La Piedra, Dominican Republic

Our first working day at Guanin stands out as my favorite of the entire trip. We had divided into three teams the night before with the understanding that we would rotate to all teams throughout the trip. I started out on the water team. I expected to help with a few water tests as Severino, the director of Guanin, had written to us about a water system that was no longer fully functional. However, we were taken to another site to install a new well. A bore hole was already drilled through layers of limestone, most of the equipment was already on site, and a team of locals lead us through the process.

They informed us that the well was 100 feet deep, plus a little extra. Apparently, the hole was drilled until they hit water and then they went a little further. Once the depth of the water was confirmed, we cut slits into the bottom five feet of the pipe to allow water to flow into the pipe more quickly. While these slits are usually lines cutting into both sides about a third of the distance through the pipe, the leaders wanted to make it even easier for water to get in and prevent calcification from closing the slits by cutting gaping holes. We unsuccessfully tried to dissuade them but managed a slight compromise. The slits were widened rather than turned into holes.

With the slits cut it was time to assemble the pipe. This was quite a feat. The pipes were about 20 feet long and had to stand straight in the air to be glued to the next pipe. All the while, the pipe in the hole was growing longer, and heavier and heavier but still had to be held up. The locals brilliantly rigged a rope to help support the weight while additional pipes were added on. My contribution was painting a purple glue on both sides of the pipes.

With the larger pipe in place to protect the well, it was time to install the well itself. As it disappeared into the larger pipe, a small pipe was fitted to the end of it. More small pipes were added to lift the water to the surface. More glue was needed and my hands turned a distinct purple.

With the well in place, we paused our work to eat a delicious lunch prepared by the neighborhood. All morning we saw dishes arriving at the house. Now we tasted their delights.

After lunch, we helped the crew pour a cement foundation around the well. The cement serves a double purpose. It protects the well from polluted water runoff and prevents an enterprising passerby from stealing it. We weren’t able to pump any water on the first day since the transformer still needed to be installed. The local men had begun pulling the hundreds of pounds of metal up a wooden electric pole with a myriad of ropes and a pully but lowed it back down after the pole began teetering. They decided to install it on a cement poll a little further down the road. While Carlos secured it in place after considerable work, the wires on hand weren’t long enough to connect it to the pump.

We relaxed for a few minutes on the porch with a refreshment, then we noticed coconuts being cut down from the tree. Carlos was chopping the ends into a point with his machete and then cutting a hole just wide enough to drink out of. Fresh coconut milk abounded. After drinking the milk, he made another sharp swift motion with the machete to cut the coconut in two. Then he cut off a sliver of the side for us to use as a spoon as we scooped out the flesh. The first few coconuts held more of a jelly. Later on a few more closely resembled the drier coconut flesh we usually eat in the States. Before long a few more buses full of other volunteers arrived. It was the perfect ending to a hard day’s work.

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, people standing, tree and outdoor

Melody Metivier Jones

Azacillo, Bolivia

As an International Security Studies major with a focus in Latin American Studies, I was thrilled to go on a trip to Bolivia, a country that I had lived in previously for nearly 7 years. It is incredible how our minds manage to remember select pieces of information from our past; sometimes forgetting about the poverty and immense differences in culture we face in a developing country.

Azacilo, Bolivia was dizzying. At almost 14,000 feet, my lungs, heart and body were prepared to collapse. Even a seasoned athlete would breathe heavily and feel the effects here. My team was crucial to making my survival a success. Although I ended up taking home pneumonia as a souvenir, I never imagined the WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Health), as well as general life skills I would also gain.IMG_4603

