ImageWeek 2: I was back home and back to my normal schedule but the work was still progressing. This week we had to hire local laborers to do the work as the volunteer students all went back to school and could no longer help on the jobsite. At first we did not think we would have the workers we needed but word got out and workers showed up more than willing to work. Wayne and Ulises both stayed on site that week to ensure the progress with the construction. 

This week the Super Adobe Vault style house was finally starting to take shape as the roofs were formed, the floor was formed, electrical put in place and walls were stuccoed and painted. By the end of the week the windows and doors were on sit to be put in place and additional bags were on hand to finish forming the exterior houses.

The hired workers did their best to get the house to a point where Alvaro (father of the family receiving the house) could finish the rest to his liking to officially make the house theirs. Upon Wayne's return home after that week of work we met for lunch to discuss the project in detail. He brought a gift the children of the school had made for me which I humbly accepted. One last gift he was able to provide was the discussion we had about the appreciation shown by Alvaro and his family shown on Wayne's final day down there. Wayne described him as almost coming to tears for being so appreciative of the work we had done and new housing we had provided for his family even though we are stranger from another country!

ImageGetting to know the family and people in general was a very humbling experience that one can only expect to experience by seeing it first hand! The thought never came across my mind that I would ever be part of a project like this but I am very grateful for the experience. Our plan is to continue the work and continue building similar houses for the families in this community year after year. In addition to that our goal over the next year is to provide a water well for this community because it is desperately needed and in their words "Agua Es Vida"... Water Is Life! With water they can do anything!

Check out all the build pictures in the Jose Santos photo album!


ImageDays 6 - 7: These were the last two days of my trip down there and not much work was done on my part as day 6 was Sunday and all the workers including me were given the day off and day 7 was a Monday and the day I spent traveling back home. Before my trip home we were able to visit the work site one last time and also took the time out to visit the students at the Emiliano Zapata who sent me off with a heart felt farewell!

After the days of hard work and traveling we were finally at the end of the first week of the build and we had accomplished a lot according to our construction leader Ulises. The roof forms were in place and the walls were as high as they could be for the super adobe we were building. The jobsite was left untouched as it was Sunday and everyone got the day off to recoup for the following week of work. The children volunteers also had to prepare to return back to school as there 3 week long Easter break was over which eliminated most of our volunteers and generated the need to hire local workers for the following weeks worth of work. We spent most of the day recuperating, washing up and catching up on the busy work we weren't able to get to because of the hectic work week. It was a nice day to relax and enjoy some downtime in the city of Matehuala. 

Throughout the whole week I was down there, there was a Dulce Festival (Candy Festival) taking place in the plaza just outside the hotel. This Sunday was the final day of the festival and throughout the day the plaza was being set up for a live band that was performing that evening. That morning we also woke up to loud fireworks which the local church was setting off to commemorate the end of the festival and Easter holiday. The days worth of celebration felt like a going away party for me and a celebration for the work we have done and I made sure to enjoy the whole experience. Walking around the plaza, enjoying the many sweet treats they had to offer, trying my best to speak Spanish to converse with the local people, taking in the concert and enjoying the night as a whole as my time down there was winding down and I was soon to turn home.

ImageThe final day was surreal! My bags were packed and loaded and for the last time we sat down for breakfast and discussed the plan for the week ahead. We finished up and I said my last good byes to the hotel staff which I had gotten to know over the week and headed out to the jobsite one last time. We were on site for a short period of time and then headed over to the school to meet with the children before I left. When we got to the school we were quickly taken around and shown all the great things this little school has accomplished and continues to strive for year after year. It was impressive and amazing. To be the number 1 school in the entire country of Mexico is phenomenal and the fact that they are able to accomplish it with only 2 official teachers year after year is unbelievable!

As we were headed to the vehicle for the 2 hour trip to the airport the children surprised us with a dancing performance to showcase their appreciation for the work we are doing for their community. They quickly got into the best dancing clothes and fell into line to start the performance. After completing the 1st dance and receiving cheers from Wayne and I they prepared for and showcased 1 more dance for our viewing pleasure. All of the students were in tune, well organized and did a wonderful job dancing and performing for us. When we thought it was all over there was 1 last dance which Wayne and I were invited to participate in. Not being able to say no we both fell in line and did our best to keep rhythm or some what of a rhythm in Wayne's case! Then... the dancing was over, I was sweating from trying to keep up and my hips were getting sore as the dance moves were not something I was use to doing. 

