Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Identifying a community

I wrote about some progress with my Bottle School project in a recent email, but it seems worth repeating here for posterity and for everybody else that didn’t get cc’d (I also wrote in Spanglish, which was probably confusing)

Check out this blog post for background information – a basic idea of school construction, design, etc.

Now – the official first step of a Bottle School project to identify a community with whom you’ll work. Here’s a picture of the main road in the village where I hope to build a school made out of 6,500 plastic soda bottles (so cool!)

There’s no school here, just a couple of areas where de facto classes are held for the 52 students of elementary school age. On the right you can see a structure wrapped with blue tarp; it looks like this from the front:

The floor is made of dirt, and a few stray dogs can usually be found lying around trying to stay cool – the midday sunshine here can be punishing. There’s another area where classes are held, which can be seen faintly on the left side of the first photograph – it’s actually the verandah of someone’s house:

The need for a school in this community is obvious, but there are plenty of Guatemalan villages that need schools, unfortunately. As a project coordinator, therefore, the question is to decide with whom you wish to work, which is important because a Bottle School project represents a partnership with the community in question – they’re the ones responsible for collecting the bottles. Furthermore, each two-room Bottle School (approx. 7 x 14 meters in size) requires that all 6,500 20 oz plastic bottles be stuffed absolutely full with inorganic trash (candy wrappers, styrofoam, etc.) Sound time-consuming? I’d say so – collecting the bottles represents a huge task, but filling just one takes like 10 minutes. Here’s a very brief, accidentally-shot video of me struggling to cram a plastic bag into a soda bottle with a piece of rebar:

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, so the sheer amount of work requires that you partner with a motivated and dedicated group of people who won’t waste your time. What’s more, the community also has to provide all unskilled labor in the school’s construction. Hug It Forward, the NGO with whom I’m hoping to partner, agrees to provide only for skilled labor and building materials (obviously not including the bottles…)

Basically, the Bottle School project isn’t meant to be manna from heaven, a huge influx of cash appearing from United States that precludes the residents of some lucky community from lifting a finger – it’s meant to be a collaborative effort. The Bottle School project insists that a community to get involved with its own development, which is arguably just as important as building a school for needy students or cleaning up the environment.

At this point I haven’t run into any roadblocks or detours yet, so I’m still feeling pretty optimistic about the whole project. We’ll see where I’m at in about 4 months :)