Saturday, August 27, 2011

Getting There

The last week was a slow week in terms of seeing actual changes to the boma. However, progress is still being made every day. The Village bartered with a nearby village for the final shipment of bricks so we now have enough bricks to complete the boma. The timber frames for the roofing were constructed and finished and the electrical conduits/boxes were put in place. The big task was to work on completing the front and back veranda’s, which involved a struggle to find small stone and water for the site. The verandas are necessary because the roof beams are connected to them. This house will have cement columns and that it something novel for the village.  Wednesday saw a slowdown in the work due to market day and the majority of workers needed to go obtain essentials for their families. However, by Friday, we had about 20 workers back at it and ready to complete the roof framing install and verandas for the start of iron sheeting (the roof) first thing Monday morning. 

2 doors and 7 windows were ordered this last week, complete with glass and handles. They will be installed sometime this coming week. We also placed an order for roof venting so there will be decent air circulation. In addition to the roof and windows and doors, we must also plaster the inside of the boma and place a layer of concrete down for the flooring. While it looks like we still have a long way to go, and at times it certainly feels like it, I have been reassured by the Village Council, Headmaster Sanka, contractors,  and the School Committee that what work is left can reasonably be completed by September 5. 

The first photo shows the roof beams being put into place and the second photo shows the beams after completion. At the end of this week, 4 more layers of brick were placed on top of the beams with openings for the roof framing and the columns for the verandas were also constructed. It is hoped that this final week sees tremendous progress, up to and including completion.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Week 4

We experienced the first slow down in work on Saturday due to a lack of small stones. However, many people worked on Sunday to make up the time and we are back on schedule. They even brought in more materials on Sunday so as to not hold things up during this week.

At the beginning of Week 4, the subfloor and roof beams are now complete. The task for this week is to put the final layer of bricks above the beams, add the timber frame for the roof and begin to attach the actual roofing (iron sheets).

Some decisions needed to be made to keep the project on schedule and within budget. These decisions basically involved eliminating the non-essentials and cosmetics to the work. Everything that will be bypassed now can easily be done in the future, if desired. However, we are going to add electrical conduits even though the village currently has no electricity (power poles are as close as 6 miles away). Many features of this house are future-oriented, which is part of the excitement and intrigue. It will be ready for move-in on schedule.

A meeting will be held sometime in the next 2 weeks with the District Executive Director. He is in charge of everything in this District and reports to the President. I called for the meeting and we will discuss the many needs of Kisangaji: the need for access to clean water (people drink river water without boiling it), the school and medical situations, and obtaining electricity, among whatever other messages the Village Committee wants me to convey.

We have had an excellent bunch of hard workers on the job. Between them, all the donations and bartering, this is truly a site and experience to behold.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roof Beams and Subfloor

Construction is continuing according to plan and the timetable. Early this week the roof beams were put in place. To construct the beams, re-bar is used and cut to size with a hacksaw. It is then bound together in triangle-shaped "beams" consisting of 3 re-bars and 6mm wire. To cut small binding wire, they use a machete and rock. Wood is placed around the triangle beam, all cut to specific size using traditional saws, and a load of concrete is laid around the beam. The saws get dull so they hand-sharpen them, one tooth at a time. Tedious work but certainly not as labor-intensive as the foundation.
The subfloor in the main living/sitting room area and the master bedroom is complete. The hallway and 2 remaining bedrooms are still left to do. Once that is done, they place a fine layer of cement on top to make for a smooth, finished floor.
After the beams are set, the roofing begins. Timber beams go up and the iron sheets after that. The floor will be completed and the window/door technician will be called upon. Concurrently, they will construct the toilet, kitchen, wash and shop sections of the plot, which are separate buildings. These items will only take a few days to complete. The boma location is right behind the school. It is on a large parcel of land with the ability to add more staffing houses at a later time.
There is talk about moving some of the current teachers into the new house. Some live in cramped quarters with their (growing) families and if the District sends unmarried teachers as requested, it makes more sense to put the new teachers in the smaller bomas. Those decisions will be the school committee's. The Projects only requirement is that teachers live in the new boma.
The site gets more curious onlookers by the day. A building going up "so fast" and to completion is something that does not usually happen here. It has truly been a cooperative effort with so many volunteers and a mindset by everyone involved to make this happen so that the school can have 2-3 new teachers as soon as possible.
An aside: I went to the local market that is held on Wednesdays and is 8km away, a central location for a number of villages. I've been embedded for so long in Kisangaji and environs that when I saw a group of white folks, I was very surprised. I said "Look!! Mzungu's!!" I'd never seen white folks at this particular market. Many people at the market knew me and we all laughed together at my reaction. Turns out the group is with SIC and are stationed 2 villages over. Most were from the Midwest US. We exchanged stories on our respective missions and went on our ways, back to work.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Walls and Volunteers

