A Stoddart in South America

Building day 1: today I laid a foundation...

Today I started my volunteer project. The reason I came to Guatemala. I am building a one room house for a family in Santa Cruz Balanya. The family consists of mum, dad, son and baby, together with a female relative (could be a sister, could be a cousin) and her baby. They are currently living in a house made of maize stalks, wood and lots of recycled materials such as bin bags. Inside there is no floor. Just mud. Which seemed fine today when it hadn't been raining, but I can't even begin to imagine what it turns into when there is a torrential downpour! They have 2 beds, neither of which have mattresses, just wooden planks and a makeshift swing bassinet for the baby. The kitchen is a small shed out back and the toilet is literally just a toilet outside, with a curtain around it.

Today we laid the foundations for the new house. We started by cutting steel rods to size. And I say we, but really it was the men folk! I tried one and couldn't cut it  at first. But I persevered, much to the amusement of the builders and when I finally managed to cut through it, everyone cheered! Including the little boy. I was then asked to do the easier task of bending thinner steel rods into about the same shape as a staple. Using only a log with 4 nails in it and a tool that I have no idea how to explain what it is! These staples were then used to connect three of the thicker steel rods together to create the basis for the foundation. Check out the photo page to see this!

Next job was mixing cement! Now in England or Holland this would be done in a cement mixer, but here they don't have those so it's all done by hand! A huge heap of sand, 3.5 bags of cement, 4 wheelbarrows of rocks and 6 buckets of water (to start with)! First the sand and the cement needs to be mixed. This is done by creating 2 small volcanoes from the large heaps of sand. Then those are recombined to once again make one large volcano. It's then flattened and the rocks are added. Making sure the edges are a bit higher, kind of like a pizza crust, so that when the water is added it doesn't run out. That's the Guatemalan recipe for cement! Then the hard work began. And this, coincidentally, was the point where I stood back and watched the men do the hard work! Mixing the cement once the water had been added seemed like very heavy going. Additional water was added where needed and then as parts of the mixture was deemed ready, it was shovelled into a bucket which I then carried to the head builder who poured it into the trench. Next and finally task for today was chipping away at breeze blocks. With a small, blunt axe and no safety glasses! We had to chip away the end of the blocks and create a rectangular shaped hole in the front of the blocks. This was, I was told, for the corners of the house so that the blocks could be easily slid over the steel rods. Chipping away the end of the blocks was easy peasy. Because that's the thinnest part of the block. Creating the hole in the front of the block was hard! It was the thickest part of the block and all we had was this small, blunt axe. It took the builder 2 minutes to demonstrate what we should be doing. It then took me the best part of 15 minutes to do one block!

After a couple of blocks our ride back to Antigua came. When I left, the builders had laid a couple of breeze blocks in the corners. Unfortunately in my rush to gather my belongs I completely forgot to take an end of day photo...!

Tomorrow I will not be building, I will be making up for the Spanish lesson I missed on Friday. I'm guessing by the time I go back on Wednesday they will have half of the walls up already!




Hoi Claire
Keep upthe good work and show your solidarity with the family. I guess none of you will ever forget this.

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