Tuesday, August 23, 2011


My bottle school project is finally finished. After three months of construction and almost 6 months of collaboration and planning, we now have a beautiful two-room schoolhouse. Hooray!

Of course, this project definitely didn’t come without some roadbumps. First of all, it’s obvious that the school is now turquoise. Here’s what it looked like a week ago:

At the last minute we decided that the color should change, partly because some of the stucco work was kind of sloppy and had to be reapplied . Ideas started flying around, and next thing you know the mayor plunked down Q700 (approx. $90) for three buckets of paint and the community slapped on a fresh coat. Unfortunately, given the stark difference between light blue and dark red, 15 gallons wasn’t enough paint and now the back side of the school looks like this:

It’s not clear why the mayor didn’t just buy more paint – there were, ahem, some obstinate conversations last Thursday that resulted in certain people just sort of throwing up their hands and saying “this isn’t my problem anymore.” Kind of disappointing, but it’s sorta fortunate that the blue/red combo doesn’t actually look too bad.

Meanwhile, the welders were throwing me for a loop. This is Rolando, holding one of those special, extra-fluffy breeds of chicken:

Rolando, who actually seems like a pretty nice guy, got a bit behind schedule. Having promised that he would have the entire project completed by the 15th of August, I figured that we’d have 6 days of leeway, just in case anything came up. Boy did they cut it close – at 11:30 pm, the night before the inauguration, my community counterpart Don Miguel called and told me – “Justin, you can sleep soundly because the welders just finished installing the doors and windows.” Of course they had to fill in the big holes they drilled and then let the concrete set overnight, so we were putting a final bit of cover-up on the next morning. I literally had to warn the visiting donors, Dave and Cheryl Watson, to beware of wet paint when the inauguration began.

But who cares? It’s all over now! The work is done and there are just good stories to tell :)

On Saturday, (and skip this part if you’re squeamish) we butchered a cow in preparation:

It was two years old, cost Q3000 (about $370) and weighed about 600 pounds. They did the whole jazz right in the middle of the field, and I thought it was funny because there were NO cows anywhere nearby, like, time to make yourselves scarce lol

Here’s the head butcher distributing the cuts of meat to the amas de casa (house mothers) – note the cat waiting patiently in the background :)

Of course, we had to skewer up a little barbeque right then and there, which was probably the freshest beef I’ve ever eaten (it was pretty tasty)

At one point the local kids wanted to take me on an adventure, so we went to a nearby waterfall (you can see it off in the distance):

It’s so beautiful around here.

Sunday morning I headed back down to the community at 9 am and the ladies had been cooking for hours – it’d be stewed beef for the inauguration.

And then, everyone started to gather, all dandied up in their nicest clothes:

I even wore a suit:

There were lots of important people – from left to right:

Zach Balle (co-founder of Hug It Forward)
Cheryl and Dave Watson (visiting funders)
Juan Manuel (the new Hug It Forward coordinator in Guatemala)
Don Armando (one of the town councilmen)
Miriam Lopez Ochoa (the mayor)
Carlos Julajuj and Doris Guzman (my direct boss and his project specialist)
(I’m not sure who the guy in the orange cap is lol)
Jose Caceres (Program Director for World Vision in my area)

There was dancing:

There was a ceremonial ribbon cutting:

Formal awards:

More little kids in costume:

Lots of speeches (can you tell I’m zoning out?)

And this girl sang, no lie, 8 of those wailing Mexican rancheras about drinking and lost love and we sat there as patiently as we could :)

All told, it was a fantastic day! Thanks to everyone out there for all your support!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Putting on the roof

Rain is no longer an issue! Last week our herrero (metalworker) finished assembling the metal rafters, which he then installed on the school. Next came the tin roofing (lamina), which is standard for building construction in Guatemala. Here’s the school from the back (note the kids chasing each other; a few hang around the jobsite constantly, either curious or playing nearby)

And here’s a completed picture from the front:

Here’s an idea of what the construction looks like from the inside – the bright light you see on the ceiling is where daylight enters the classroom through an installed sheet of translucent lamina. Pretty smaaart ☺

Yep, it’s really starting to look good.

Then I came back a few days later, and whoop – they’d already started painting! (see what I said about kids being everywhere?)

Another picture from the back

and here’s what the inside will look like

A few days afterwards, it was time to pour the floor!

First, you’ve got to mix a bunch of concrete on the ground – for this particular pile I believe the proportion was roughly 5 bags of cement to 20 buckets of gravel to 30 buckets of sand. Then the albañiles (masons) start spreading it out on the classroom floor:

It’s tough work shoveling concrete but we all helped out ☺

The process goes pretty fast though; a couple of hours and we were done!

We’re about 90% done with the school now – next week the herrero will install the windows and doors while the electrician mounts the light mixtures. Just a little more than two weeks until the inauguration!

Press coverage!

I've been incredibly fortunate to get some press on my bottle school project - here are a number of news outlets that have covered my story:

Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Anchorage Daily News
Ponte Al Dia (Spanish)

Earth Times
Hug It Forward

US Embassy - Guatemala

CBS - Atlanta
K13XD - Fairbanks

KUAC - Fairbanks

Other bottle school projects in the news

Here's former Peace Corps Guatemala volunteer Laura Kutner demonstrating a technique of how to construct bottle wall at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife festival: