Team Builds Better Futures In Costa Rica January 29, 2020

Posted in on January 29, 2020

Day 1 – January 27, 2020

Our first full day began with a van drive to our site at Las Brisas School, from our base in Siquirres. Our host partners, Conchita and Marcos introduced the group volunteers to Favian, driver, translator and incredible helper, and Mario, school handyman and site maestro. After a group photo (group photo) in front of the school, volunteers were briefed on two aspects of today’s schedule: removal of spring water tank and trenching from the spring to the top of an earth berm, adjacent to the road. (Digging out of old tank/trenching irrigation line)

Volunteers quickly decided what they would do, grabbed shovels and rope and got to work. The sun was bright, the day was 28C warm, so sunscreen was a must. After a delicious lunch served in the school kitchen, volunteers finished trenching and dragging the old water collection tank out of the spring, in preparation for a larger tank to be installed tomorrow. Muddy and with tender muscles, the volunteers walked up the the indigenous cultural centre, 500 metres from the school.

Our objective this week and next, is to erect a potable water tank near the school, bring water to the school and cultural centre by the end of the second week. In the meantime, and concurrent with the water project, some volunteers will construct a patient shelter beside a nearby medical clinic, and work on a section of the mar a mar Camino trail. A highlight at the end of this day was to meet with indigenous representatives who are excited to have drinkable water at both buildings; we often take potable water for granted but potable water in the school and the cultural centre is a requirement for Costa Rican government funding. With funding secured, further school classrooms can be started, and essential education of children the the area can commence. We had a lot of fun the first day, and got a lot accomplished. 

Cam Grant, DWC Volunteer 

Day 1 – Team Costa Rica at breakfast – note the sparkling t-shirts!!
Dog photo bombing our school photo op.
Morning Breakfast. Note the new t-shirts. So clean and perky!
Team machete and Christmas display?
Day 1 end with some of the team showing off their dirty shirts.

Day 2 – January 28, 2020

Leandra from One Planet dropped by to meet us with her very generous donation of paint for the clinic

Today we had a beautiful day at the site, sunny, hot and humid. Cam, John, Johann and I worked some more to enlarge the hole for the new water tank. It was not easy as the dirt was clay and very humid and slippery. Once that was done and after getting the go ahead from Mario, we managed to lower the tank in a perfect fashion and in the process we almost lost John who slipped in with the tank, but we managed to save him, and just in time for lunch. Lunch by the way is provided by local women and it is always delicious.

In the meantime the rest of the team was very busy putting in place the water line up the hill and burying it with the help of two local young men. After lunch, another section of line was dug up while the technical brains (Cam, John and I) discussed with Mario what had to be done next at the water hole; i.e. installing the pump and proper attachments.

I wish my Spanish was much better cause I would love to talk at length with Mario on various subjects, he is a very nice man and I am certain it would be enlightening.

The medical clinic was looked over to determine the work needed to be done there. The clinic is just across the road from the school. Painting materials were donated by an organization called “Our Planet Foundation”, a local organization that works with Mara Mar to ensure ecologically friendly experiences for Eco tourists.

After coffee in the afternoon, we returned to town where some materials were acquired and people filled up on pop and other well deserved items.

Tomorrow is another day.

Richard, DWC Volunteer 

Day 3

This morning we arrived at the site ready to move several projects forward.

The pump was to be attached to the tank situated in the spring, and the water pipe was to be glued, laid in the trench and covered over.

We were expecting a welder to arrive to allow two important jobs to be started. First, we need a structure on a high point to hold a tank which will allow a gravity fed system to extend 700 meters to a Community Centre.  When supplied by potable water the Centre will be considered as a possible site for a high school.

Secondly, the clinic that serves all of the surrounding villages needs an outdoor waiting room for the once a month visit of the doctor.  Apparently many people arrive to see the doctor, but only one or two are allowed inside at a time.  The beating sun and driving rain are challenges to patients and their families.  We got a commitment from the Community Council that they would provide help.  It is always the best scenario to be able to work side by side with community members.

Yesterday when the paint arrived, we looked inside to ‘clean up’ before we started to paint.  As we began to sweep the floor we realized that this poor building was full of mould and termites.  The medical files are piled on shelves in a haphazard way, and the doors had rotted allowing us to sweep directly outside without having the bother of opening the door. 

