Published: August 1st 2011August 1st 2011
Foundations done...after 6 days of digging!
There is a simple explanation for my blog silence over the last two months. I have been far too busy having the time of my life!
I write this blog from the main square in Arequipa, in southern Peru, where I sat only two months ago pondering the month I had ahead of me volunteering at the disaster relief, come poverty relief, foundation in the Pacific coast town of Pisco. The town of Pisco was devastated by an earthquake almost 4 years ago, when around 600 people were killed and over 80,000 people displaced. The earthquake exacerbated the situation in what was already a very poor region of Peru. Pisco Sin Fronteras was set up by some local Pisqueños in the year following the earthquake and has grown ever since with an ever expanding band of volunteers from the world over. As I sat in Arequipa 2 months ago I felt a degree of excitement, aprehension and anticipation about the month ahead, though I could never have envisaged the life changing experience that lay ahead of me.
I spent my first week on the "Jesus Dirtbag" project, so named as we were building a new school to replace the
Wee Pepe flexing his muscles!
ramshackle Jesus de Nazareth school in the Esperanza district of Pisco. The "Dirtbag" comes from the earthquake proof method of building walls with bags of compressed earth. After a week spent on this project with Stefan, Gabby and Asa (as well as a first encounter with little Pepe) I was asked to head up a project building a bathroom and shower block (or Jesus Bathrooms) adjacent to the new school. Of course, I jumped at the chance as it offered a great opportunity to lead a project from start to finish and the chance to learn a whole host of new skills. After six amazing weeks, involving upwards of 30 different volunteers over the course of the project, we completed the bathrooms on Saturday 23rd July - after a final push working overtime to get the project completed (take a bow Jamal, Nicole, Alice, Andy, Ian, Kevin and Toby!). The project was a fantastic learning curve as we were involved at every stage; from digging the first foundations, to pouring concrete bases, to constructing and laying re-bar supports, to laying the first bricks, to constructing the roof, to tiling the interior walls, to plumbing the toilets and showers. I spent
many a surreal moment buying materials in builders and plumbers merchants, stood on the opposite side of the counter from where I had been in Birmingham only 6 months before. I couldn't help but think my life had gone full circle in 6 short months! Upon arriving in Pisco, my objective had been to work as hard as I could so that I might tangibly see the fruits of my labour and if, in some small way, I had made a positive impact on the life of even one of the locals, then all the better. The emotional farewell I had with the families on site on Sunday was filled with gratitude, warmth and a few tears and served to confirm that I had met my objectives. However my experience at PSF was so much more than bricks and mortar...
During the past 2 months I have enjoyed the company of some amazing people that I am truly proud to call friends. People from a variety of walks of life, full of refreshing ideas and outlooks on life.
Señora Carmen & Family: Carmen was the community leader in Esperanza and was the intermediary between our organisation and the
Gabby, Pepe and myself in the early stages.
local council. She was such a hard working woman and devoted mother who devided her time between co-ordinating or cooking meals for the volunteers, keeping me in check (which led to much biting of tongue on my part!) and raising her wonderful kids; of the ones still at home there was the hardworking Abigail, the super-intelligent 6-year-old Damaris, and my wee 4-year-old pal Pepe (an ever-present on the Jesus Bathrooms site) who would jump between digging his little heart out on site, flexing his muscles for the ladies and just generally being a mischievous wee scamp...though always with an angelic smile on his face!
French Stefan: My partner in crime at the neighbouring Jesus Dirtbags site. It was an absolute pleasure working alongside "el loco frances", probably the hardest working guy at PSF. We had some great laughs and I learned so much from him.
Gabby & Wren: Spent every day of my first two weeks with Gabby on site; singing, dancing and rubbish high fives a plenty! Such a laugh, she has so much energy and was an absolute star with the kids on site. Such a lovely girl and deserving of such a great boyfriend in
Re-bar and form boards laid...ready for the concrete base.
Wren...great guy, great singalongs and the best whistler I've ever heard!
English Pete: Probably the nicest "miserbale old b*****d I've ever met. An honest man (how ironic then that he should be the spitting image of Fagan from Oliver Twist!) a hardworking man, and quite simply, great fun to be around.
Mark from 'ull: Did a very good job of playing the obnoxious northern monkey but in reality is just a big softie! Fantastic fella with whom I enjoyed some great in depth chats during my first 2 weeks. Delighted for him that he´s going off chasing his dream...just a shame its on the other side of the world. Good luck fella!
Canadian Carson: Such a humble and genuine man. I remember saying to him how I admired his patience, given that he was one of the few people from a construction background and was surrounded by complete novices. His reply was simply that his admiration lay with the novices who were stepping out of their confort zone and that he was the only one still in his. How refreshing! Top man.
Orla, Maedhbh & Matt: Two Irish lasses and an Aussie; if I've already overused
the words honest, genuine and kind-hearted, I care not. It describes these guys perfectly! I had some great pent-house singalongs with Orla, and Maedhbh and Matt were the first guys I spoke to at PSF and really set the tone for my time there.
Megan from Wisconsin: radiant smile and backflips on the beach!
Joe & Alice: A lovely Glaswegian lass and a wannabee Glaswegian from Middlesborough. Great banter and they've certainly got that fabled northern work ethic. Looking forward to the reunion already!
Shane & Ciara: Typically Irish and a typically lovely couple. Looking forward to a Guinness or two in Cork or Donegal!
Noel & Marcela: Typically Irish and a typically lovely couple...sound familiar?
Buddha: Larger than life character on a worldwide crusade to spread as much love and laughter as is humanly possible. My sides are still hurting from the sandboarding weekend in Huacachina...what a laugh! A wonderful man.
Martin: Little Peruvian wind up merchant with a big heart. Deserves all the success that will come his way.
Navin & BJ: I've lumped these two together as, for me, they epitomise what PSF is all about. Two hard working guys
We have a base...celebrating finally putting something into the holes we had dug!
who have a real drive to see projects coming to fruituion and making a positive impact on Pisco, while at the same time being fantastically nice blokes who, to my mind, are the sort of people who act as the gel which knits PSF together. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know them!
A whole host of people who I did not get to know as well as I should have but who, nonetheless, made a lasting impression on me: Asa, Will & Shannon, Doctor Nick, Kathryn, Whitney, Nathan, Pierre, Jack, Nato, Yassine, Phil, Johnny, Yulyia, 3 Andrews (Argentinian, American and Australian) Georgina, Niall and Ronan.
And last but not least, Claire: The Montana lass who turned an incredible experience into a very special one. Thank you.
There are more photos below