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.