Thursday, January 19, 2012

Volunteering at PSF, part two

Here's part two of my rambling account of my time spent volunteering. If you missed part one, you can read it here.


I did a few days in the wood-yard, which was a good place to chill out and detox a bit. But I also got out into the community a bit. I spent an excellent day out at a school helping to put the finishing touches on a cafeteria. Mostly it involved cutting tiles in half using an angle grinder, barefoot and shirtless in the sun. Later a few of them got put onto the wall. The school itself was not tip top after the earthquake, with one of the larger buildings earning the condemned title. This meant that the school ran in the mornings for primary level and the afternoons for secondary. It’s not the ideal for the kid’s educations. Anyway, the cafeteria was a nice big space which was sorely needed at the school, and there were plans to provide nutritious lunches afoot when the building was complete, which will likely make a big difference to the quality of the kids’ lives.

One Saturday morning I had an interesting time teaching English to some local teenagers. I battled. I was lucky they were at an intermediate level or I would have been left high and dry. Mostly it just involved talking to them, which was interesting as I got to learn a little about their lives. There were also some activities which we got into, but I found them as difficult as the students. It made me realise that as far as languages go, English is very inconsistent and a little bit stupid sometimes. I have heard it called idiosyncratic before but I think that’s being a bit gentle. The problem I had was giving a legitimate and sensible reason as to why we speak English the way we do. “It’s just the way it is” wasn’t to inspiring for those I was trying to teach. If you speak English as your native tongue, I think you are very lucky you learnt it at an early age.

I spent a good few days helping to build a new wing of an existing hospital, which I really enjoyed. The project was known as ‘the French Hospital’ in PSF because the hospital we were at was originally set up by a French organisation. We were building a women’s wing consisting of several rooms. The structure was made out of brick with concrete pillars. While I was there bricklaying was underway and some pillars were also being poured. I helped with that.

To pour a concrete pillar, firstly a framework of re-bar (reinforcement bar) must be built. This involves four big metal poles sticking up out of the ground at the corners of a square, with many little squares attached at various heights around the initial poles. Form board (big planks, basically) is put around this structure (with ample space between the form board and re-bar) and the form-board is tied to the re-bar using wire. Then concrete is poured into the top. Air is removed using a machine called a vibrator. Innuendo was everywhere when the vibrator came out, providing many laughs. When the vibrator’s done its job there is no air left down there and the form boards are full, the pillar is left to set. When the concrete is set, the form boards are removed and we are left with a fresh shiny pillar.

I particularly enjoyed my time at the French Hospital as it was good manual labouring out in the sun and in the community. It felt good to do some physical work after so much time spent looking at the sights and practicing bottle-sized bicep curls. Concrete is bloody heavy stuff and passing up buckets of it above your head for a couple of hours certainly lets you know about it later in the day.

Those were the only projects I got onto at PSF. I also took a turn cooking, which was a surprisingly fun day. Cooking takes an entire day for four people. This is because you cook for everyone at PSF, usually about 70 or 80 people. We were a team of four lads, and none of us are going to give Gordon Ramsey a run for his money anytime soon. Things looked a bit bleak for the stomachs of everyone at PSF. The cooks get to choose what they cook which is a bit of pressure when it’s for so many. In the morning you go to the local market and buy all of the ingredients you need, with the allotted money you are given. The food markets are an experience in themselves and it’s a great way to see some of the local culture. It’s also fun to haggle over the price of food and generally have a mosey around.

Once you’ve got the food you need the four of you head back to PSF to start preparing and cooking the food. The trick to success with cooking for that many people is definitely to keep it simple and cook what you know. Even following these golden rules, we were under a lot of pressure to get everything ready on time. To make matters worse, I was frantically attempting to organise some sort of transport to get me to Santiago in time for my flight and had to go on a mission to the bus company at one stage (with no love; my new plan became wing it and hope, which sort of worked out). In the end it all worked out; our chicken pasta didn’t cause any deaths so I’d call it a success.

I got to participate in just a tiny fragment of the projects PSF initiates and gets involve with. A big one I missed was building modular houses. Apart from that, they also do things such as childcare, environmentally friendly fuels, houses made from bags of dirt, painting murals, building parks and gardens and other programmes designed to improve the lives of those living in Pisco. Something I really like about PSF was the way they were always looking for new ideas which they could implement to improve Pisco.

The whole place was amazing because it shows what people can do when they pull together. We’re communal animals, us humans, and we have the capacity to achieve great things when we’re in groups. To me, that’s what’s happening at PSF. I find it incredible that a bunch of regular people can get together and make a real and effective difference to the lives of those in need out of the goodness of their hearts. These people are often driven by enthusiasm and determination over expertise on their way to doing what’s needed. There aren’t necessarily  a whole lot of people with a lot of skills and experience in construction and that sort of thing out there, but everyone there has a red hot go and makes sure that what needs to be done gets done in order to make the community of Pisco a better place. And it works out, because these people make it work out. It just shows what people can do if they really want to and it was a great thing to be part of.

Stay tuned for part three, where I tell you all about the social scene at PSF. We go large!

1 comment:

  1. I did a day helping Habitat for Humanity build houses in Costa Rica, how you built the pillars sounds like how we built house walls, but the concrete was 1/3 concrete, 1/3 sand and 1/3 gravel and often they would remove the planks and the wall would just crumble, and they'd shrug and just start over again. Scary. Got to use a machete to cut planks though so that was cool :-)