As the dry season winds down, Long Way Home is gearing up for a productive summer. We are currently more than halfway through with construction of the first three of eight primary classrooms. Using a method called "superadobe," LWH crew and volunteers are sifting, mixing, hauling and tamping modified dirt into polypropylene tubing to form dome-shaped rooms for our students. In an earthquake region, stability is key. Barbed wire is laid between each course to further reinforce these buildings. Once the shells of the building are complete, we will be able to spend the rainy season working on finishes and preparing the buildings for the 2014 academic year.
We would be unable to move forward with our project without generous donations of time and money. In addition to several stellar individual volunteers, we recently hosted two awesome groups: FIU's Hillel Student Group and Living Waters. Choosing to spend their spring break engaged in service rather than vacationing, these young men and women put many sweaty hours into supporting our team in laying the foundation for the three classrooms. This group was amazing and full of spunk!
Living Waters for the World is a program of the Shenandoah Presbytery of Virginia and has partnered with over 500 organizations worldwide to provide clean water and training in communities with contaminated water sources. Their aim is to remove bacteria, parasites and similar disease-causing organisms and therefore improve health. In April the groups spent eight days installing the filtration system at our school complex and training the staff, teachers and students in operation and maintenance of the equipment. The clean water will serve as an income source for the school in addition to ensuring our children are drinking and brushing their teeth with free, clean water.
In addition to our online fundraising campaigns, Long Way Home is occasionally able to visit our supporters and partners in the United States. In April our Executive Director and I drove nearly 4,000 miles meeting with universities and groups in Oregon, California, Arizona and Colorado and attending events hosted by volunteers and board members. It is such a treat to re-connect with folks who are engaged with the project from afar. The opportunity to share our mission with new friends is energizing as well! Hearing the gasps and exclamations that accompany our slideshow really reminds us that we are turning trash into treasure.
A warm thank you for the donations of time, money, raffle items, lodging and event space. Without the generosity of people, both old friends and new, we would not be as successful as we are!! It is a pleasure to work on your behalf for the community of San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala.
My name is Lars Battle and I’m currently living and working with Long Way Home in Guatemala after serving on its board of directors for four years from 2007 – 2011. I served in the Peace Corps in 2002 and 2003 alongside LWH’s founder, Matt Paneitz, and our construction manager extraordinaire, Adam Howland, where I was personally tasked with organizing community development councils in villages in the northwestern highlands. I have spent time on the ground here in San Juan Comalapa on four separate occasions since then, and with each experience, my departure has left me wanting more of this innovative project. So I am here to stay this time, presently serving as an honorary LWH staff member.
We find ourselves in the midst of the dry season, a particularly productive time of year for a variety of reasons. Working with on-site dirt is a large part of what we do here and the dry soil is essential for packing rammed-earth tires, and certainly helpful for clearing and leveling land for new structures to be erected. Additionally, this time of year brings us groups of college and graduate students using their winter break to support projects like ours. We recently welcomed a group of 14 graduate-level architecture students from the University of Colorado in Denver followed by a group of 20 George Washington University undergraduates, each group spending a week or more working tirelessly on the project.
The CU-Denver group dedicated their time to the design and construction of an octagonal bamboo frame for a trash bottle structure that will serve as part of the volunteer/intern facility on the property. The GW crew packed tires around the same structure, filled cracks in the mud roof of Aula 0 and helped to dig out the bottom of the massive tire cistern at the top of the property.
After years of experience, our Guatemalan work crew is well accustomed to working with international volunteers. It’s a pleasure to observe and to be a part of the camaraderie and cultural exchange between the workers and the revolving door of volunteers. The crew is now putting the finishing touches on Aula 0, building the bottle walls at the bamboo structure and finishing the preparation work for the upcoming Earthship building workshop that begins next week. This will be a highlight of my stay thus far and the anticipation in the air is palpable right now. We are hosting over 60 international volunteers and the Earthship crew from Taos, NM for a 3 week, start-to-finish build of a simple survival Earthship home for a local family. It will be a special learning experience for everyone involved.
Central to LWH’s mission is the educational aspect of our project. We are pleased to announce that school began this week, on January 14th, and we now have four teachers in four finished classrooms, teaching students ranging from preschool to the 5th grade. Whether singing in unison in their classrooms or giggling during recess, the students are a delight to have around. I am working closely with the Técnico Maya school Director and administrators to make sure that the school year is a successful one.
Please visit our website to receive the latest news from San Juan Comalapa, and please support our efforts so that our progress in the latter portion of this school construction project maintains its strong pace.
As the Director of Administration, my involvement with Long Way Home has been long but remote; I’m a founding member and I have spent the past 7 years handling LWH’s state-side operations…until recently. After many years of short visits to our project site in Guatemala I finally had the opportunity to be in-country for a nice long stretch. October marks my sixth month as an in-country team member with Long Way Home and I couldn’t be more pleased with my new office!
As we slowly slip from the rainy season into the dry season, it is a beautiful sunny day here in the western highlands of Guatemala. Everything is green and lush, the surrounding fields are teaming with crops awaiting harvest, and the rains have provided much needed nourishment as well as music to fall asleep to under the rhythmic drumming on a tin roof. Of course, work marches on, even in the rains, and so much has happened over the past few months; the changes are evident while strolling around the constructions site.
Most recently as been our continued work on Aula 0, which as some of you may know, took a hit earlier this year as a result of some untimely, unseasonably heavy rainfall. While our structure, which had not yet been fitted with the complete water deferment system, took a beating, our spirits did not! After a little regrouping we have made steady progress towards its completion. Aula 0 marks the first of 9 buildings that are Phase II of our construction of the school campus. This structure will become the art lab for our students and we are extremely excited about the way Aula 0 is shaping up.
Newly outfitted with a second floor, Aula 0 sports a variety of glass bottles, beautiful bamboo work, and enough aluminum cans to have earned the nickname “Aula de latas” (classroom of aluminum cans)…which makes us smile! While there is still plenty of work to be done before the art lab is complete, we are making progress daily and it is amazing to see how much can change from day to day.
Another big change that has been unfolding over the past month has been the beautification of the vocational buildings. We all love the fact that our school is being constructed out of trash and part of our goal is to make sure that people recognize that trash can be made into something beautiful. We also want our kiddos to have a fun and pretty place to learn. To that end we have been busy adding the little touches that make this one of the prettiest construction sites I have ever seen.
Our vocational buildings have received some “blush and lipstick” that has transformed the tire structures into works of art….literally. The process has been accomplished with the help of many volunteers and the artistic skills of Magdaleno, one of LWH’s Guatemalan crew members. The vocational buildings reflect elements of the rich Mayan culture of our community, educational aides in the form of maps of Guatemala and a portion of the globe, and stunning glimpses of birds, flowers, crops, and tools that are ever present in the day to day activities of our work.
Visit us on site and you will witness a hustle and bustle that seems to never end….even when the work day is done. Our team invests countless hours cultivating new ways to utilize what others have tossed aside as worthless; we thrive on the challenge, we enjoy the thrill of pushing the envelope and we take pride in innovative results. It is really fulfilling to finally be on-site to see, first hand, all of the elements in play, working together to move toward a common vision….and a very beautiful one at that!
PS - In August we hosted a film crew from Germany's Deutsche Welle. Click on the link below to view the segment.