When I asked the community of Alto Progreso what project they needed help with and they replied a wall, I honestly was a little scared. I knew they meant a 40-meter-long wall. I knew they had no machinery whatsoever. I knew it would mean a lot of sweat. But I also knew of the importance of this wall – had there been a wall weeks earlier, two children would have not fallen and injured themselves. So I consulted with the volunteers coming to Alto Progreso – Steve, Kevin, and Darrell – and they took on the challenge.
Mr. Córdoba, a community leader with construction experience, led the project. At his side were Julinho and Rafael, two teenagers from the community with construction experience. At first, there was not much talking, and volunteers were only trusted with cutting wire and re-bar, but not for long. Soon came the digging of foot-long holes in hard ground, the shoveling and carrying of dozens of wheelbarrows full of sand and gravel, and the mixing of those into concrete with shovels. At that point I realized I was mistaken when I thought this required a lot of sweat. These tasks required all the strength your arms could possibly handle, and more. They required breaks, carbs (which a local cook provided), sugar, and focus on the ultimate goal.
After the first couple of days volunteers doubted that we could finish the job, but as the days passed, communication and understanding of specific tasks and methods improved and we were able to advance at a faster pace. On some days we even had extra help. Jamie, another volunteer, joined us at the project for one day, and Juan, a local person, also joined us until for a couple of days. The whole team grew progressively more popular, and local people would approach us to congratulate us for the progress and thank us for the hard work. One bus driver even stopped once and, looking at a volunteer, remarked “that is a hard-working gringo.”
At the end, not only did we build the wall, but also a sidewalk next to it. The community also added a colorful handrail and the volunteers suggested adorning the wall with plants. The result was impressive both for the team that had worked on it and for the community. Seeing the completed wall and sidewalk with the beautiful handrail and plants adorning it made us feel that all the hard work was more than worth it. But I can say personally, and I know it’s the same for the volunteers, that we felt the most satisfaction when we heard a mother from the community, filled with emotion, express her gratitude for the wall. In the end, that is what is all about, helping the community achieve their goals and under their leadership for their well-being, and, as a plus, we get to make new friends and grow as individuals.