ImageAs a group they expressed the gratitude one last time and ran to each of us and gave both Wayne and I a group hug something we will never forget! A great way to cap off the entire week. The people opened up their home and lives to us outsiders and making the connection to do good for this community has and will benefit me in more ways than I can imagine!

ImageDay 5: My last day on the job site and going along with the traditional Mexican work schedule the plan was only to work until noon so that is just what we did! The half day of work did work out to our benefit as Wayne and I had a meeting at 1 pm with the El Vaquero village leaders to discuss their need for a water well and the benefits it could bring to their community.

The day started off with great anticipation as we were near the point of putting the forms in place to form the roof. A few more bags had to be laid to get the walls to a specific height wee needed to put the roof forms in place. We finally were able to utilize the arch forms and rebar that had been laying around on the job site for the last week an now was ready to be put in place. We quickly grabbed the arcs and footings to assemble them together and put them in to place. Before you knew it the arcs were in place and we finally got an idea of how the top of the structure was going to look. At that moment we realized the arcs are assembled wrong and weren't lining up. Realizing what we thought we needed to do we brought them down and made the adjustment. Then we had to make sure it was level all the way around which took some doing and learning on the fly.

ImageMessing with the roof forms took a big part of the morning and before we knew it the work day was over. After a quick lunch we headed over to the community building to prepare for our meeting with the village leaders. A few of the volunteer workers stayed behind to figure out the roof form puzzle! There was no one to be found when we went to the meeting place but it wasn't long before a local family spotted us and invited us to wait in the shade by them while offering us coke and a corn bread like cake to consume! We sat there and through our translator Andres, we were able to make acquaintances and learn a little about each other. They knew who Wayne was and that he was there to help so they brought up a lot of the needs the community and the families have to see what they could get out of this generous man. 

The leaders finally arrived and were able to begin to sit down and discuss their need for water. In short... "Agua Es Vida" Water is life! With water they can do anything and that was the attitude they all had throughout the entire discussion. Through Wayne and our Rotary organization our goal over the next year or so is to  build a well for this community to give the access to water that they can use to their benefit in more ways than one.

ImageAfter our meeting they walked us around to a few of the local houses to show us the way they live and their areas of need. Trying to compare their little houses to a typical house here in the U.S. is completly unfair yet they seem much more happier and grateful for what they do have. We took our notes and had our discussion but we had to leave to check on the progress of the build. When we got back to the job site we were surpised to see that the roof form puzzle was figure out and put into place.


ImageDay 4: After a nice shower, a night of rest, and a good breakfast I was ready for the 4th day of work. I did also try to rehydrate as best as I could by drinking electrolytes and water the night before which helped out a lot.

The night before was also when I was able to finally establish contact with a Rotary Club in the city of San Luis Potosi that I had been trying to reach months before taking the trip. We originally communicated through email but they wanted to talk to me over the phone which I tried to do but ran into difficulty trying to make the international call. Long story short we were able to finally reach one another and they invited me to a fellowship Bar B Q they were having the next day and after figuring out the logistics I accepted the invitation and made arrangements to visit them at their luncheon. Our interpreter Andres recommended that I bring a gift of traditional candies so we arranged for him to pick it up on his way home to have ready for our meeting the following day.

ImageThere we were back on the work site continuing where we left off building up the walls to get to the next phase of the project. Before you knew it we got into a rhythm again and were filling bags in record time... well at least for us! We were a little light handed though because for some reason a few of the volunteer workers did not show up but that was not for long. Of in the distance we herd chanting in almost a military fashion and in the haze of the heat rose a large group of students we were running over to the job site to visit us and take care of their physical education for the day at the same time! They all came and greeted us and were fascinated about everything that was going on.

After our introduction and a lesson of the whole build process to the students from Ulises, America the teacher quickly set the young boys to lend a hand and start working. The young girls were put to work doing other smaller tasks soon after. All these little hands hard at work and all I should do was watch and lead when the guidance was needed.

