You can’t treat people like crap!

“We are not a holding company. We are people.”

“We care about you. Really.”

“We are about opportunity. Opportunity to create, to grow and to have an impact. We want all of our people to be as successful as they can be to reach their full potential.”

These are all statements taken directly from the Deckers Brands website.  Sounds great! Right?  Not so much.  Recently, I had a very short-lived career with Deckers.  In fact, it lasted all of 9 days and 4 hours. That is definitely a record for me as the quickest exit from a job I have ever had.  (I lasted longer gutting fish at a fish market in high school.) It’s a very long way from my 15 years with David’s Bridal. So what happened?  I wish I knew.

Somewhere between the last in-person interviews that resulted in a unanimous vote of “we love you” and the same day offer, and ten days later when I showed up for my first day of work, something changed.  I don’t really know what happened because all they would tell me was that I wasn’t a “good fit”.

I wrote two letters to the corporate office about my experience – not because I thought it would change anything, or because I wanted to get my job back, but because it is wrong to treat people in the manner I was treated. And somebody should know.

Since then, I have not had a single response from my emails. I didn’t really think I would, but one can hope. I have moved on – doing contract work with a great non-profit organization.  I have support from my family and friends. I am greeted with I’m sorry’s that are laced with smiles because they are happy to have me back.  I’m okay.

But I want you to know what happened.  Why? Becuase leaders need to know that you can’t treat people like crap. We are currently experiencing an upside-down, backwards-facing, pond-scummy, whatever-I-want, idiotic political race, where our potential leaders seem to think it is acceptable to treat human beings without dignity. Well, I say it’s not.  We are better than this – even if those who have influence over the direction of our lives disagree.

This is the letter I sent to the Chief HR Officer

Attn: 
Graciela Montgomery, Chief Human Resources Officer
Deckers Brands

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Good Day Ms. Montgomery,

I am forwarding to you a letter I sent to Andrea Jackson with regards to my termination.  I feel that it is important for you to understand the manner in which your leaders have been handling the staffing in the new Denver call center.  You may look at this as simply sour apples, but in my long experience in working in customer service, I have never seen – or moreover, been treated – in the manner that Heather Bissell, Call Center Director, Kim Heidt, VP Customer Experience, and to a lesser extent Andrea Jackson, SR Manager Human Resources, handled my very short-term employment with Deckers Brands.

I interviewed with a number of your home office associates over a fairly long period.  My application was accepted on July 19 and I received my first request for an interview on July 26.  The process was very drawn out, and I continued to interview with other companies, however as the interviewing went on and I spent more time researching and learning about the company, I became increasingly excited about the opportunity I saw in front of me.  After each interview, I was assured that the interviewer had been very impressed with me and was excited about the possibilities we had discussed.

My first interview with Heather Bissell was very short and although she was pleasant enough, she seemed disinterested in my background or qualifications – very quickly ending our call.  I chalked this up to her being new in the position and let it slide.  The interview with Lucy Gros renewed my excitement about the prospects of working to build a new and customer focused training program from the ground up, something I had successfully done at David’s Bridal.  When offered the three interviews at the call center location I felt very good about my prospects and began to turn down other offers.  I felt that at this time in my life I wanted to align myself with a quality company – not just accept any job that would pay my bills.  I had spent 15 years with my last employer and was looking for the next place to lay down roots. On September 8, the offer for the position as the Call Center Training Manager came on the same day as those interviews. I was told it was unanimous and that everyone was eager to have me start as soon as I could.  I accepted, completed the required paperwork, and eagerly awaited my start date on September 19th of what I thought was to be an exciting career.  What happened was as far from the set expectations as it could have been.

Your website speaks of the “importance of people”, “ethical corporate behavior”, “being valued as a human being”, “about an opportunity to create, to grow, and to have an impact.”

The company Code of Ethics states, “Our good name and reputation depend on the actions of each and every one of us. Our individual actions must be guided by trust, accountability, honesty, fairness, respect and integrity each and every day.”

I no longer believe that your leaders live by this creed.  I was treated so poorly on my first day that I can only think something had occurred between my being offered the position and when I arrived. I know that I am an eager and high energy type of individual.  I can be odd, quirky, and overly exuberant at times. But these were some of the traits that the interviewers mentioned they liked in me.  On Thursday of my first week, I had a discussion with Heather regarding the need tone down my excitement.  Fair enough.  I did.  I focused on being a part of the new hire training class – learning the systems needed to respond to consumer calls.

