Friday, June 23, 2006

Freedom Build- Let’s Get PHYSICAL!

June 13th, Tuesday and June 15th, Thursday

From a constant stance of observing, absorbing and deliberating, now had come our opportunity to, well, basically get down and dirty-with construction.

Gawad Kalinga Winnipeg, Narra village moving towards its colourful completion.

We were raring after our holiday to Bolinao and Banaue and the collaborative work we had produced with the architects from Hong Kong and now after being psyched for weeks, we were ready to do the Freedom Build, a four day activity set up across the nation for the National Independence Day. The concept was amazing. Get on site and build with a community. We had signed up for two alternate days of work in a little village called Narra supported by the NGO Gawad Kalinga from Winnipeg. Excited to contribute in a physically tangible way we all woke up bright and early to only have our day roll itself out at around noon. Our friend, Jinjo came over to pick us up and when we were finally on our hour’s drive to the site we were welcomed by torrential rains that trapped us in the vehicle for a good twenty minutes. For those moments we wondered if the remainder of our day would be a battle against the weather. But as we drove up to the village we broke through the emerging sunny wetness to be greeted by the two elderly men in charge, Boy and Willy. The smell of simmering lunches, the crunch of gravel and squish of wet sand pulled at our senses as we walked through the tiny village. It was no more than a strip of a pedestrian laneway flanked on either side by a row of houses, the left moving towards a colourful completion and the right waiting to do so. The assembly its self was powerfully symbolic of a great vision. We walked to the end of the laneway parting a sea of shy children and women whilst gathering smiles, nods and dancing eyebrows-all gestures of welcome and invitation. The waves as surely returned-the children flocked towards us bewildered but accepting. Our drawing power was an eclectic mix- the absolute foreignness of our being there, our accented English filling the air already saturated with clucking chickens and ‘Taglish’ (a mixture of Tagalog and English) and our clicking digital cameras.

There was a general sense of awkward excitement in the air. We were here to do and they were ready to have us but what could a bunch of students who probably never shoveled a thing in their life be ready for? I personally thought I was ready to carry a mighty bag of cement and erect a re-bar cage twenty feet high.

Day 1: Omar, Danielle, Matt and Jr (on the make-shift scaffolding) painting the salmon pink house.

We were congenially asked to paint. Yes, paint. Bright, lovely colours of acid green, salmon pink, mauve and anything you could possibly pick out of the rainbow. There was a moment where I was not sure what to do or feel. But my sense of amusement at the entire situation gently kicked itself in and I picked up the acid green roller and did the first coat with Emmanuel on the exterior of a house. You never should be-little a job to the realms of simple till you’ve done it yourself and as best as possible. And that day I learned how to paint a wall. Actually I think quite a few of us learnt. Amongst great banter those more experienced amongst us guided, “No Jill, you don’t have to go in that many directions” and those working in the community gently explained and watched amusingly. Oscillating work between two houses I got quite the knack of it. I think my plain white walls at home have hope.

The ease-in with the paint job was the best thing for us that day because we got so much more out of the experience than we could have bargained for. We had the chance to converse with the people living in their makeshift houses as we dripped paint, click pictures with the swarm of children while speckled with colour and talk over the ambitions of those eagerly working to finish the village to this vision they had. We built relationships that day. Jr, a fantastic young man of only 18 years was the honcho of the construction scene. With an assuring smile and only pertinent words of instruction and conversation we learnt how he was doing this all to give his family and community the homes they deserved. It made the second day all the more to look forward to.

Day 2: Hans and Yan shoveling the sand into the makeshift wooden carrier box. Jr (left-most) looks on.