ImageBut that day my time there was short as I had to go back to my room to clean up and take the 2 hour drive to San Luis Potosi  to meet with the local Rotary Club. Taking the 2 hour trip to and from was well worth as I was quickly welcomed in and served delicious food and drink and immediately felt the Rotary spirit that I knew so well back here in the U.S. This group was fantastic and with the help of our interpreter Andres we were able to establish a relationship between our 2 club which we plan to utilize for future project down there in San Luis Potosi Mexico.

By the time we got back it was late but we were able to still have dinner with Wayne and Ulises we were just sitting down after working all day at the job site. That night, having hamburger withdrawals, I gave in and ordered one for dinner despite the delicious Mexican food I should have been enjoying! There we sat discussing the latest info and progress and planed to the day ahead! 

ImageDay 3: All the hard work from the last 2 days was starting to catch up to me as blisters were formed, hang nails were starting to multiply and the calluses were stiffening up and the work day had not even begun yet. This day was by far the hardest day of the trip as everything that had been bothering me pain wise was doubled by end of the day after the amount of work that we had accomplished. I was also not consuming enough water as I thought I was because later on in the day I started to develop arm and leg cramps and had little strength to do much of anything. But I pushed through and the crew of high school students was right there to pick up the slack whenever it was needed! Not enough can be said about their willingness to lend a hand helping families in their community and even leading the way at times throughout the project during my time down there.

ImageWe continued our progress of filling and stacking which with the surrounding heat, took its toll on our strength but we persevered! As we got higher on the stacks of bags we learned a different technique filling them and compacting as it was more convenient versus the way we were doing it when we were closer to the ground. The new process was filling the bag a little bit to get your starting point. Then we would place that partially filled bag on the top stack where it is being placed. We would stand on the top stack and fill the bag shovel by shovel resting it on our leg and utilizing gravity to help compact the material. As the bag filled higher and climbed up our leg we would take a step back and lay the bag. We then continue the process until the bag was complete. 


This was great and less tire some the method we used when closer to the ground! But later on in the day after filling numerous amounts of bag the lye in the cement mix and the plastic from the bag material started to scratch and burn my leg which was very uncomfortable to the point where I could not do it anymore. Luckily it was almost quitting time and once again the young crew was right there to pick up the slack and finish off the day. At that point also the cramps that were developing in my arms made it very difficult to continue picking up the heavy material! 

ImageI was beat and it showed! For the last hour of the work day I worked in a daze trying to manage the pain and help any way I could! Then, it was done! The day was over! We just had some minor cleaning up to do and were going to head back for some much needed rest. Then I thought why not take a picture with the crew! So I quickly did my best to get everyone around the site in an action pose and grabbed the youngest daughter Lupita to take a picture of all of us which she was happy to do after learning how to operate the tablet. We posed and waited for her to say "Bueno" to let us know the picture had been taken, but she never did and we soon realized that she had taken the picture.... and an additional 15 just to be safe!!! Then with the little energy I had left I asked her for a picture and she gracefully said yes and the smile on her face mad the whole days pain and hard work worth wile which was a moment that made the whole trip!

ImageWell... we have officially participated in our first ever international project and boy was it a good one. From the time I went down there until the time I got back the first week of the project got off to a great start. Below will be a weekly break down of the day by day activities of my week down there along with a few pictures to show the build progression. You can view the full timeline of photos in the Build a Dream/Joes Santos photo album.

Day 2: Started off good as everyone seemed to be on track from what they learned from the day before. We definitely had a better idea of what we needed to accomplish and slowly but surely the entire work group got on the same page. This day Wayne and I were equipped with handkerchiefs hanging from our hats as we quickly learned from the day before that even though we had sun block on the sun was not very friendly to our ears and neck. It was a big help and helped protect us as we worked all day under the hot Mexican site.