She also questioned if I thought this position was a “good fit”.  An inquiry I found confusing as it was only day four and I had not even seen a job description or had a planning meeting about the expectations of the position or even knew what was to be my first project.  At the time, I had been told to simply behave as a new hire participating in the new hire agent training process.

During the nesting period, between customer calls,  I spent time revising my notes, confirming understanding through the help center, and beginning to write a new opening to the training class.  Heather was out of the business on vacation, and I had no indication from anyone else that I was behaving in a manner in any way unacceptable. 

That is until Thursday.  I received a request from Andrea Jackson to have an immediate call together.  This was my first indication that anyone had been concerned about my behavior and frankly I was confused as to what could have been the problem.  She brought to my attention that a report was made that I was “unengaged in my own learning, preferring to spend my time playing solitaire.”  I was flabbergasted as this was a far from the truth as it could have possibly been.  Yes, I spent some time at the beginning and before the end of my break or lunch, engaged in a computer game.  I learned a technique to transition out of one state of mind (such as a break) and into another (such as learning mode) when I was a special education teacher in the early 90’s.  It is one I teach and use to help focus quickly on the next task at hand.  A simple game of solitaire, a few minutes of a puzzle, or a quick drawing are a proven way to help an individual leave behind the previous activity and focus on the next. (In fact, this is the basis of the latest adult craze for coloring books.)

I have 56 pages of handwritten notes, accessed at least 30 to 40 of the Zen Desk help center tutorials, began a One-Note notebook of 5 sections to organize the material I was absorbing and created an outline to present as a better way to help new hires readjust their paradigms regarding a customer-centric call center.  And all this while I made every customer I spoke to happy with the results of their calls.

Then on Friday, I was let go.  Kim Heidt would only state that I was “not a good fit.”  That she had to spend part of every day talking about me with Heather (while on vacation), that she had never had to have two conversations with any new manager in their first two weeks before. She was insistent that her time with Deckers has helped her know who will work out and who won’t.  She would not answer my questions about what I had done to cause this impression.  She was dismissive, rude, and unwilling to explain other than to say I was simply not going to “work out.”

Please tell me how any of this is in keeping with your company standards?  I changed my life in many ways to accept this position.  I began to build hopes, plans and saw a future that was better than my husband and I have had – all based on the promises made in the interview and hiring process.

I believed in what was told to me.  I made plans. I spent hours preparing to move out of the training class and into my actual position.  And now, quite frankly, I am devastated. I will be fine. I will find a position that will actually value my skills and abilities, will celebrate what I can bring to their company – quirky traits and all – but I am still devastated. For three weeks I have imagined the possibilities of this position, began planning and creating something new – and your seemingly unethical, unbelieving, dishonest, unfair, and disrespectful leaders would not even tell me why I was not a “good fit.”

In at “at will” employment state, I probably have no grounds for a wrongful dismissal suit.  I will look into this, but I am sure this will not worry you. I have not met you and do not know if your leaders are representative of your beliefs as well.  I sincerely hope not. I hope that somewhere in your organization are individuals that actually believe in the creed you express on your website.

Sincerely,

Angela R. Nevin

 

The soundtrack to my life

I am getting to a place where I can begin to write about the last couple of years of my life.  However, it is a very long and rambling story – extremely painful at times and involves a lot of hystarical laughter.  But until such time as I can create a coherant flow of words to take you down that long and winding path, I will just give you a little teaser…

My life has a sound track…doesn’t everyones?  I mean surely we all have songs that resonate with us in those dark and lonely moments?  Or the ones that sing with our souls when the world opens up and the stars aline?  We have unguarded moments where we find ourselves humming a little tune, only to recognize that it somehow relates to the events we are experiencing.

Then there is the one that repeats over and over and over and over – endlessly like the needle stuck in a groove skipping back and forth endlessly. (If you are too young to get that reference, try googling “record player”.  It’s a facinating subject – I promise.)

Being a college student of the mid 80’s it is not surprising that my musical preferences run along the likes of Rush, Police, Queen, Dire Straits, and the Eurythmics.  Not to mention bands like Toto and The Clash.  So it is appropriate that the soundtrack to my life comes from one of my favorites – Oingo Boingo.