Our job quickly became one of painting the outside of the building and requesting an evaluation of the interior as it would make a terrific future project for DWC and another funder.

The joy of today was the arrival of contingents of young community members.  Walter, one of the Indigenous leaders, brought his son and some of his friends to work on the project.  They are so welcoming and very appreciative of us coming to make a difference in their community.  The teens are fairly shy, but boy are they good workers!

Just after 11 the much anticipated welder arrived.  He was whisked off to help solve a problem that had arisen with the water tank.

The welder is needed to start the tower for the water tank on the hill and to form the framing for the outdoor waiting room.

For various reasons the welder left to change his clothing and turned up again after 2 pm.  So…..the work we thought would have been accomplished on the tank tower and the clinic didn’t happen…definitely tomorrow. 🤷🏼‍♀️

So, let me tell you about one of the young Indigenous men who  came to help us and is staying for three days.  We just heard his story on the way home this afternoon.

Rona (Ronaldo) lives in one of the 8 Indigenous villages that surrounds the National Park comprised of jungle and stunning vistas.  He walked 7 hours through the jungle to come to help us on this project.

He is staying at a home created for Indigenous people to stay in when they are away from home.  He came to support our project as it will provide potable water to a number of important sites.

Tomorrow we will give him a ride to Siquirres, the town where we are staying.  He will continue on with Fabien, our partner contact, who has an additional hour drive, and the next day he will carry on by bus for a 2 hour trip and then hike 2 hours back home.  Now THAT is an amazing commitment to support our project!

Cathy, DWC Volunteer 

Day 4

This morning started off with a bit of a setback. There was an accident earlier in the morning that stopped all highway traffic, blocking the the only route to the site.  Part of group however did manage to make their way into town to pick up some supplies for the project.

Traffic finally started moving around 11:30 so we quickly jumped in the van and made our way to the site. On arrival, we had a quick lunch and then got right to work.  John and Richard continued their work enlarging the reservoir that will feed the main tank. Cathy, Marcia, and Gayle started working on the exterior of the medical clinic, getting it ready for a fresh coat of paint as well as the extension. Linda, Paule and I starting digging the holes that will become the footings for the new water tower.

Several members of the community stopped by to say hello and to see how things were progressing. It is always a pleasure meeting the local community and to see how many have come out to help with the project.

Despite the setback in the morning, we managed to get a fair bit accomplished. It was a good day.

Johann, DWC Volunteer

All the volunteers that helped with trenching, post hole digging, fabrication, spring reservoir digging, painting, cooking and driving

Day 5

It’s Friday, the last work day of our first week. We hit the ground running since we wanted to accomplish a lot by lunch time. We will leave after lunch to travel to the Caribbean coast for a weekend of R&R.

Johann, Paule and Linda finished digging the post holes for the steel reservoir stand which will be installed on the hill. Alex the welder continued building the steel stand.

A team of volunteers from the indigenous communities continued digging the pipeline trench from the school to the cultural centre – about 500 meters through rocky, overgrown, sometimes marshy ground following a fence line. We were amazed at their steady progress with this back-breaking task.

Another team – Marcia, Gayle, Cathy and a very skilled indigenous volunteer, Yadira – finished cleaning and repairing the medical clinic exterior walls to prepare for painting. Johann joined the team to help apply the paint. They attacked the task with rollers and brushes finishing the first coat of green.

And of course work continued on the installation of the water tank at the spring. John, Cam and Richard were joined by Paule – the first woman to don rubber boots and descend into the muddy hole.  They finished building a small concrete dam to form a reservoir for the water seeping into the area. Their next job was to dig a trench in the muddy clay to allow water to drain from the reservoir and from around the tank. This was so  physically demanding that Paule, recognizing the need for more muscle, switched out with Johann (the youngest of the DWC volunteers) as the diggers ran out of energy. And they finally moved a mountain of mud creating a channel for the seeping water. Success!

But not all the work is hard labour. Marcia and Fabian are constantly coordinating volunteers, supplies and the schedule of tasks. They ensure that we are fed well with lunch, coffee break and treats. Today Marcia and Linda visited all the teams with slices of watermelon to provide refreshment in the heat and humidity.

As noon approached we had to pull ourselves away from the work to have lunch. Although we were looking forward to our weekend break on the coast, we wanted to get more done. Working with such an engaged community brings a great sense of accomplishment. With only one more week to work on the project we are all looking forward to Monday morning to be back in Las Brisas de Pacuarito to finish as much as we can.

