During training, we were assigned a project entitled Aspirantes in Accion (Trainees in Action). This project is intended for the trainees during the 10 weeks of training to go out into their communities and get the people involved in a small-medium sized project. For example, we could do little demonstrations on gardening techniques such as how to make organic pest repellant for plants, how to start a compost pile or vermiculture, how to double dig, and any of the other techniques we learned in training. We could also do projects related to trash management, such as a demonstration on how to make cups out of wine glasses, how to make wallets out of milk cartons, how to make purses out of plastic bags, and how to make eco-bricks out of plastic bottles. We could pretty much do anything we wanted because the project was basically designed to show us that the most important (and sometimes the most difficult) part of any project is getting the community involved.
First we thought we would start a community garden. There was a large huerta area behind the Despensa next door, which was owned by our host aunt, Carmen. It was close, and we thought it would be a great chance to show off our new gardening skills. But a couple weeks passed and it didn't seem like we could get too many people involved. Plus, we kept thinking that we wanted to do something related to tourism or parks or recycling, and we only chose the garden project out of convenience. After a meeting with our tech trainer, we considered doing a camp for kids, but we had to do one anyway was part of training, so it seemed redundant... and repetitive.
Then a volunteer named Anna came and taught us about Eco-Ladrillos, or Eco-bricks; plastic bottles with inorganic garbage stuffed in them to the point where they make strong bricks that can be used for constructing many different things. We were hooked immediately and vowed to make a bench during training. Our whole tech training class even started a chant which lived on throughout all of training: G-40-BENCH! G-40-BENCH! We originally thought we would make it at the training center in Guarambare, but then decided it would be better if we put one in our community. Sarah and I got to work immediately.
The building of the bench was a very exciting process. It took about 4-5 days, working about 3 hours everyday. This was during the time when we still had language classes, tech trainings, and field trips to go on. Even though Sarah and I had never worked with cement before, several other people in our group helped us out getting the right proportions of cement, sand, and water. Many different people helped. We started with tools, but eventually just started flinging the cement in between the bottles with our bare hands. Even our little host sisters were helping. Carmen is 11 and Naila is 6! Muy guapa! And if you're wondering, no it is not completely safe to use your bare hands; cement does start to burn your hands after a few hours!
The finished product was a beautiful bench made mostly of recycled plastic bottles and garbage, painted white with a big flower on the front, and a Tacaru of tiles on the back. We were so happy to have completed this project, and even though Sarah and I were the leaders of this proejct, we couldn't have done it without the help of our community members, and all of our PC compeneros! We had a blast, and we hope to make more benches in our future site.
Well, that's the story of the bench. Some veteran PCV's contacted us and wanted the info on how we built the bench for a manual they are putting together. I'm pretty sure we're the first volunteers here to make a bench, so we felt very proud to be the pros on the topic! So if you would like the powerpoint or any other information, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It has step by step instructions, and a section "things we would do differently."