To quote the last line: “I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to laugh at misfortune. Darkness can never last too long… When you laugh in its face.”

I give to you the most appropriate lyrics that I could have ever imagined would sum up my life: Oingo Boingo’s Only Makes Me Laugh.

“Only Makes Me Laugh”
Oingo Boingo

I don’t know why I feel this way
I don’t know if it’s right or wrong
To laugh at misfortune
Darkness can never last too longEvery time I think I’m falling
And there’s nobody around to hold me up
And it seems like the world has come to an end
I look for miles, but not a face is friendly
Then suddenly, a hole opens up in the ground
The bottom of the hole is a raging fire
I try to jump over, but there’s no way
The next thing I know, I’m going down

Does it hurt?
Oh, it really doesn’t matter
Does it burn?
Oh, no, I don’t feel a thing
Does it sting?
Oh, yeah, it really doesn’t matter
Does it hurt?
Oh, I don’t give a damn
When I find myself falling and I hit the bottom
It only makes me laugh
Only makes me laugh
When I go down the hole and I hit the bottom

The last time that I fell in love
The love was milk and honey
But the milk turned sour
The woman became a monster
And everyone I knew had become a stranger
Then the room went black and my luck was spent
The floor opened up—down I went

Does it hurt?
Oh, it really doesn’t matter
Does it burn?
Oh, no, I don’t feel a thing
Does it sting?
Oh, yeah, it really doesn’t matter
Does it hurt?
Oh, I don’t give a damn
When I find myself falling and I hit the bottom
It only makes me laugh
Only makes me laugh
When I go down the hole and I hit the bottom

It only makes me laugh
Coming right back
‘Cause you can’t keep me down
Can’t keep me down
Oh, in the ground

Does it hurt?
Oh, it really doesn’t matter
Does it burn?
Oh, I don’t feel a thing
I don’t mind just a little pain
Ooh, oh, yeah
Whoa….

Remembering when I was a young man
How everything seemed to turn against me
I didn’t know a soul—it was an alien place
The sun was covered by a dark cloud
And though I tried, I couldn’t find a way to escape
The only way to go: straight down

I don’t know why I feel this way
I don’t know if it’s right or wrong
To laugh at misfortune
Darkness can never last too long…
When you laugh in its face

Thank you boys – You keep me going.

Reflections on day 6

 

Today is our last day of construction. Tomorrow we are heading back to Managua to stay as our flight out on Friday is very early in the morning.  I was supposed to work on the high school building again – and I really wanted to – but my wanna-make-it-better-for-everyone side warred with my I-wanna-be-selfish side, and the wanna-make-it-better side won out. I’m glad too because it turned out to be a good choice.

Here’s a little bit of what happened: a number of our volunteers ended up with stomach issues, so instead of 23 people strong, we were only 16.  Of those, only 3 were left to go out to Casa Rio del Coco.  The remaining 13 volunteers going to work on the school were joined by 12 additional school attendees and teachers.  Soooo, the school has plenty of help and the village? Well, not so much.  So, I stay on the bus for the mountainous, gear-grinding, bus ride south.  At least it’s not raining today.

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Monday’s wet and muddy drive south.

On Monday we worked on the stove bases.  Today we will continue with the chimneys and assembly. We are also set to build 15 Eco Biosand water filters.

Bicoand filter

Biosand Filter

These filters are made of simple materials that cost about $19. They are plastic buckets with a sieve at the top. The water is poured into the sieve and then filters down through sand.   The organic material present in the dirty water is trapped at the surface of the sand bed, forming a biological layer which actively removes pathogens and contaminants. (There is a scientific name for this layer but we know it as common slime.)  The filters are 95 – 99% effective in removing dangerous contaminants from the water, and 100% effective in removing parasites, rendering it clean and drinkable. Drinking waterWe completed 8 filters and have all the parts ready for assembly for the additional 7.  While working on the filters I learned 2 important lessons:

  1. The hardware store around the corner from my house in Denver is a pure luxury.
  2. Wastefulness comes in many forms – not all of them tangible.

Let me explain.  Lesson 1: Part of the process for assembling the filters involves a rubber washer.

Hose washer

The $0.17 washer that stopped us cold.

