Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Un Techo Para Mi País

Well here is goes... the recap of my weekend with "Un Techo Para Mi Pais" It took me a few days to get this done because I had my first two exams today and since I didn't study at all over the weekend I had to get past those first! Hopefully they went well :)

If you want to see or read more about the program I worked with you can look at this link: UTPMP This weekend started off Friday night when all of the students participating met up at a stadium- about 700 or so students in all. We were divided into multiple groups, most of which stayed in Montevideo and a few went a little ways outside of the city to Paysandú. Within Montevideo the students broke up into nine different schools. We stayed overnight at our designated schools which were close to the neighborhood we were going to work in. I asked to be in a specific school along with Sam and Ali; we went to school 9 which is where Maggie (the girl that presented this opportunity to me) was going to be. It couldn't have worked out any better. Once we arrived we all got together outside in the courtyard and we were given a piece of paper. On one side we put our name and on the other side we put an ability that we have- I put "I know English." They were then placed on a wall with only the ability showing the 12 group leaders chose the groups based on the abilities each person wrote. Sam, Ali, and I were all in different groups which was actually kind of cool- we all had the same home base but during the day we got to spend time with different people and get to know more people. So Friday night we were assigned our groups, we chatted and did activities until after 1am. Once we were finally able to go to bed we were informed we would be getting up at 6:45am the next morning! So much for a good night's sleep before a long day of work.
Saturday morning we were woken up by a loud boom box sounding in the courtyard and the leaders coming into the classrooms yelling "Buen Día!" We changed, ate some breakfast, and off we went to meet the family and start the building process. Coincidentally enough the neighborhood I worked in was very close to the school I work at every Monday; it gave me a different appreciation for the work I do with the kids. I don't think there was anything that could have prepared me for the conditions of the area I was working in- sure I have driven past in the bus and I have seen pictures of areas in a similar state, but to work in the neighborhood changes everything.

We were building a house for Magali, her significant other Jose, and his kids. I didn't learn until later in the day that she is only 19- I thought she was at least 25! I was absolutely shocked to hear that she was younger than me... It took a little while for that fact to settle in. We spent all of Saturday preparing the base of the house. We had to dig 18 holes about as deep as my arm is long to put the posts in. This took the entire day- about 8am to 6pm and at the end of the day we hadn't quite finished. For lunch the families in the neighborhood collaborated and made one big lunch for all of the groups working in the small area, in total four houses were built in this area. It was wonderful and so nice of them to make such a big meal for us all. They made guisa, very similar to types of stews, with rice, lentils, chicken, and some vegetables. Part of me found it hard to really enjoy the meal especially when the families didn't join us to eat- they left it all for the volunteers.

It felt good to be doing some manual labor, but at the end of the day I was tired- and very dirty. Back to the school we went for the reflections about the day and group discussions. It was another late night and by 11pm I was ready for bed!
Sunday morning we woke up in much the same fashion as the morning before and headed off to finish the house!
I should clarify what a house in this situation actually signifies- I don't have pictures because I wasn't sure that bringing my camera was such a good idea, but if you click HERE it will give you a general idea of what we built. This isn't a picture of my group or any group from this past weekend, but it is generally the same. A one room refuge for the family- no bathroom, no kitchen, etc- very simple, but much better living conditions than they previously had.

Sunday- even though we started off the day with a little bit of pressure to get moving, turned out to be a wonderful and successful day! We got to work right away when we got there, determined to finish the posts and get them all leveled within the hour."Nivel!" (means level) became the word of the day as we went one by one to all of the post leveling them over, and over, oh and over again haha Once that was done with we started on with the floor. The panels for the floor and walls had been made the day before and were delivered on site which made this part of the process much quicker. We assembled the floor and the walls within a couple hours and ate lunch as our small group within the walls of Magali's new house- she was so excited! The roof was a "corrugated iron roof" and assembling that took a little more time. Once we had everything assembled we closed the door and decorated with streamers, balloons, and all signed the "title" to Magali's new house. We put up a ribbon across the door so they got to participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially designate the house as theirs! It was wonderful to see the smiles on their faces when they cut the ribbon and walked into their complete safe haven for the first time. Afterward Jose cut the ribbon into pieces and gave part of it to all of the members of the group- it was very touching.

I wish I had pictures to show you all right now but I have to wait to get them from other people that were working, I'm not sure how long that will take. Once I have access to them I promise I will share them with you!

Now that I have gotten through the gritty details of what we did physically- I want to share a little bit about how I was feeling and what I was seeing throughout all of this because that is what made this whole experience even more special for me. The level of poverty in this area was almost indescribable and nothing like I have ever seen before. The area I walked into looked similar to this 
This is not Montevideo nor the neighborhood I just want to give you a little bit of an idea of what I saw since I don't have pictures to go with this post. We were greeted by the families, children- lots of children, dogs, horses, cats, and even roosters. All had free reign over the area; there was virtually no boundary among the houses it was almost like one big family. That is one of the first thing I noticed- everyone knew everyone, I could hardly tell whose house was whose or whose kids were whose because it was all so integrated. The kids were an entirely different subject- as many of you know I have a special place in my heart for children, it is kind of a passion of mine to work with them, I love kids! I want to say what I saw regarding the kids broke my heart because it did to see them living in such circumstances, but despite it all they appeared happy and it was very moving. Just like any other small children- running around, creating mischief, getting dirty, and bothering all of the adults. Granted their playground was the area surrounding their houses (full of garbage on a level that I can't even explain) and their idea of toys were rocks, pieces or wood, or any other random artifact they could find- yet they occupied their time, played games, laughed, and didn't seem to have a care in the world. They also thought it was awesome to help us dig the giant holes for the poles- it was disheartening and heart-warming all at the same time, an experience I really can't explain in words.

When we finished building the house I felt so accomplished and satisfied with what we had just spent the weekend. After all we had just finished a house for someone in 2 days! But then I took and step back and looked at what we just built- a small one bedroom refuge made of two-by-fours, plywood, and a tin roof- and that was about to be someone's home. Maybe the best house they have ever lived in or will ever live in and that fact right there hit me like a ton of bricks. I am not trying to downplay what we did, it was life-changing for them, but it is hard to grasp the idea of someone living in such poverty then seeing people on TV complaining about how 24 million dollars a year to play a sport isn't enough. In all honesty it makes me sick to my stomach. It is hard to put into words all of the things I saw and felt the past weekend. All in all it was a very eye-opening and rewarding experience. I am blessed to have had the chance to take part in it all!

I know this is long and I appreciate you taking the time to read it all- this was a very special and unforgettable experience for me and I am glad I could share it with you!

The pictures I promised! I don't have too many, but I wanted to share them anyway :)

The group of students at the school


The "front yard"

Their previous house

Official property owners


  1. Poverty in South America takes on a whole different meaning than in the US but even despite that poverty kids are still just kids in the end. Doesn't the power of the human spirit to overcome challenges just amaze you?

  2. It is absolutely fascinating. People can tell you that, you can read it, and see it on TV, but seeing it in person really makes an impact.