I’m sitting in the back of a truck with 18 other people on the way to the work sites. There’s a general smattering of conversation going on but mostly people stick to themselves on the early morning route to the houses, headphones, books, Spanish learning and sleep are the order of the day and people instinctively conform to this mindset. Despite the fact that one of the local workers is wearing a Chelsea football shirt right in front of me, I’m in a great mood, and have been almost unequivocally for a month.
I’m now a team leader for building walls of the houses and have spent the majority of my time doing just that. At first the bamboo made me all kinds of itchy when the sun was blasting down and I found the pernickity, non straight nature of the caña irritating but thankfully I seem to have got used to it, and got over myself. Putting up the walls turns the skeletal bamboo structure into a proper house-looking building, it’s an epic process and something I’ve grown to genuinely love.
The other day we handed over the first 8 completed houses to their new owners. I’ve personally worked on four of them and have seen most of the others first hand; I can honestly say I’m proud to have contributed. These houses look, feel and even smell awesome – or maybe that’s just the sweet aroma of sweaty people and a varying lack of hygiene. Either way, the houses are solidly built, well crafted and collectively sexy, I mean, erm, great.
A recently finished Core Home 6
Maybe it’s because I’ve had such an irregular summer and the lack of consistency that that entails or maybe it’s due to my current surroundings and the line of work that I’m following at the moment, but right now I’m the most relaxed I’ve been in quite a while. The fact is that the simple nature of rising at 6 am and returning to the house you’ve been working on before moving onto the next one, and then the next, and the next, each time getting to know the beneficiaries that you’re building a house for, is a peaceful, helpful and soul-rejuvenating process that I would recommend to anyone. I’m never going to see the family whose house I’m helping to build again, they’re never going to see or hear from me again, but they’re incredibly thankful and happy and that’s more than enough.
Volunteers after the handover ceremony at House 5
These grateful notions were completely self-evident at the legal hand-over ceremony on Tuesday. The first eight beneficiaries were at Core Home 5 along with pretty much all the volunteers, the staff, the vice mayor of the region and members of another NGO who’ve been helping us along the way. The emotion on the new home owners’ faces was pure and genuine and despite my terrible Spanish skills, the content of their brief speeches were obvious and heartfelt.
One of the most beautiful things about building these homes for people who are right there and able to see what’s being built, is that they can have an impact on how it’s built. Their needs can be met and the design adapted. If they still have the doors from their old house and would like them fitted back for sentimental reasons, we can oblige; if they decide actually the balcony section would be better off with a caña wall so that the toddlers won’t crawl through the gaps then that can be accommodated; if they want to build the front door themselves then they can. One of the women was in a wheelchair and had had a ramp fitted to her and her husband’s doorway, another had the floor concreted to be smooth as he has a walking disability and the caña floor would have caused him all sorts of troubles with ridges getting in the way.
It’s not much but it makes a whole lot of difference.
Top: The back door of House 2 with fan window and staircase; Bottom: The revolving shutter window on House 6.
Another side-effect of volunteers building the whole house themselves is that they can be creative. Every house has the same shell structure and design (almost) but each is undoubtably different. Windows with self-made revolving shutters, door and their handles made with painstaking originality, balcony bamboo designs, staircases, window frames, everything varies depending on which volunteers are on site that day. I think that that originality and spark is special. It may not be as easy to put up as an IKEA flat pack kitchen, but it’s still a usable, beautiful piece of work.
I found a short-term replacement puppy on one of the sites. . .
If you’d like to support the All Hands project by volunteering or making a donation then follow the appropriate links! I’ve raised enough money to cover the cost to the organisation of me staying so far but would love to be able to raise enough for the whole of my 3 month trip. The money really is well spent and the community in the area that has been selected for aid work here appreciate the help we give immeasurably. Since the last blog I posted we’ve sped up our house building and are now projected to build another four houses at least within the project time frame!
It’s not all volunteering. Our resident ducks chilling in front of the hotel, wondering if the surf’s good.