In the last week, the foundation was completed and the walls were also near completion as of yesterday. A second order for materials was placed that included the roofing and timber items needed. The walls are constructed using hand-made brick, all donated by the village to make the Boma affordable. The brick are then laid in mud with the river water that is ported, 1 container at a time, to the construction site. There has been a steady stream of donations to the site: bricks, boulders and stones, water, labor, tractor use as needed and petrol, sand, and small amounts of food. These donations have been provided by an estimated 300 villagers and 700 pupils who are “dismissed” early to help port water or bricks. The Boma could not be built in either the timeline or with the budget we have if it were not for the volunteers. Each night around 8pm, a chairman goes through the village clanging a gong then loudly announces what is needed at the site for the next day.

The house itself was designed by the school district architect. It is a 3-bedroom staffing house laid out for rural settings. It is massive and “modern.” The elders are walking by in awe because there is no other Boma like it in the village. It could house 4-6 unmarried teachers and I have been told over and over that 839 pupils to 11 teachers is “a problem” and that they have been waiting for more teachers; the District has been waiting to send teachers when housing was provided. It is the goal to have at least 2 new teachers in the home by early September.

The task for this next week will be the roofing and the floors of the rooms. The floors will require more tractor use and excavating boulders from the nearby hill. Additionally, as you see in the pictures, we desperately need small stone for the concrete mix. To get this, they use a hammer and break up the stones into small pieces. We need about 300 buckets full of small stone over the next week.The manual labor involved in this entire project astounds me.

All the volunteers deserve high praise. I attempt to shake hands and personally thank each and every one, every day.And I do my fair share of hard labor as well.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Village Update

Food: Distribution was yesterday. Maize cost was subsidized by the government and was 1000 tsh per bucket as opposed to the usual 5000 (1000tsh equals seventy five cents). It was sad to see that people barely had the money or that all they could afford was 1 bucket for a family of 7 or more. Per usual, distribution was chaotic. I bought 1 bucket and will have it ground and then give it out over the next week.
Healthcare: Very difficult to see. Our elderly neighbor came down with something about 5 days ago. After getting her symptoms translated, I gave her Pepto Bismal, probiotics and Tylenol. With marginal improvement I then gave her rehydration tabs. 2 days ago, I made arrangements to have her transported to the "hospital" in Magugu and the family consented. The transport failed to show, I hired the tractor instead, only to have the family then state there was no one to stay with her in Magugu. I obtained an anti-fungal from the local dispensery clerk who diagnosed based on the symptoms--mind you, there is no real "diagnosis" in the village or really at the hospital for that matter, just verbal descriptions of the problem then they hand out medication and that's that. This morning, she is very weak. The local "nurse" is no where to be found but rumor has it she will come later today. In the meantime, a Land Rover from the sky dropped in, it was SIC (hiv education which began in the village 1 year ago; SIC had heard of the Kisangaji Project and was happy to meet me finally) and the lead is an Aussie. He and his head nurse went with me for a housecall. She prescribed 3 meds and I purchased them at the dispensery for the equivalent of 4usd..a luxury cost most folks can't afford. Hopefully she will improve with the regimen.
Boma: The foundation is nearly complete. Laying cement already. They say within 1 week the walls will be built "up to the roof." They have never seen a house built so fast and appear amazed at what can be done with hard, full-days work. The students have been helping periodically: 200 at a time. They each bring 1 litre or so of water or port sand for the cement mix. I'm also told this is a very substantial house, a unique design, and everyone is very excited to see it other than on the floorplan. The size and design exceeds Project expectations. And all this for less than 3500usd...imagine what 10K could do for a village. My presence at the site every day, all day, keeps things on track and the presence of a camera certainly also motivates. Materials were bought yesterday and we got a very good price on the first purchase: 745usd plus transport at 10pm.

