Steve and his wife, Karen, are spending two months volunteering in Las Flores, Belize. He sent the following update on his latest project:
Anyone who knows me, knows that I will do whatever it takes to meet a schedule- and sometimes things just don’t work out. The grade school principal at St. Michael’s here in Las Flores was up against a deadline that was quickly closing- Get the 1440 square foot classroom concrete floor placed so another volunteer group coming on April 2 could build the walls. I learned this Thursday March 14. Two days later (Saturday) I helped the men of St. Michael’s Parish place a concrete driveway at the church and talked with them about helping me with the school project and they agreed. I felt confident that with their help, we could get this done. I had a week and three days before everything would stop for the Easter Triduum.
But God didn’t see it that way. Word came Sunday evening of the passing of my sister, Judy, in Minnesota and I would leave Belize for Minnesota to be with my three sisters, brother, Judy’s family and many nieces and nephews.
So I arrived back in Belize Saturday afternoon March 23 just in time for the Palm Sunday procession through the village to St. Michael’s Church and services. Monday morning I called the school principal and gave her the list of materials that would be needed to get the floor placed. She told me that her mother is very ill in Belize City but she would be able to meet me at school and get things ordered for delivery. One of her teachers, Carlos, is active in St. Michael’s Parish and she called on him to take charge of her duties for the remainder of the week so she could be with her mother. This was a great benefit to my effort. Carlos is well connected to the men that I helped the week before and he is fluent in English, none of the others are.
A load of fill dirt was to arrive at 8 a.m. Tuesday but didn’t arrive until 11. About the same time, I was joined by 5 men to help me fill and level the subgrade. There was a utility pole standing inside the foundation and the utility company had delayed many times to remove it. Late in the day, an engineer arrived and we convinced him to allow us to cut it down. When he agreed, we cut it down with an ax in a matter of minutes and drug it away. After a very hard day of moving dirt we were ready to put up forms, lay down plastic, place the steel mesh and finally pour the concrete. We were all very tired and gave thanks for the cloud cover that blessed us most of the day. We agreed to meet Wednesday morning at 7 to start again.
Between 7 and 8 a.m., sixteen of us broke into groups to build the forms, cut and place the plastic vapor barrier and cut and roll out the steel mesh. The rented concrete mixer arrived between 8 and 8:30 and within minutes we were delivering the first wheel barrow of concrete into the form. Thankfully, the cloud cover continued and with five wheel barrows rolling, everyone was able to work at a reasonable pace. I was amazed that by 10:30 we were half done.
The slab is 24 feet across and they did not have a screed long enough to reach all the way across. In the States, I know how concrete placers would handle this but I saw none of the necessary equipment. In Belize it is just too expensive to own that kind of gear. What they used to get a flat finish was a nylon fish string stretched from one side of the form to the other and then rake to concrete out to level with the string. As the concrete progressed from one end to the other, the string was moved. If you look closely on some of the photos, you can see lines in the finished concrete where the strings were. Noticing that they were tying knots in the line each time they moved the string, I was able to teach them a knot-free quick-release method for stretching the string and fastening it to the form. Something I learned while working construction in college.
The fifteen men and high school aged boys that showed up Tuesday and Wednesday are familiar faces to me. They volunteered their spring break time and took time away from their livelihood to meet the challenge that was presented by the school principal. It is their skill and dedication to community service that accomplished this goal. It is clear to me that this group will face any challenge and do whatever is necessary to get a job done. Knowing their story, how they came to be in Las Flores and what they have made of this life is truly a wonder and an inspiration. I am blessed to know them and work beside them.
I had the wonderful occasion to be invited to a traditional El Salvadorian lunch last Sunday. Chicken soup, tortillas and a drink called horchata made with rice. So this is as fresh as chicken soup can get as the roosterthat crowed that morning had crowed his last for us. And the horchata, well, it tastes a lot like rice pudding.
My next project might be a small kitchen and food vending kiosk for a very poor family living just around the corner. And then there is the handicap ramp at church in waiting.
Click here for more photos of the project.