I’m not sure how to recap today’s adventures – it was such an amazing day. Today is the reason I wanted to come, to spend my birthday building a school. However, I am actually out in a village miles from San Juan del Sur, helping to build cooking stoves.
There are two side projects being funded by Random Acts: building cooking stoves and Biosand Water Filters. Today we are helping to build the stoves. There is a major health epidemic created by cooking over solid fuel fires (wood, animal dung, crop waste, and coal) without proper ventilation – creating air unfit to breathe. According to the World Heath Organization, every year, over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuel.
The design of the stove we are building comes with multiple benefits: The materials are inexpensive (roughly $45) as the bricks are primarily a mixture of sand, dirt, and concrete; it uses less wood by burning hotter and longer; and the chimney vents the smoke out of the home through a hole in the roof.
The team has split into groups, part going to the school site and part to Casa Rio del Coco, a village of 35 families near the southeastern coast – I’m headed to the village. Before I left the states, I went to a Dollar Tree and bought some arts and crafts supplies: colored pencils, paper, etc. I am bringing these items with me today to share with any children that might live there.
The road to the village is a combination of cobblestone and dirt – well, mud actually, as it is raining really hard again.
There is a water truck delivering water to the outlying villages that comes within feet of sliding into the back of us. The bus grinds up the hills, moving about 10 miles an hour and you can feel the tires slip in the mud. It takes about an hour to get out to the village but by the time we arrive the rain has passed.
As we get off the bus, we are hesitant, but then, so are the villagers. Richard smooths the way with introductions and directions.
We start by moving a pile of dirt about 5 feet to the left. It feels a little like we are being punked
but the truth is it needed to be moved out from under the covered area so that we could use the space if it rains. After relocating the dirt pile (which interestingly enough was being guarded by two rather aggressive land crabs) we got our instructions on how to make bricks – and away we went. We won’t actually be able to assemble the stoves, as the bricks take a few days to dry, but we also cut wire and rebar to make the internal support structures.
Meanwhile, children begin to arrive to see what we are doing. Some are shy and hesitant, some bold and boisterous – you know, typical children. I pulled out the crayons and paper and made a space at what I think is the community table. And Voila! instant arts and crafts time. It sort of exploded into an all out drawing fest. It was amazing! So much fun to see the creativity overflow. They asked me to draw pictures for them to color – so of course I obliged. You gotta satisfy your fans. 😎 The frustrating part was my inability to talk with the kids. My Spanish is less than non-existent, and their accents were definitely regional. Between those two things, we just smiled. laughed and drew. At one point, one of the kids wanted to use the paints. Richard had to explain to a mom what was in the paint tube. I swear the eye roll she gave him was typical of any mom, anywhere, preparing for a messy disaster.
When we were getting packed up one mom gathered all the materials together to give back to me. I had Richard tell them that they were a gift. She smiled, said “Gracias” and I melted. Best birthday ever.
The second half of the day was spent as a tourist – on the beach and in the surf. This part of Nicaragua is quickly becoming a haven for surf enthusiasts. There were a few people who rented boards from the restaurant where we were and yours truly valiantly gave it a try. Caught one wave, but never got off my belly. Oh well, at least I can say I tried.
The evening finished with a beautiful sunset and surprise fireworks on the beach. When offered the chance to light one off, of course, I jumped. However, the instructions were a little far from what mom taught me as a kid – never hold the bottle rocket in your hand when lighting it. (Side note, the instructions were something like this: “Now make sure you let got when you feel it begin to tug.”) After three successful launches, I decided that I had tempted fate enough and called it quits.
A beautiful end to a beautiful day. Thank you to all for making my birthday gift a reality. You rock!
Follow the link below to see the daily video diary by the Random Acts team.