Thanks to a stirling effort by Bullfrogs nightclub in Cusco, a few thousand soles were raised from one of their nights to put towards the efforts of Hogar de Los Niños del Sol (Home of the Children of the Sun), a project founded and run by Carlos Gibaja Tapia. Priorities for Carlos were to create a covered communal space for the homeless members of the Sacred Valley communities to be able to cook and eat, providing an end-point for the foodlines that he had already been set up. Solutions for housing would be shortly to follow, replacing the crowed Ministry of Defense tents that had been distributed in limited amounts around the affected communities. Thanks to connections with Leander, founder of the UK charity MySmallHelp that was acting with Carlos to recieve donations from overseas, our presence was requested to assist with the building of a comedor, or cantina.
We met Carlos early on Saturday morning and shot down into the Valley in a hired truck to pick up some wood to build the frame of the design that he had been drawing up over the previous couple of days. A straightforward timber frame affair with tarpaulin sheet walls and a corrugated plastic roof, it wasn’t going to win any design awards, but it was relatively cheap, quick to put up and apparently very durable. A similar design had been installed in a community a few years back and was still standing to date.
We arrived in the community and got to work straight away, the community members levelling out an empty patch of ground with picks and shovels, shoring up the downhill side of the plot with stones. Throughout the day I was very impressed with the skill that the locals showed in everything they did, shaving paper thin layers off wooden beams with unwieldy picks and knocking 7″ nails into wood with a couple of blows after I’d bent a handful trying to do the same job, cursing for all I was worth.
Lou, Carlos, the locals and I worked together for about 3 hours until a couple of trucks rolled up stuffed with volunteers from Bullfrogs and a Cusco-based social project that Lou worked for, Aldea Yanapay. Despite the enthusiasm of the volunteers, there were more hands than tools and tasks and progress actually slowed for a while as people charged around the crowded plot trying desperately to find ways to assist.
Eventually a debris clearing operation was found a little further down the valley and half the mob left in the trucks topull building materials out of flattened houses. The pace of work picked up again, and soon the comedor was taking shape, as Lou and I committed our efforts to make a table for the comedor. After our cheerful construction of a frame that could only be described as ‘functional’, idle locals descended upon our efforts to finish the job, resulting in a pretty decent looking piece of furniture.
We finished the comedor in about 8 hours of solid work, and as night fell the last nail was hammered into place. The structure was christened with a meal from the food which had the result of donations from two lovely Americans, George and Kathy; simple but wholesome fodder of noodles, potatoes and meat. Beer bottles arrived to toast the efforts of the construction crew, and by the light of the single bulb suspended from the rafters of the roof, Carlos thanked all present for their efforts and instructed them to make the most of their new facility.
It was a fascinating experience in which to be involved, and very interesting to see the interaction of volunteers with the work effort of the locals; there’s a great deal to be said for striking the balance between helping aid recipients to build their own facility, but giving them the lead in taking ownership of the resource that should be theirs for years to come.