by Trish Krider
Our construction team has been hard at work. The houses that are built by El Ayudante are simple, one-room structures which are built from the foundation up by Nicaraguan workers assisted by mission teams. This year the house is in a community called Marañonal, the same community in which we attended church on Sunday. Bordered by a busy highway (well, busy by Nicaraguan standards!), it is spread deep and wide into the rich countryside and houses about 200 families.
The work had already been started when the team arrived yesterday with the foundation having been dug and the beginning of the framing in place. The work for the morning consisted of filling wheel barrow after wheel barrow with dirt, transporting it to the structure, and dumping it in. As is common here, the local children like to assist in such efforts and many of them did so – glad to wield a shovel or help push. But after each load of dirt was in place and the wheel barrow headed back to the pile of dirt to be filled for another run, the wheel barrow would still not be empty. Instead it was filled with smiling children who piled in to enjoy the ride back to the dirt pile – only to then hop out and repeat the process endlessly.
There was also rebar to be tied. For those of you who are unfamiliar with “rebar”, these steel, ridged rods are joined in either a square or triangular pattern and used to reinforce concrete. At home rebar would be manufactured, but here the rods are cut, the square or triangular bands are bent by hand, and rusty wire is used to tie the bands to the bar. It is a tedious project but one that is easily mastered. Well “mastered” may not be the exact word to use, but you can become passably proficient pretty quickly. Of course none of us would want to challenge any of the kids to a tying contest. They are better and much faster than we – and we never quite know if they are joining in to help us or to show off!
Supplies for use in construction here are quite different from what we are used to. Tools are limited and basic, and much of the process uses techniques that we would consider improvisation. For example, a “scaffolding” is not something that is prebuilt (or considered sturdy or even acceptable by our standards), but is made from what is available. On the one side was one made of piled up blocks with a board across. But it was the one on the other side that had me stunned. It was literally a board, balanced on an upright board that was braced by sticks. The worker walked along it as if he were on the sidewalk while adding bricks and mortar to the wall while we stood and watched amazed. And when a block is too large and needs to be sized, there is no fancy machinery to break the block. A measuring tape, a hatchet and some muscle are all that are needed.
The kids are always a highlight of the construction site. Since the younger kids go to school in the mornings and the older ones in the afternoons, there are usually some of them around. While we always have candy or gum to share and take time to throw a ball with them or toss them in the air, they are always there with a warm smile and hugs and make the day so much more enjoyable.
El Ayudante strives to improve the lives of the people in this part of Nicaragua, not just by giving them things to make their life easier, but in assisting them in finding ways to help themselves. A few years ago we did this by planting gardens in a local community – Mt Sinai. Our hope was that this would allow these families to not only provide food, but, if tended well, perhaps use the yield to earn money to support their families. In returning to this community we have found that far fewer gardens were thriving, or even still existed, than we would have hoped.
This year, one member of our group, Joe, has made it his mission to research the idea of this project to see how it can be done again to achieve its fullest potential. We know that here has been another group that has found success in this endeavor, so Joe has been meeting with leaders in the communities we are visiting to get their feedback on whether they feel they would like to participate. These leaders seem enthusiastic and are asking many questions so that, should this project go forward, the gardens they planted would indeed prosper. By working with the leaders, sharing the successes and pitfalls we have seen, and by talking with the potential recipients of the gardens, he is gauging their interest and level of commitment. All of this will determine whether we as a group, or in conjunction with El Ayudante, will pursue this further.
There is no doubt why this land is so lush and green as, once again, the thunder is rumbling. Hopefully tonight the rain drumming on the roof will be just the sound we need to lull us to sleep.