But, what does it take to make a dream like this come true?
When I first went to López-Hernández, I wanted to create building teams, through which neighbors would help each other build their homes. I later realized that was not going to work (they lacked time, interest, etc.). So we decided that the best approach would be to train a “fixed” team of builders, so that they could build their own homes and share the knowledge later on... or make a living building for others. It has all been difficult, but we are hanging in there. Even though we are behind schedule, I am very satisfied with what we have achieved so far. It has become a give-and-take learning experience. We are all doing things to the best of our abilities. Only one of the guys has previous construction experience. They all have guts!Although I had seen a couple of earthbag building house projects and participated as a volunteer, doing minor earthbag construction (walls, kitchen), this is my first top-to-bottom house construction. After all that internet research, I figured one must jump into the river to learn how to get wet! I am learning a lot. I am thankful for that, and I am thankful to the people of the community and our sponsors for trusting me. I am also very thankful to all the people that are sharing their experiences and projects on the internet.
The money for materials comes from two “angels.” One is Michel Vial, a Swiss photographer who works in Chiapas and has a gallery. He figured that since he is making a living selling photos of the people from Chiapas, the least he could do was to support the construction of the Clinic (along with helping in many other ways). There is also Mercedes Ozuna, a very strong and determined activist - a woman of conviction. Together, they have come up with 19,000 pesos (US$1,600) for the materials. We’ve also got support from the county government to build the tin roof; 1,000 pesos from Fanny, a lady from Holland; and 500 pesos from another Swiss donor.
We are still about 14,000 pesos ($900 US) short of being able to finish properly. We need this money for the carpentry, drain, water tank, and other details. I trust we will get there. Please donate.
Even in dreams you cannot see the “dark side of the moon,” but here you can see the other side of the clinic!
For their labor, the community pays the workers 80 pesos per day (US$7). They work from 6:30 am to 1:30 pm with a half hour break. I normally work longer hours (preparing the carpentry elements, planning, detailing, etc). The community provides me with food and a place to sleep. They also support me with 2000 pesos per month (US$160) to pay my rent in town. I do not receive a salary.One of the main problems, if not the number one problem we are facing, is that people do not show up for work consistently. Some have crops and other issues to attend to, but it can be frustrating: I have not had a full team for a complete week, ever! The other major problem is of course money. Because many members do not cover their community fees, the community too often has no money to pay the laborers. I have lost two of the original team members because of this situation. Personally, I do not have money to replace or repair my cordless power drill and some other hand tools that are kaput.
Recycling Materials Before we started, I visited the junk-yard and got lots of goodies to make the tampers, sliders, and screens (a mesh to sort out the sand). I also got my hands on discarded pallets. I took them apart and built the windows and door forms out of them. It was a lot of work but it was “free” (click here to see how I did it). Getting the bags was a bit of a challenge. There are no suppliers in the area, and the cost of freight was too high to order them from elsewhere in Mexico. Also, since it was “harvesting season” and all farmers around the region use those poly-bags for their crops, the bags were expensive at the markets. My solution was to build myself a bicycle trailer in order to be able to go around all the bakery shops in town. I bought 50 pieces here, 75 pieces there, 100 at a third location, etc. The not-so-good thing is that I’ve got sugar bags and flour bags. The sizes differ a bit, but that’s the way it is. The rest of the materials were pretty easy after that. I also bought all my hand and power tools.
The Project I “borrowed” from the design of the project “the rocket and the rabbit hole,” but made major changes in the design. In the beginning, I wanted to include a dome in the design, but considering that it rains a lot here during the wet season, I decided against it. Having very limited resources has forced me to find creative solutions.
The design has three rooms. The circular one is 4 m (approximately 12 feet) in diameter. The two other rooms are 5.9 m x 3.6 m (approximately 15’ x 11’). Foundations are 45 cm deep, rubble trench. 15 cm gravel, and three rows of double bags also filled with gravel. Their will be a dry toilet outside. There will be a French drain on the perimeter.
One important issue about the design was also a cultural one. Even though circles are stronger and cheaper to build, the people of the community are more familiar with box housing. I tried to explain to them all the advantages of circular houses, but the looks on their faces told me “slowly, Cato...slowly.” I decided that it was best to introduce a couple of rounded corners and a circular room, combined with square corners and rectilinear walls.
Also, since one of my goals was to show them what can be done with what is available on site, we used only local materials. For example, all the stone for the outside floor and protecting the outer wall come from the nearby river. Also, we only use supplies available at nearby hardware shops.
Right now, I am in a town (San Cristobal de las Casas), 80 Km away from the community), learning how to make good quality, attractive, inexpensive arc-windows. I always love to learn new things!
For the walls, we have used:
- About 22 pallets for all the windows and door frames - About 1,600 bags. Only the ones for the windows and door arcs are lime stabilized, the rest just wet dirt from site - 6 rolls of barbed wire - 5 rolls of twine cord - 5 kg of construction wire - 6 kg of 2” nails - 50 m of nylon sheet - 50 m2 for the earth floor - Half a roll of chicken wire net (20 m x 0.9 m)
For the tin roof, we have used:
- 47 sheets (3.6 m x 0.85 m) of corrugated tin - 5 sheets (3.6 m x 0.85 m) of corrugated translucent sheets - 32 rafters (6 m x 0.1 m x 0.1 m) - 40 pieces of timber (4 m x 0.08 m x 0.04 m) - 2 kg of construction wire - 8 kg of 5” nails - 5 kg of 3” nails