Just a simple one – the kind you use when attaching your garden hose to the spigot.  It costs around $0.17 each. You probably have a few of them scattered around the workbench or lying on the garden shed floor. Well, we ran out of them about half-way through.  And when you run out there is no Home Depot around the corner to just “go and grab what you need”. Honestly, I don’t even know where you get your building supplies. So when we had assembled all we could, we just continued with what was left- knowing that the final assembly would have to wait for another day.

Lesson 2: I got an insight on all the little wasteful habits I have. It came when I was changing the drill bit from a small one to the keyhole bit. Most of you know I use drills on a daily basis. I am very familiar with all the workings, chucks, keys, reverse, forward, strength, and speed. So I didn’t even pause when starting to change the bit.  I held on to the chuck

Drilling buckets

A lesson in wastefulness. (With Antonia & MK.)

(that’s the black section just below the drill bit), set the function to reverse, and squeezed the trigger to roll back the bit holder. It takes about 1 second to open up the bit holder enough to replace the bit.  As I was putting down the small bit to pick up the new one, Antonia took the drill from me and showed me that I should just unscrew the chuck manually rather than using the power to assist. In one flash I saw how important the littlest things are when you are not in a privileged area.  I realized that when the battery pack ran out of juice, we were done.  There was no plugging in, no switching out of battery packs, no running to the hardware store.  Power gone = project stopped.

 

I really can’t even begin to tell you what lessons, how many, all the insights, and (hackneyed as it sounds) soul changing experiences I had while in Nicaragua. Since I came home, I have been asked many times about the trip. Sometimes I don’t know where to start to tell about everything.  But in the end, this is what I think sums up the entire trip:

“It was amazing!  Absolutely incredible – but what was most important was that I learned that almost 100% money you donated ends up funding the charity. The staffers from RandomActs.org are 100% volunteer.  Not only do they each give their time, but they each paid for their own trips. On top of that, the money goes directly into the economy.  All of the construction workers are 100% local; the general contractor is an expat living in San Juan del Sur, so his money goes back into the community – you are funding salaries, jobs, families, people. You are bringing clean air and safe drinking water to children, adults, and villages. All of the building supplies are locally sourced, renewable, and unbelievably beautiful! The school is not supported or funded by the government.  With the exception of some teacher training and accreditation, all funding for the school comes from donations, foundations, and primarily through the sister city project.”

That’s it!  I confirmed what I already believed – this is a great charity, funding an independent, well-deserving project. Checks are written and people paid.  I couldn’t be happier with my choice and I believe that everyone who helped should rest assured that each donation went where it should. Period. Fini. The end….  well, not really, I have a lot more to tell you, so look for more posts in the future.


This is a really great video -a 360º walkthru of the new building.  Be sure to use the left and right controls in the upper left corner to swivel the view to see the entire room.

Reflections on day 5: Building Site

Today I get to build at the school site.  I am so excited to think that I can add my vast knowledge and experience to helping move this project along. Do you hear the snarky sarcasm in that sentence?  Austin Drill, the general contractor, has set up six stations for us to move through in order to give us a sense of what it takes to put a building together. Confident in my ability to learn new things, I dive right into the library where we are filling gaps in the bamboo with wood filler, sanding, and adding varnish.

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View of the library/computer lab from the entry door.

Perfect for me – gooey, messy, dirty, detail-oriented, and fun! The kicker to this project is that the construction workers don’t speak English, and well, we’ve already established that “Hablo a muy poco español.” Needless to say, there is much gesturing, pointing, awkward silences, and laughter.

The wood filler is a simple combination of sawdust from the bamboo and Elmer’s glue. This way it matches in color, is easy to make, and dries quickly.

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I did this!

Once dry, it is sanded and then sealed with at least two coats of varnish. I could have stayed with this station all day – but it was time to move on to fine plaster.  Bring it on!

 

Overconfidence can be a real bitch. We can skip over the fine plastering lessons and just say I have a heavy hand not suitable to the subtle finishing touches needed to make a smooth wall.

Lorin3

At this point, I threw in my sponge.

(Here is where I learned that being tolerated is a kindness in any country.) On to rough plaster…

 

Okay, not much better here.  Apparently, there is a real finesse to throwing mud at the wall.  Who knew? Eventually, I went back to the library where I knew I could actually help and not hinder.

