We started the project in Quito with six students unaccustomed to any kind of construction labor, some giant pieces of wood, plastic, and a few tools. Somehow over the course of a month these ingredients came together to leave two communities with eco-friendly greenhouses that they can utilize for years to come. The journey from there to here was a long one and I can safely say everyone involved in the project grew by leaps and bounds in order to reach these goals. On a tangible level our job entailed measuring, cutting, and hammering together over 30 wooden joints per greenhouse, lifting the wood to its terminal height of about 10 feet, and covering the entire greenhouse in tight plastic. Once the holes were dug, the frames built, and the plastic secured, we also helped the future farmers of the community till, plant, and organize the land and resources inside their new greenhouse.
More than just labor skills, this project gave us to integrate and learn about a culture very foreign from our own. Things that were commonplace and accepted in the U.S. were luxuries or unheard of in Quito. It could be disillusioning at times. For instance on our second project in the agrarian south, the small farmhouse was made simply of concrete bricks stacked to corner off two small rooms, a bathroom, a few decaying appliances, and a corrugated tin roof to protect from the elements. To us their dirt floor and close quarters signaled extreme poverty, but this idea was soon dispelled as the people were constantly smiling as they worked their land. They did not need televisions or even cars. We were not there to rebuild their lives in our American image, an idea I believe we all secretly entertained from time to time as we pushed ourselves to our physical and emotional limits. Our goals were not so grand and patronizing, but instead they were to provide these communities with the initial investment they desperately needed so they could provide for themselves and their children in a sustainable way so that this culture, very different from our own, could continue and grow in its own way.
As the project started to wind down and we were putting the finishing touches on (or arm numbing stretching of) the plastic we all started to get instant nostalgia for the place we were and the things we were doing there. We had formed strong bonds with the people of the community, the workers of ConQuito (the municipality agency that aided us in our work), and the guide from Triple Salto, Shak. Though we did not all speak Spanish, and many of the people we met on the project spoke no English, all that was required by any of us was the fact that we had worked side by side day after day, and built a system of shared words and gestures to accomplish our project. As we headed out on our last day, hugs lingered, and a simple kiss goodbye on the cheek, something that violated our personal space at first, was the only fitting way to say goodbye to the wonderful people surrounding us. We all felt we had done good work and that we made a tangible difference in the lives of two communities. Above all the other memories we made in our off time, that idea will stay with us the longest.