Us as the leaders of the project made the decision to start working and have everyone one site around 9 am and by then you could already feel the heat of the sun which we then figured to start earlier around 8 am to try and stay cool longer. The area being surrounded by mountains it took time before the sun peaked which kept it pretty cool but as soon as it crested the ridge the heat was on! Consuming water was a must and I did have a water bottle on hand but it definitely was not enough. Luckily the family of Jose Santos provided a 5 gal jug of bottled water that we all shared from throughout the day to try and stay hydrated. What was interesting is that I was drinking way more water than anyone else but they didn't seem to be as thirsty as I was, at least not for the water. As soon as the group was presented with soda they were all more than willing to partake. I of course indulged but preferred to drink the water!

ImageBefore we knew it the day was in full swing! The masons were mixing cement to constantly fill the wheel barrels which were wheeled over to where 2 groups of us who were filling and stacking the bags as fast as we could. Leaders started to emerge for the group of student laborers as they were quick to realize what needed to be done and took the initiative to do the work or dictate others to do so in addition to taking on the harder task of compacting the material while stacking the bag. Lay a bag, compact it and then lay the barbed wire for the next bag... repeat... repeat... repeat! The house was beginning to take shape. As the walls got higher we had to tying them in to one another which we did by putting "U" shaped barbed wire to connect the interior and buttress walls that were stacked side by side for support. By the end of the day we had stacked and filled just over 20 bags which was double what we did the day before. We were all very proud and tired at the same time but still willing to come back the next day to continue the work.

ImageEach day Yolandra, mother of the family, would prepare lunch for us which was always a delight. It usually consisted of rice and beans, home made tortillas and one more item like meat, nopales (cactus) or scrambled eggs w/hotdogs and was always very tasty and filling. She was more than willing to provide us with more food than we needed but we had to limit ourselves as we still had work to do the rest of the afternoon and didn't want to fall asleep from the food coma. Thinking about I could easily enjoy food like that for lunch every day. 

A successful day and excited for the next as we continued the progress of the project build!


ImageDay 1 of the Build: The day started of slow as we waited in the hotel restaurant hoping our translator and contractor would eventually show up so we can head to the job site. Sure enough they did and after a quick bite to eat we headed out the job site. First thing we did was introduce ourselves to the family and the rest of the workers who were on the site already. Throughout the first week of work we were able to utilize a volunteer work force which consisted of local college and high school students who are alumnis of the top rated school the Build A Dream Organization has established down there. We then verified if the materials that we scheduled to be there for the build were on hand and we quickly located everything we needed. Then Ulises, who is the lead contractor, gathered the group around and taught the importance and the process of the build which we quickly had to understand in ordered to proceed with the build. Before we know it the foundation measurements were laid out on the empty lot and the backhoe we had on hand quickly started to dig. Soon after the trenches were dug out and the volunteer group jumped in to square and level everything a little bit more precise. Then we laid down a layer of plastic to protect to bottom bags from absorbing any moisture. We continued this process for the remaining exterior and interior walls we started to build that day. After the initial base bag layer we laid strips of barbed wire on top to secure the next bag that was being laid down. Each bag was filled with wheel barrel after wheel barrel of mixed cement which was shoveled into each bag one shovel at a time.    

ImageSo picture a group of us mixing cement, a group of running wheel barrels of cement back and forth from the mixer to where the bags were being filled, a group of us filling and laying the bags, a group of us laying and cutting the barbed wire and the man in charge overseeing it all as we are still learning the whole process as it is still first day. Not to mention the group effort it took to refill the water supply for the mixers when then ran low. We collected the water by the bucket for a nearby hole in the ground that collects rain water. By the end of the first day we had laid around 10 full bags and went through 1 roll of barbed wire and an abundance of cement mix. Each of us that worked were exhausted but excited and motivated about what the next day will bring. Now that we know what to expect tomorrow should be more productive as we made the goal to double the first days bag total. 

ImageThe weather throughout the week was hot but bearable with an average in the mid 80's. Around mid afternoon every day it rained very briefly only to provide a short relief from the days sun. There was usually a nice breaze as we were in a desert valley surrounded by mountains. The family we were working form were very welcoming and willing to help any chance they got. There was a constant cock-a-doodle-doo from the caged roosters which took some getting use to. The students workers all worked very hard as the main guy Ulises did a great job of motivating and educating them on the importance of the work. There was a a slight language barrier between me and the group but through the little I know we were able to communicate with minimal issues. Our interpreter on had always did a great job if we ever need the help though.