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Cassie Harrison & Lorin DeBellis got the mud throwing s

 

A couple days later, when I went back to see the finished product, my rough plaster teacher had such a look of dismay on his face thinking that I was back for more, that I took pity on the man and quickly ran away.

 

It was great to be able to help a little on the actual building, and it is nice that they are willing to let us try our hand, but like I said in an earlier post – it isn’t about the difference we can make with the physical structure – it’s about the money we can raise to pay for wages, materials, and supplies. Our being here increases our understanding – oh, and gives the guys a great laugh. (I do know when I’m being laughed at even if I can’t understand the words. It’s okay, I’m used to it. They were still kind.)

I also think it helps the construction crew, school kids, and adults, and everyone else who benefit from the money raised, to understand that this isn’t a pity charity. It is a passion shared by both Nicaraguans and Americans. Raising funds is really the only contribution we can make to the project from so very far away. It is personal and close to the hearts of everyone on this trip.  We may not be attending the school, or relying on the money to pay for our needs, but we are as invested as those who do.

The building should be finished around November of this year, about 12 months from the start of the project.  Classes end around that time and when they resume in February, the upper two grades plus the technical classes will be held in the new building, and the administration will finally have a place to call home.  I can’t wait to see the finished product!

 

Nov2015 July2016

November 2015                                                                    July 2016

 


Follow the link below to see the daily video diary by the Random Acts team.

Dreams to Acts: 2016 | Daily Diary Day 5

Reflections on day 4

Beach outside of Restaurante Puesta del Sol at Playa del Coco

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. 

Map2

Village of Casa Rio del Coco

sam4

Village life

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

IMAG0506

We all wondered if we were being punked when asked to move the pile of dirt 5 feet to the left.

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.

rea5

Volunteer AndRea Niessen measuring and lining up rebar.

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. Me with kidsYou 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.

lorin11

“For you Andrea”

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.

Watch the Random Acts Daily Diary – Day 4

Reflections on Day 3

Today was really remarkable – in so many ways. First off, we went to the construction site. Let me see if I can help you feel what I did as the school came into view… the school bus dropped us off on the road as the muddy dirt path is ill-suited for a 4-wheel drive, much less a school bus. So we trudged thru the mud and up the path to the clearing where the school is being built. There are Howler monkeys growling in the background in a very disconcerting low rumble.  The usual sounds of geckos are chirping around you, and birds are calling back and forth. The vegetation is very green since it has been raining every day. And the air on the walk is still and quiet.

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The pathway to what will be the Patricia Claey School

As we step up to the clearing the first thing you notice is the breeze that gently cools the air, immediately evaporating the sweat from your arms. When you look up you see the light filtering through the trees – you almost don’t notice the building, the beauty of the space is so eye catching. IMAG0467Finally, you see the unfinished building and as you stop you look and wonder and admire and are blown away by the elegance of the school.

Austin Drill, the general contractor, is creating a work of art. Now, here’s the kicker…he’s doing it with what is considered building materials traditionally used by only the poorest of the local inhabitants – bamboo.

Richard Krushnic, the project manager, explains about the stigma attached to bamboo. He tells us the bamboo is used only by the very poor because it is thought to be less durable and grows so readily that it is easy to pull down and use. IMAG0468But Austin has been using it in a vastly different way. He has chosen to use construction grade bamboo that has been cured using the same process as building lumber. The entire process creates a product strong enough for main support beams and beautiful enough to be a work of art. The process is far more complicated than I can even begin to explain, but trust me when I say, that building ain’t comin’ down.

However, there is still the stigma of poverty attached to the building material. After all, the students attending this school are among the poorest of the region. You don’t want to enhance the image of poverty-stricken students.

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The upper balcony railing uses the inside structure of the bamboo as the key design element.

So, Austin has created  bamboo architectural highlights by making the bamboo the minority features rather than the majority. For example, in the reception room, three walls are fine plaster over the bamboo substructure, and one wall (directly behind the desk) is highly varnished and slatted bamboo.

Truss.jpg

Exposed architectural highlights

Somewhere else the trusses are left exposed only enough to see the half round of the support beams. All of this comes together to make what could have been perceived as a poverty into a beautiful building that invites you in and makes you want to stay.