Our team of 3 students went to this community with the organization Engineers in Action. The community, Azacilo was a 4-hour drive from La Paz, the country’s capital and hospital might I add. We went on an assessment trip through the College of Engineering course, Immersion Experience taught by Dr. Chamberlain. Let me reiterate, I am an International Security major and not an engineer in any sense of the form. I have zero applied engineering experience but traveled on this trip as the official Spanish translator. When we arrived to the community, I immediately remembered how many amenities we take for granted on a daily basis, specifically our access to electricity, restrooms, showers and other general commodities. The trip was a true test of my strengths as a person, leader and ability to adapt in changing environments. Although Azacilo community members had access to clean water, which is a major portion of WASH, they do not have daily access to the personal hygiene protocols that most Americans have. Showers were generally taken weekly, after working 7 days for 14 hours daily in the fields planting potatoes. Money is rarely used, currency is literally useless in Azacilo; there is not one shop to spend your money in the community. With 26 families on the side of a mountain, you’d think there may be a small bodega but there is nothing. The closest place to spend your money is a one and a half hour drive to Achacachi. The people of Azacilo live their lives planting potatoes and harvesting beans to trade in exchange for clothes and essentials like rice and flour. Eating potato soup for 3 weeks was very difficult for me, because in reality it tasted like dirt, but there is no other option for these people, they know nothing different. Retirement isn’t an option, as the subsistence farming lifestyle requires you to work until you essentially die.

IMG_5609.JPG

This experience was incredibly humbling and heartbreaking all in one. Each day I reflected on my experiences and I could have cried every day, seeing how these people live compared to my own life back home. The many conversations I had where community members offered me to marry their children, bring their babies to America or even stay in Azacilo to live with them warmed my heart but also broke it at the same time. What really impacted me was that after 3 weeks I would be returning home and the community’s life would return to normal, with no foreigners and no differences aside from the small impact we made. Our time spent working to analyze their soil, water and conduct a community survey was in reality just the requirements for our trip. The trip gave me the opportunity to connect with people I would not have otherwise gotten to talk to and learn about a world unlike anything I could actually imagine.

This trip, which was not explicitly Sooners without Borders sanctioned trip, was the experience of a lifetime. These culturally enriching trips teach you skills you never thought you’d learn about WASH, yourself and the world at large. Never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and go somewhere thousands of miles away with a foreign culture, different language and unfamiliar issues. Take the leap and let yourself gain experience for the future, which you can apply towards many of life’s situations.

IMG_5484.JPG

Saskia Romero

Community Service & Fundraising Chair

 

 

Azacillo, Bolivia

Bolivia = Joy!

What is joy? For me, joy is in making something that was once a vision, a reality.  Bolivia was that kind of joy. Completing the trip, I don’t feel like I have accomplished something big or great. I didn’t feel proud of myself. But, I felt joyful. Joyful for the fact that I have learned everything that I expected myself to learn and accomplished everything I expected myself to accomplish.

I learned about kindness. From receiving free dinners when we were stranded without definite lodging to getting help from the community when our truck got stuck in a ditch, I realized that kindness comes in all shapes and sizes. I learned about the importance of being positive. From getting good vibes from our driver, Juan, even in the most stressful of situations, to the hospitality of the EIA’s office staff and interns, I realized that being positive is not only important for international developmental works, it is also an essential life skill. I learned how to ignore/confront people. From getting laughed at for doing/saying something different to receiving negative vibes from people, I realized that the more and more it happens, the easier I can ignore/confront them.

Even before the trip, I knew I had to prepare myself for the worst. And the things that we encountered during the trip are not that far from this benchmark. Sometimes it is very hard to find positivity in these events. But, I did try my best. Positivity was what allowed me to truly enjoy the immersion experience. I could list all of the scientific tasks that we did, but those are not the most memorable things. Neither is the view. As awesome as the view was, the more you see it, the more ordinary it gets. When we were here in Norman, we were always so excited to talk about it. But, when I was in country, I started to overlook it. Instead, I believe that the memories of the people and the events that happened are what will stick in my head forever.