Linda, DWC Volunteer

R&R and cultural adventures

After a two hour drive we arrived in Cahuita, a lazy little town on the Caribbean coast. It’s a quaint, laid-back place with a real Jamaican “Rastafarian” feel to it. You can walk the entire town in about 20 minutes.

We had a lovely B&B with a main house and several cabins around a pool, set in a beautiful garden of tropical plants. In the wee small hours of the morning we were awakened to the unearthly sounds of howler monkeys in the trees, then lulled back to sleep by the sounds of rain on the foliage and roof.

On Saturday a few of us took a boat and snorkelled the coral reef observing schools of colourful fish and even a shark! All of us hiked through the Cahuita National Park, observing sloths, white-faced monkeys, bright yellow vipers and various plants with healing capacities known to the Indigenous people.

We ate great local food at cozy, funky restaurants with background sounds of reggae music and pounding waves.

Sunday morning, we walked into town, but we mostly sat on the veranda of our B&B reading, talking and watching the rain on the leaves.

It was a great place to relax, have fun and regenerate!!

Marcia, DWC Team Leader

Day 6

This is the beginning of our second week after spending a terrific weekend as a group of tourists in Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Monday began with breakfast at 7am, leaving for the site at 8am and picking up an extra passenger at about 8:30 am. This was because today was going to be different from last week’s routine. The team is splitting up with 4 hiking and 5 working at the site. I was part of the site work force where we continued to work on installing the new water tank down by a natural spring in a small ravine behind the school. Today we had the challenge of lifting the reservoir tank out of the hole so that we could remove some of the dirt that had collapsed into the pit and partially slipped under the tank. In addition we needed to drain the water that had accumulated around the tank causing it to float. The site was very wet and extremely muddy and careful stepping and hanging onto anything nearby was an imperative. This was a fun time for us, we laughed as we discussed various options to get the tank out of the hole. We settled on tying a long rope to the top of the tank and pulling it out while John carefully guided it out in order to protect the spigot. The plan was a success and soon there was only the muddy, empty hole with 2 feet of water in it. After three or 4 attempts by Cam, Richard, Johann and I to prime the pump we cheered as the dirty water came pouring out of the pump and away from the hole.  After 20 minutes of starting and restarting the pump several times we finally managed to get 90% of the water out and all the extra mud thanks to some now very weary, exhausted guys. Cathy was the official photographer & managed to capture the major momentous moments of our endeavour. 

We had it all in place by lunchtime with the spring water now running into the water tank and a drain pipe near the base of the tank to minimize the water seepage from the sides the hole. With congratulations all around we headed off for a well deserved meal.

After lunch we turned our sites on the partially painted medical clinic and put a second coat of green paint on the walls along with some final parging. A job well done. Thanks to all who helped us.

John, DWC Volunteer

Hike to Jameikari

As reported by John, contrary to previous days, we are not all going to the work site at Las Brisas this morning. Four of us (Marcia, Gayle, Linda and I) are going to hike to Jameikari, an isolated village on the Camino, to see the site of a new latrine being built by Mar a Mar and DWC. It is a 14 kms trek there and back. With us is Sergio, a guide on the Camino and Ruby, a woman from the village.

This is an alternative trail to the Camino. We are told that rubber  boots are needed…  We are soon going to discover why! We find ourselves on every types of trail possibles: deeply rutted and wide road, cows paths, narrow almost invisible path due to ever growing tropical vegetation, gravel bed, nice soil and leaves covered portions (which reminded some of us of the West Coast Trail with humidity!) creek crossings, roots , moss covered rocks, flats , hills etc.. the common theme throughout the hike: wet and muddy! The last 300 metres straight up in mud to our ankles, a mud spa for the feet.

After a bit more than two hours of slipping and sliding … ,we reached Urbano’s house, up on the ridge. What a great place to hike to! He is ready for hikers with a nice thatch roof room where  a delicious lunch with heart of palm salad is awaiting us! Urbano demonstrates and teaches us a traditional dance.

After lunch, we get to work on the drainage bed for the latrine- a flat surface of approximately 2 × 4 metres. And we start digging, all four of us with the help of  Urbano and Ruby. After a full hour, we have not reached the depth required (one meter deep) but we got a good start! Urbano had already prepared the surface and the hole for the brand new water tank.

