Monday, June 9, 2008

Building the community center in Loma Pampa

Sunday - our first day doing service work in Loma Pampa, one of the barrios where our students will be spending time and doing research. We arrived in the barrio at 10 AM, and were greeted by Don David, the president of the community. He then introduced us to the group of people working on the project of building the community center, funded by our Study Abroad program. Everyone in Loma Pampa has to take a turn working on the project - each Sunday, another group of 20 people assembles to help, and strict records are kept to record everyone's participation. Don David explained to us that without a community center, the barrio currently has nowhere to provide medical care for barrio residents, to hold meetings, to celebrate anniversaries or hold funerals. The center will be a vital part of life for people in this marginal community, and for that reason everyone is willing to pitch in and help. (They also want to avoid the fine levied for non-participation.)

At first the people on the construction crew - men and women both - seemed skeptical about a bunch of gringos showing up offering to help in their work. But after watching our students labor for a few hours, everyone was very impressed. As was I - our students took to it with great enthusiasm, hacking away at the rocky earth with picks and shovels, sweating in the midday sun. Jacob, who worked like an old pro, was given the honor of laying the first stone of the foundation in the newly dug trench. During breaks, some of the students got up the courage to make conversation with the people there, and learned a little bit about life in the community. Some people asked if we could offer an English language class to kids in the barrio, an idea that our students readily embraced. We will initiate this activity next Sunday.

When the work concluded, some of the students went off to meet the women's group of Loma Pampa, where they will be participating in the women's knitting cooperative and finding ways to be of service to that group. Others of us went to the nearby barrio of Concordia Central, where our project is donating computers and setting up a multimedia library. People in Concordia greeted us with great enthusiasm, offering many flattering speeches and inviting us to a meal in our honor. People were very kind - when the dryness of the area caused Amy's nose to start bleeding, a woman quickly produced some herbs to shove up Amy's nose, which seemed to do the trick.

It was truly an exhausting day, with the heat and sun, the dryness and the hard work. We returned to our houses, tired but satisfied.

1 comment:

JacobKafka said...

I imagine I speak for a number of us when I write that the few hours we spent working in Loma Pampa had un impacto grave en nuestros pensimientos y sentimientos. It was humbling to work along side these people as brothers in such a positive project that will benefit everyone in Loma Pampa. In terms of labor duties, no distinction was made between jovenes y cholitas viejas. The local campesinos were very helpful in demonstrating the right way to use a chancho, and in explaining that slow and steady was much smarter than fast and frantic. With my barba and shirt tied on my head to protect from sunburn, I was given the new moniker "el arabe." I felt extremely honored when Juan, the architect of the community center, chose me to place the first rock for the foundation of the building. Following this, Ruth turned to me and me dijo, "Has ganado el respeto de los Campesinos." Hearing these words had a a tremendous effect on me at that moment, and every time since then that I have thought of them. I didn't want to stand out or call attention to myself, but wanted more than anything to show the people of Loma Pampa that as spoiled as I am by nature due to my upbringing in U.S., I am trying to come to grips with their reality and the reality of the majority of earth's inhabitants. As much as we tried to prepare ourselves for these experiences, seeing it firsthand was something entirely different. When speaking with other members of the group on the bus ride back to our comfortable homes in Cochabamba, we all echoed the same sentiment that we wish our friends and family could experience what we have been privileged to see here in Bolivia.