I realized, in the end, that people are just people. They laugh, they cry, they get annoyed. Some will be mean to you. Others will treat you with kindness. They are not just human figures that you can only contemplate on postcards and not be able to connect. Because, honestly, they are just people. So, if you go out there, don’t go for the view. Go for the experience. Don’t be afraid to talk to people (even if you only know a few words in their language). Don’t be afraid to let them know you. Be positive. Because it doesn’t matter where you’ll end up, stuff will always happen. So, be positive!

– Tien Nguyen

 

Apwoyo, Uganda

To embark on a 3 week long journey to a continent you’ve never visited where the culture, language, and issues vary greatly from your own may seem like a nightmare to some. Going into the Uganda Service Learning Program, I had little experience to draw from other than the courses I’d taken in WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Health) related subjects. This was going to be a real test of whether I could put the practices I’d read about into action.

Our group of 19 students took a multidisciplinary approach to researching Gulu, Uganda and surrounding villages that included engineering, education, entrepreneurship, architecture, and city planning aspects. In partnership with Sister Rosemary and the other Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Uganda, I was a part of the team assembled to focus on the engineering aspects of Water Sanitation and Health. In partnership with Sister Rosemary and the other Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Uganda, we interviewed community members about their water sources and what they thought some of the biggest problems were. It was immediately apparent that, here in the States, we take so much for granted that many people throughout the rest of the world don’t have access to. From women having to sleep in line over night to ensure they get water for their families the next day, to the gender roles that rely heavily on women and children to bear the brunt of water related chores, every day was a learning experience in terms of water related issues and culture difference. Where we can simply turn on the tap and have access to clean drinkable water, many people in Uganda and other parts of the world walk several kilometers multiple times per day to access questionable water at best. You can read about these situations day in and day out, but it doesn’t really hit you until you see an entire village using water from the same unprotected well that many also get sick from.

Some of the hardest and most rewarding days while in Uganda were one in the same. Speaking with the residents of various villages in northern Uganda struck an emotional chord, but gave us a better look at the daily lives of the people there so that we were better equipped to brainstorm solutions at the end of the day. The most difficult thing going into this trip was knowing that in 3 short weeks we would be on a plane back home, and that no matter how much work we did it would still feel like we needed to do more. I imagine this feeling isn’t uncommon, but the important thing for me to remember was that I could take that feeling as motivation to continue doing more water and development projects and supporting others who will do the same, as well as continuing those that we’ve started and following up on their progress and status.

When development work fails, many times it is due to a lack of community input on the projects that would best serve the community as a whole. This trip to Uganda was largely one in which we worked to gain insight into the daily workings of local communities, and to establish a relationship of trust and respect to find solutions to some of the issues community members deemed most important. We could have come in and began any project we thought might be necessary, but having that local input guarantees not only that the community feels they were listened to and that they are getting what they need, but it helps ensure that the projects will last.

While I learned so much about walking distance to water, bilharzia, malaria, and other dangers that many developing countries face with their water sources, I also learned about the numerous viable options for the future. With a grant form the Norman Rotary Club, we were able to put $5000 towards supplies for rainwater harvesting systems and storage tanks to lessen the burden of water demand for St. Monica’s Tailoring School in Gulu. Helping Sister Rosemary achieve a goal of hers for her school, which helps hundreds of young women each school year empower themselves, is a fantastic feeling. So while embarking on a 3 week long journey to a place you’ve never been has its challenges, it is singlehandedly the number one experience I would recommend to anyone. You learn more than you ever could in a classroom, you meet some of the most incredible people this world has to offer, and you have memories and experiences you can draw from for the rest of your life (it all sounds so terribly cliché, but it’s 100% the truth). All I have to say is apwoyo (thank you), Uganda!

While this trip was not explicitly tied to Sooners Without Borders, it definitely followed the principles and helped set an example for what our future trips with SWB will be all about: making a positive impact with sustainably-minded projects and useful development work.

So if you’re even thinking about a trip like this….GO.

This was the pilot trip for the Uganda Service Learning Program, so if you’re interested contact OU Education Abroad to get involved with the next trip to Uganda!

Andrea Laws