Apart from the construction, bearing witness to the trials of Kisangaji is frustrating, sad, and provokes immense feelings of helplessness to see the village situation. Yet, to be here and helping in any way is an honor. One has to realize the events above happen on a daily basis, all over the world, and this is their culture and way of life. It is a balance between respecting the way things are done and trying to be of assistance.
We are very lucky in America, despite our problems.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

First Inspection: Passed

The base for the foundation is about half complete. The District engineer came today and declared the work "good" and pronounced that "you may continue."

We are porting river water, one container at a time, to the site with 2-3 containers on the back of a bicycle. Some of the women carry a water bucket on their head and walk back and forth. The river is just over a half mile away. We are also, one by one, moving the boulders and stones into place for the foundation. This part of the construction is the most labor-intensive and hard. There are about 50 workers each day so far after the first day. Overall, we are on schedule. We will begin to purchase cement and other materials by week's end or early next week and use the village tractor to transport the materials from Magugu, which is about 15-20 miles away.

It has been mostly overcast the last two days (but no rain) and this has been a welcome relief. It is still hot, hard, dirty, and taxing manual labor. I think about construction equipment in the States and how lucky we are to have bulldozers and lifts.

The mascot has disappeared.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Groundbreaking and Village Update

Today we broke ground on a 3-bedroom staffing house for the teachers of Kisangaji. At a meeting last week, District officials promised us at least 2 more teachers when the Boma is complete, targeting September 5th. About 200 villagers showed up this morning. We all moved bricks and participated in the work. The engineer marked the outline, we dug a 4-foot deep trench around the parameter of the property line and dug the trenches for the support beams and walls of the house. It is hot, dry, hard, dusty work with hoes and shovels--all manual labor except for the field tractor that moves loads of excavated boulders and stone for the foundation. The excavation site is about 2 miles outside of the village and people are donating the petrol for the tractors. Even loading the boulders onto the trailer was done one by one and it was completed by about 100 of us over the weekend.
While we had some competition for the head contractor job, it was ultimately decided that all 3 contractors would work together and split the fee. That way, the job is more likely to be completed by the deadline the Project set of September 5. It is becoming clear that this is truly a village-wide effort and the labor costs will be donated by everyone. The materials for the construction will comprise about 90 percent of the funding for the house and 10 percent goes to the contractors. Bartering is also taking place in order to get things done.
The construction site has a mascot. It is a 5-foot long, 1 foot wide poisonous lizard that took up home in a pile of bricks that we will use for the house. Someone took it by the tail and threw it about 50 yards away. It went up a tree and 4 hours later came down. It made its way back to the brick pile. Someone had attempted to stone it before I stepped in. It was maimed but did get into the pile. I hope it sticks around for the duration of the project.
Food distribution was postponed in the village as the village secretary has been seriously ill. The secretary is required to be present at all distributions. They say he has malaria. The medical needs and food needs are overwhelming to witness, especially in the elderly who are unable to go out and search for food or work in some capacity. The water pump has been temporarily fixed and is producing some water. There have 2 deaths in the village in the last 2 weeks from malaria.
Despite this, the resiliency is remarkable and the desire to improve is clear.