You know when you get home from work and you slip into your house, ditch your bag and grab a towel before walking out of the front door to go for a swim in the sea? Well even if you don’t know that particular piece of heaven on a daily basis, you can imagine what it might be like, especially if the work happens to be something sweat inducing in South America and the sea is the Pacific, and warm. Did I mention that the sea was warm? It’s warm! Substitute the house for a tent, add in some awesome housemates and optional surfboard hire and you’re halfway to envisaging being in Canoa.

Our front doorstep

The happy truth is, though, that even if we weren’t situated in such an incredible setting I would still be absolutely loving life. Every morning bar Sunday I’m up at 6.10 and breakfasted and teeth cleaned by 6.30 before loading up the trucks with the rest of the volunteers and am on my way to one of the core home sites by 7 am. The distance to the sites changes but is about a half an hour journey by bamboo-laden and volunteer-filled truck. The core homes are permanent houses made almost entirely of bamboo with six concrete and steel blocks that secure them and a roof made of recycled materials. The bamboo’s flexible nature and structural design means it’s earthquake proof and has been developed so that the homes are expandable by the beneficiaries later on. The main structure is built to last 30+ years but even then can be replaced and each house is adapted to suit the needs of the family whose home it will be.

I don’t quite know what I was picturing when I was en route to Ecuador but I was amazed when I saw the first house. Sadly I don’t have a finished home picture but I’ll upload one next time!

A nearly completed core home!

The bamboo paradise that I began to help build on my first day volunteering was for a couple called Sandra and Julio and their three kids. The youngest kid is only 4 months old (and outrageously cute) and he lay swinging on a hammock in their makeshift un-walled living area and gave us encouraging giggling noises and toothless grins. I was on a team putting up the walls in their new home and after days of work most of the vertical bamboo sheets (caña) were screwed, sawed and generally sweated into place. Sandra entered her house properly for the first time (although the roof wasn’t on at this point) holding baby Kenny. She looked through one of her new windows towards us, with her tears barely contained, and the smile on her face made my week.

Sandra with baby Kenny and daughter Aleksandra

Since arriving here 13 days ago I’ve worked on 3 different houses, one at the very first stage where you’re marking out the plot and digging the pits for the concrete – which we then mixed by hand, well, shovel, and then two more on walls. There are currently 12 houses under construction and 60 odd volunteers at the base – although that figure fluctuates constantly with some volunteers staying a week or so and others spending months! A typical visa is 90 days so I’m here for 3 months but others have extended to be much longer, some even did it legally. I hear mixed reports on getting out of Ecuador if you’ve overstayed your allotted time period, some say it’s completely fine and others that you could be fined $7000 so I’m not that keen to try my luck. But I guess it depends what happens (cue parental angst).

The usual stony faces of the volunteers

The project aims to build 22 homes by 1st December but I’m fairly certain they’re routing for more than that. The organisation depends on fundraising and so the more financial support there is, the more likely they project will be able to extend. Hint hint, plug plug. No but seriously, by helping All Hands financially you are quite literally putting a solid roof above people’s heads. It’s a fantastic project and it’s changing  lives daily.

To donate, please click here!