Thursday, found us rested and much earlier on site. We were now part of the family. Most of the women and children remembered our names and this time the men were ready with shovels and grins. Today we were going to really build and work. The few shovels swapped hands and we were now sweating over sand, gravel and clay. Yan, Emmanuel and Danielle jumped right on to the clay ground of the house to be built. They dug hard through mounds of compacted rubbish and clay through most of the morning. Emmanuel also hovered in the trench with Omar helping to erect the re-bar cages for the corner columns of the square house footprint. Andrea and Matt bustled about with more painting at the back of some of the houses and Cindy and I helped Jinjo, Hans and Jr with eight rounds of sand transported from just outside the village to a pile close to the clay site. Activity escalated at most instances. But it was interesting to watch efficiency take the backseat with the limitation of working equipment and the general dependence on Jr to guide us all. Most of the time it was waiting for one step like getting all the sand and cement together so we could then transport the gravel to then mix it all with water to make the concrete. But there was always joy and laughter in everything done. However long it took and seemingly arbitrary it all had soul and purpose. Their hope and traditions found its way into the work; before the concrete could be poured for a column's base a chicken’s throat was slit and its blood poured onto the mushy clay. It was to bring strength and stability to the house and we soon learnt another chicken would have to follow suite for the next column to be erected that day. Omar in likened spirit, threw a few coins into the trench-to bring wealth to the home. The builders were very pleased.

Jinjo (left), Omar (right) and Emmanuel (further) working by the clay based trench around the house being constructed.

The work continued in a slow fashion until they invited us to join them for lunch. Covered with dust, clay and sweat we heartily ate the fish stew, rice and pork gravies and I was personally thankful there weren’t any chicken dishes. Generosity and hospitality always presides in Filipino society –they hold no bar to culture, creed or association and sharing food, we have come to learn, is undoubtedly a grand way of doing so.

Omar helping out with the erection of the re-bar cage for the corner column.

Recharged we went back to more shoveling, mixing and digging. Round two for making concrete constituted the same steps as before. Eight trips of sand piled onto the site with two bags of cement all mixed together with shovels. When it was Cindy and my turn to bring in the gravel, Jr grinned and told us we needed to do twenty of such deposits. That’s when Jinjo made it a community affair and said we should do the Bayanihan. It was the best thing I saw that day. Almost instantly as he said it, young and old lined up side by side and we passed six pails from the outside of the village to the concrete being mixed. For those few minutes every person became involved either by shoveling the gravel into the pails or simply counting out loud the loads being dumped. And then as quickly as it was set up it was done and the job moved forward.

community involvement- Bayanihan

us at the end of day 2 with all our new friends

As our day wound to a close we did the Bayanihan once again to pass the slushy concrete to be poured into the foundations. After, we began to clean up, saying our goodbyes and taking our final pictures with the lovely children, some of whom had helped out quite a bit. Our man, Jr was incredible through the day, focused, concise and dedicated to doing his best with all that was to his avail. It gives projects like Gawad Kalinga’s 777 goal of 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years undoubted potential towards reality and this nation great hope for its people. Fitting to the sweetness of the day we departed with requests to return and a delicious snack of sticky sweet rice topped with caramelized nuts. We drove home, tired, quiet, happy and nourished at every realm.

GK 777 a remarkable vision

let it be told that i have been a witness to the creation of this very engaging entry by the great Jillian herself. LOL. ....seriously, that was a nice read.

our organization in UP Architecture has also worked on site in some GK Villages. believe me, we have endured (while some were incapacitated) by the same strenuous activities due to lack of training. but like anybody else who have pooled in great efforts in Freedom Builds would be as much fulfilled as you guys are...and the last picture definitely captured these affirmative emotions. way to go.

i can't wait for the UP visit entry. now that one has to be good, huh!? LOL. =) anyways, ill see you guys around.
Formidable description of the joy of gratifying work. 777 sounds idealistic but with volunteers like you, all things are possible. We are lucky to be able to read your dispatches that give us a "you are there" feeling. Thanks.

i've been waiting to hear something from you, checking the buidaid blog here and there---
your description of the work is nothing less than beautiful...
im so proud of you-

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