We say goodbye to Urbano and his family and start our trek back. We went up in the mud, we now have to come down in the mud… Remember the suggestion for rubber boots!

Albeit tired after the first 7 kms of hiking and the physical labour, we took only 2 hours to come back. Not bad at all. We are less chatty, absorbed by the views of mountains and the sounds of the tropical forest. And it did not rain!

! Hizo un buen día!

Paule, DWC Volunteer

Day 7 – A Red Letter Day!

It started like most others, warm and sunny with everyone eager to work. When we arrived at Las Brisas we were delighted to find the water tower ready to be carried to the top of the hill and put into place.

There were DWC members as well as those from the Indigenous community and local workers, all working together to erect the 8 metre structure into the waiting holes. No one thought this could be topped so after lunch we all moved to the medical centre for painting and preparing the post holes for the lean-to waiting area. Suddenly there was a shout and there was water pouring out of the pipe on top of the tower!

What a sight it was!  To go with this we were treated to homemade pastries by one of the locals at coffee time. It was a happy group returning to the motel.  Time for celebration!

Gayle, DWC Volunteer

Day 8

Well, here we are, close to the end of our project. As always, in my experience, the last few days seem to fly. Today, we helped Alex fabricate the metal framework for the medical clinic patient shelter, and completed its fresh coat of paint. After lunch, we visited the nearby family home of Marine Hedstrom Rojas. Marine and her family were instrumental in building Escuela Brisas here, in partnership with Rotary Sweden. After the school was completed, Marine and her family realized they wanted to make this area their lifelong home.

Strong advocates for the environment Marine and her partner, Ingemar, helped local community groups and government create biological Park Nacional Barbilla in 1990. The park ensures biodiversity is maintained, including a rare Jaguar cat corridor.

Marine also worked collaboratively with indigenous partners to publish an indigenous curriculum up to grade six, and helped open several schools in the surrounding area. Most students walk 3+ hours over mountain trails to attend class five days a week, then return home in the afternoon, a 13+ hour school day!

A highlight was to visit their family butterfly farm. Ideal environmental conditions and plant species here support reproduction of many varieties of butterfly, which are shipped live to botanical gardens around the world.

A quick walk back to our van, and we were making plans for the final day of our project, tomorrow.

Cam, DWC Volunteer

Team carrying the smaller diameter pipe (like a massive white snake) to connect to the larger diameter pipe. A lot of unearthing, installing and backfilling in 30C humid heat.

Day 9

Today was a hot one, 30 degrees. Alex the welder, Johann and Richard managed to finish the lean-to on the medical clinic. The patients will be very happy not to be waiting in the sun or in the rain anymore.

The other day about 50m of 2.5 cm diameter pipes were laid and buried from the water tower towards the community center. Someone took the decision that a 3 cm diameter pipe for a distance of about 100m would be better as there would be less friction and the water may get to its final destination faster, which is true. So today we became an army of workers and dug up the old pipe then laid the new larger diameter one in. The old one was then carried by a few volunteers and laid at the end of the new pipe. They did a super job. There are only a few meters to complete and the locals will finish that next week.

Our work in Las Brisas de Paquarito was then completed. We said our goodbyes to Dirion, our cook, who served us great meals and coffee, and to Alex, the welder and man of all trades.

At the end of the day we went and visited Clinton, who is the president of the Indeginous association in the area. He talked to us some about their vision for the development of high school education for the kids in surrounding villages. We all had a taste of chicha in their sacred meeting house, round and made completely of wood and dried leaf thatch. It is where they honour Cebu, their Spirit. Chicha is an indigenous celebration drink here, slightly fizzy and with a slightly sour taste.

The water project we worked on was very important to them as the Ministry of education will not support a school project if potable water is not available. It seems incredible to us but it is their reality.

On the way back, we then bid farewell to Mario, the maintenance guy at the school. Mario was always there when we arrived each morning and left after we did. A great man of almost 70 years old, with enormous strenght (no problem carrying a 50 kg bag of cement), a great sense of humor and always with a smile on his face.

Tonight we invited Fabian and Sergio, our two drivers / translators, with their wives for dinner to thank them for their hospitality and for taking such good care of us. Both couples had brought their young children along, precious little things.

This closes our final working day in Costa Rica. Tomorrow the fun begins.

Richard, DWC Volunteer

Posted in on January 29, 2020