and shaped the cinder building blocks, with machetes on the first site, with an electric saw on the second. Then we put holes in some of the blocks, with axes, hammers and hatchets to allow the reinforcing bars to pass through the blocks. Instead of building a simple block wall, we reinforced our wall with steel bars embedded in concrete both horizontally and vertically so that the wall would withstand an earthquake. Next, after a brief apprenticeship, some of us began to lay the block under the eyes of the masons. By the end of the week, on site one the walls were three rows above ground level, and on site two, at ground level. We had already laid three invisible rows of blocks below ground.

At site one people were beginning to take pride in their work. People resisted suggestions that they be transferred to the other site. However, we did lose four workers to various complaints on Friday, leaving four to carry the load. Despite this shortage of labour we completed our three rows, and we expect that over the weekend the mason will add three more rows on his own.

One of the interesting developments at site two during the week was a change in our relationship with the Guatemalan mason and his assistant. When we first appeared to help them, they didn’t know what to make of us. They clearly had had little to do with North Americans, especially North American women. We were inexperienced and spoke little Spanish. For the first few days they smiled very little and gave us little direction. But gradually, as we began to learn our tasks, they realized that we were taking over some of the grunt work, freeing them to lay the rows of blocks without interruption. They began to smile and relax, and were able to communicate more.

The morale of the group was high at weekend. We could see the walls rising, were proud of the skills we had learned and the work we had done. We all hoped to see our houses near completion by the end of next week.

Brian Metcalfe
DWC Participant

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