Like so many of my posts, I will begin with an apology for not writing sooner, but since the last post I´ve been busy rotating between nonstop work and debilitating skin infections and haven´t found the time to keep my faithful followers updated.
Short versions, we finished the aqueduct, distributed household water filters, and trained community members to maintain and operate a gravity fed water system. With the dry season at hand, community members now have hope that they won´t pass another day without water. In addition, we were able to build 9 composting latrines, and teach community members a safe and effective way of waste disposal.
As you can imagine, there´s a lot more to the story than that.
As published earlier, we first had to install a 10,000 Liter tank on the top of a hill overlooking the community.
The next task was to build hundred meter bridge crossing the river to bring the water to the community. This is a fairly simple design, basically a steel cable with a 2" PVC pipe connected to it stretched across the river... however with limited resources as far as excavation equipment and power tools, we were left to work with a combination of good ole fashioned know-how and elbow grease.
We then distributed household water filters for all that participated in the project, through this project, we were able to provide safe drinking water for an entire community, improving the quality of life, and diminishing the water borne illness that affect community members.
In addition, we held a seminar to teach community members new techniques to safe composting latrines. Those who participated, were given materials to construct their own latrine. In total we constructed 9 composting latrines. Previously, I´d helped other volunteers build similar latrines in other communities, and materials costs were $400 per latrine. By working with locals to develop new building techniques, we were able to get the material cost down to $130 per latrine, making this project truly sustainable long term, as many community members who didn´t participate in the project have approached me later about how much cement is required with the intention of building a composting latrine, but with their own resources.
That´s the cut and dry version of the last few months, as you can imagine, it´s been an incredible learning experience. When I initially was talking about joining Peace Corps, I talked with former volunteers, and everyone said it was a life changing experience. At the time I didn´t really know what that meant, and after 3 years I still don´t, but I know it´s true. I feel like I´m the same person, I´m still me... but the opportunities I have, my priorities, my dreams aren´t what they were 3 years ago.
Another cliche I often heard from former volunteers is that they got so much more than they could possibly give, which just doesn´t make sense on paper. In my case, I gave three years of my life I lived in poverty, and was able to get funding for an aqueduct and latrines to drastically improve the health and well being of this community, I was free labor for anyone building a house, I taught english in the school, taught woodworking methods to help people earn more income, I was constant entertainment and I still feel like I came up short. I still feel like I owe something to these people. I arrived in this small village were I had no family, didn´t know anyone, and complete strangers who had no obligations to help me, gave me food, friendship, and and place I can truly call my home. I can´t count the number of times someone went out of their way to feed me, even when they didn´t know where their next meal was coming from. Daily, people took time out of their day to visit me, to make sure I wasn´t lonely, not to mention all the ¨gifts¨given to me, with no expectations of something in return. I leave feeling like I got out so much more than I could possibly give, and the funny thing is, the community members felt the same... not all of them, but several people acknowledged this in my going away party. The strange part is, the people who gave me the most, are the one´s who felt like they got the most out of my time there. The lumber workers, who donated weeks their time to build my house, and helped me any time I needed a hand, women who called me over every time it was time to eat, the friends who gave me gifts, necklaces, bracelets, animal remains, were the people most emotional at my going away party, and were most expressive of how much they felt like I´d given them. Those that enjoyed all the benefits of my time there, and never sacrificed anything to have me in the community still think of me as a glorified tourist. This makes me think that there must be something to this all. The act of giving, or sacrificing for something, makes you appreciate of value that thing so much more.
That´s one of many lessons I take with me as I leave, that if I really want to get something out of my relationships, my work, my faith, my life, I need to give. Because in life, as in Peace Corps, the more you give, the more you get.