December 8, 2009

Millenium Development Goals:

One 45 year old one-room schoolhouse rebuilt 2 walls, ceiling and roof in the village of Cebadilla, Guanacaste. A total of 840 hours of work on the school room including scraping and painting, weeding and digging culverts around the area. Kids will find a new school room when they head back to school this February!

The day dawned bright and sunny. From our vantage point in the breakfast room, we could see the rolling hills and lush greenery nearby down to the Gulf of Nicoya (if my limited geography is right). By the second day, we have become old hands at the routine: load up on protein, caffeine and guava jelly before tumbling into the van to Cebadilla. Upon arriving at the school, we were greeted by our stalwart crew: Senor Elbin, Geovanny, Gerardo and Big Henry. One of the day’s main tasks was to dig trenches around all the school buildings to improve drainage and prevent flooding. Aaron showed a strong affinity for ditch excavation, ably assisted by Dana Calvin and Jordan. Loriann, Carolyn, Laura and Ashley cheerfully tackled the pile of metal ceiling beams, serenading us with show tunes while they sanded off the rust. After an initial foray into weeding, Roberto, Dana Beth, Jenny and Austin began sanding and stripping the paint from one side of the school, in preparation for repainting. Actually, “sanding” is an imprecise term, given the variety of tools we used – parts of concrete blocks, wire brushes, garden trowels and one actual paint scraper (the trowel turned out to be the most useful, though none of us achieved the level of results of our local colleague). In general, tools are used in more varied and flexible ways than our superspecialized hardware stores would imagine – a machete can not only chop weeds and grass, but pry open paint cans and even removed louvered window frames.

Mid-morning, we took a break to learn from Elbin and Nia about the process for obtaining [local] project financing. Elbin had assembled a dossier listing proposed tasks, broken out in detail the materials needed for each, with an architect’s renderings and evidence of the need for the work, This had to be approved by the school committee, the district council, municipality, and national development agency, as well as the education ministry (because it owns the school). The approval process took a mere two years – for the enormous sum of 7,000 USD. Clearly the tradeoffs between accountability and efficiency are just as tricky in Costa Rica as in the U.S.!

We enjoyed another delicious lunch at the home of Elbin’s eldest son (maiz con chayote, arroz, frijoles negros, pasta and watermelon). Throughout the day, we were joined by a rotating succession of men and boys from the village. We’re also developing cautious friendships with a number of local canines: Dog Who Chases Cars, Dog with Hiccups, Dog Who Rides in Wheelbarrow (aka Canela). And Ashley in particular has succumbed to the charms of a plump golden puppy belonging to Elbin’s grandchildren.

Of course, the main development at the work site was when the roof came tumbling down, one rusty corrugated metal sheet at a time. Now it’s not allowed to rain until we get a roof back over the building (ha ha).

As a reward for our labors, we enjoyed a post-work horseback ride across the countryside. The scenery was beyond spectacular, with the fading sun illuminating more plants than we could recognize, including coffee plants and banana trees. All returned from the ride safely, and Jordan’s initial reluctance was more than overcome by a quaff of the locally brewed sugar liquer (practically flammable). And those who opted out of the ride will earn some dividends as well – by being able to sit down tomorrow without pain.

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