The windows are placed to capitalize on the breezes that move through the unfinished rooms, and the roof extends far enough to keep the rain off the outdoor walkway. The entire building is a marvelous blending of form and function. You can see the strength of the building in the exposed bamboo. It is still months from having it’s beauty layers applied, but to me, she already shines.

This is the first building of the proposed campus and will be occupied by the students of the upper two classes and the administration. It will have four classrooms, a combination library and computer lab, an administrative office, and a kitchenette and half bath.

School layout

Building layout

The rest of the campus will include a second building of classrooms that may have movable walls to open into a large auditorium, a bathroom building with a system that completely reclaims waste and processes it into usable water and compost for the plants.

The hope is, that like the lessons learned in the building, the building itself will be an education to the next generation of architects.


Follow the link below to see the daily video diary by the Random Acts team.

Dreams to Acts: 2016 | Daily Diary Day 3

Reflections on Day 2

Opening of the Saturday School

Today I learned that I will continue to help fund this project for as long as they need.  Why? Because I met the students of the Free High School – and they blew me away.

It felt awkward as we arrived – a group of all white women (and 2 men) tromping through the front gate looking more like tourists than humanly possible – wearing backpacks, carrying water bottles, wielding cameras. All I could think about was how much they must resent us as we walked around with wide eyes, mouths hanging open, and cameras clicking. I wondered if they thought of us as rich American intruders. Boy, was I wrong!

They welcomed us as emissaries for the funding that is making it easier for them to see their own dreams come true. Richard and Rosa at presentationThey saw us as eager to learn about them – their needs, their motivations, their dreams, their successes, their challenges. They were amazingly accepting, and they taught me many things.

Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned today:

The students range in age from young to working adult. I was seriously impressed with the teenaged girl who presented at the opening ceremony.  I believe she is in the last year of high school.  So self-assured, standing as tall as her five-foot frame would let her, holding the microphone with grace and ease. She was also in the English class I audited (for me it was a Spanish class – and I failed miserably) and was the only student who willingly volunteered to come to the front of the class to answer a question on the board.

Then there is the woman who stopped going to school in 6th grade because “she didn’t like it”. She works a full-time job from Monday to Friday, has children to care for, and must take the bus to get to the school. She wants to be a nurse.

There is a man in his 30s who has already attended the technical school (another part of the Free High School). He works every day with the trade he learned; now he wants to finish high school so that he will be “more successful.”

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A Random Acts volunteer playing hopscotch with a student’s little girl.

Then there are the kids playing in the courtyard – they are children of some of the students – accompanying their moms or dads because there is no one else to watch them during school time. They are not completely unsupervised (I think), but mom or dad is in class, hopefully not too distracted by what might be going on in the courtyard.

We were allowed to audit classes for a while.  Since my Spanish is less than nonexistent, I thought, “Sure! An English class sounds right up my alley!” Foolish me.  Good thing, a long time ago, I got over being the focus of laughter. The teacher was great – this student – not so much. The three girls I was asked to sit with and “help” with their English answers, couldn’t get a word out through the giggles, guffaws, laughs, and endless mirth.  Eventually, the teacher came over and saved my sorry butt.  They wanted to know what I did – so I told them (through the teacher’s translation) about being a special education teacher once, and now a health care partner.  They were so welcoming, so fun, so…not what I thought.

The students actually have a responsibility for their education as well. I learned they “payback” by going out into local villages to educate the residents about health and hygiene – checking that filtered water is stored safely to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.  They also function as an investigative unit – working to find children being sexually exploited.  The head of the school proudly shared a story of how, thanks to the efforts of their students, the police were able to recover two fifteen-year-old girls that had been kidnapped and were being taken to Costa Rica to be sold into prostitution.

My mind is blown.The force for change that is this school is astounding!

 

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The volunteer team in the school playground.

 

I would have liked to have the opportunity for them to ask questions of us.  I can only imagine what we could learn if we were the ones in the hot seat.

So whether of not, I am able to return with the team next year, I will be an avid fundraiser for this cause. Those touristy, geeky, awkward, uncomfortable volunteers who walked through the gates, left awed, amazed, floored, humbled, and committed to continue to help.


Follow the link to watch the Random Acts daily video diary:

Dreams to Acts: 2016 | Daily Diary Day 2