So I decided to split this from the rest of September. This project, for me, seems too important to be lost amongst everything else!!
It all started on Monday 12th September when, with Jess now away I forced into a position of having to speak Spanish. To be honest it has done me the power of good..even if my Spanish sounds crap to my ears....mostly I am understood. Anyway Rita and I met Wilfredo in Cusco to buy all the supplies and equipment for the community and to build our first greenhouse. Instead of two it was to be one very large on split in two..due to the area it was to be built on. Wilfredo had also amended his design of the greenhouse construction to account for the very high winds up there...I was impressed! To make sure Rita took control other than holding the money and making sure we had all the bolettas we needed I left it to her. I actually didn’t need to prompt her too much. By the time we checked out all the prices and organised how best we could keep within budget as we had to get everything from Cusco to Urubamba where we hoped to get a truck from the municipalidad to take it all to the community it took us until 6pm not returning home until 7pm! This was from 7pm that morning!...a long day but a good one. One of my lasting memories of this day will be seeing the very large water tanks being tied onto the top of the service bus to be transported to Urubamba where Martin would pick them up from the bus terminal and take to his house one at a time. He had a good sized house and outbuildings to store everything until the municipalidad could collect it for the community. This was very nice of him. He is a good friend to Living Heart but he does get paid well for his taxi...for Living Heart and the Cafe when they need supplies in Cusco, which is every week. By transporting the water tanks this way we saved a lot of money. It was only 20 solis for each...only in Peru.
We discovered a couple of problems before we left Cusco. No wood had been bought and there was not enough money! Jess had miscalculated but with the savings made that day and a float Sonia had left me before she left for Lima I had enough to pay it. The problem was Wilfredo was now leaving this to us in Urubamba to find the best prices and pay for! I also discovered the shop he assured us was giving us the best price looked like they had overcharged us! Rita and I challenged him on this after our first day of building. Any excuse Wilfredo offered I explained how that couldn't be the case so he said he would visit the shop and discuss with them. I have asked him to query all prices!! He said he would also get the guarantee for the plastic that we hadn’t received. We are still waiting for all of this and it was part of the discussions you will see later!
On Thursday 15th September we started building our first greenhouse in our most remote and needy community. It started extremely well. About 60 men turned up...even the older ones including the 80 year old man we saw at the medics visit!! In the afternoon some of the women were helping as were the children. When we arrived Jess had said she thought the old greenhouses would be down but all were still standing. However it only took them 30 minutes to take down what was required to be taken down. They left one wall and part of a side wall in each greenhouse. These would form part of the new structure. I had suggested we use the plastic off the 2 roofs as it looked in good nick!! I think they are going to use this somewhere in the new greenhouse. The main roof needs clear plastic so it allows 60% of the light in. This will be the new plastic. They then set out the size, dug trenches, built up the lower side as it was below the level of the rest and brought huge boulders down from further up. Watching the men working in teams with their feet to move and hold rocks in position and the wooden poles, off the old greenhouse roofs, to lever the huge rocks, was absolutely amazing and very exciting!! It felt like being in the Inca times!! (The nearest trees for this village are 30 mins walk away..that is how poor the soil is!!) The slightly smaller boulders took 3-4 men to move them. Once the boulders had been moved a certain amount some of the men, lying on their backs holding the boulders in position, allowed others to place smaller rocks underneath to hold it in that position then reposition themselves to roll the boulder over. This was one way or those with poles used them to get a new position and extra leverage to roll the boulder further. The older children and the women were packing smaller stones into the holes and will then put mud in to seal the walls. This will make them wind and weather proof. The older men were digging a hole but I'm not sure what this is for yet.. I didn't quite understand what Wilfredo (our maestro) was telling me! I took about 300 pictures that day. The president of the community has asked if he can have pictures of them working as teams to show the municipalidad. I was already thinking it would be good to give them a large poster with lots of photos of the progress or maybe it should be an album to show people. One of the lovely sights was 2 little ones imitating the men and trying to move boulders with their little sticks and dig trenches. I was still eating my breakfast of fruit, granola and yoghurt midmorning as just before 6am we had arrived at Ollantaytambo and had a coffee and cheese roll. The 2 children were watching me so I gave them a couple of spoonfuls into their cupped hands. They demolished it...don’t tell me kids don’t like good food!!
We all stopped for lunch with The Living Heart team and the Alma coordinator, Ian. Alma is the company who is giving us a partial grant for the work. We ate the same as the school children which was green lentils, rice and salad. Some of the older children had caught a few small trout for us too which was lovely. You can eat everything from these little trout but I find it hard to eat the heads! The food was lovely and very nutritious. The kids demolish it I can tell you!
In the afternoon after lunch Wilfredo took the older school children and Alberto (the school director and main teacher) to the little greenhouse that was left, and that three of the mothers and one of the men had prepared that morning. There he showed them how to further prepare the ground and plant the seeds. Earlier he had shown each of the packets of seeds to the men and women and explained how long it would take to germinate them etc. They were very excited by this. We left about 4pm. During the day Rita took my folder with all the contracts and got their signatures. The great thing is everyone in the community wanted to be part of the greenhouse association..brilliant! We need to take up more sign- up sheets!! As part of their responsibility someone needs to take overall responsibility for the watering of the greenhouse, looking after the tools etc. This role will attract a small wage to ensure it is done. The school director as well as the community leaders have a vital role to play in this project, especially when it comes to ensuring the children attend the workshops to help them understand how to grow the vegetables and herbs, harvest them, prepare and cook them properly. Similar instruction will be given to the community members too at a different time. When we left the progress made was incredible considering the lack of heavy equipment!! Before we left I wanted to make a big thing of how well they had done so we gave them a big cheer and handclap. It went down well.
I was very impressed with Rita and feel she will have no problem acting as the Living Heart coordinator in the community. She is absolutely needed there as she has the relationship with the community and speaks Quechua whereas Wilfredo does not. She takes control, keeping a journal of everything for our report and works well with a few prompts. We will be able to support her from the office with no anticipated problems.
After a few issues getting the municipalidad to provide the community with a truck to transport the rest of the supplies to the community from Urubamba everything was finally there by 26th. It took two trips and Rita making breakfast for the driver though as he was dragging his feet!! The reason being the truck wasn’t big enough for the large poles for the roof, 2 by 1000l water tanks and the rest!!
Rita and Wilfredo returned on 26th to start early on 27th. However when they got there, there was a few issues. Firstly the workforce had been distracted by the electricity going in, helping them, and working on the Inca trail (obviously to give them money) and there were only 30 men and women there, but one of the biggest issues was the appalling weather. There had been constant rain and snow up there so as a result the walls weren’t finished. I had tried to reach the community on the 27th with Susannah, Sonia’s daughter who was in Peru. From brilliant sunshine in Ollantay at 5am the road and weather deteriorated dramatically. Often Susannah and I got out and walked while Martin tried to get through the mud. Eventually near the highest point..still an hour and half from the community..we had to give up. Martin was stuck! We had to dig amongst the snow to find stones to put under the wheels. We only found one! The side I was pushing didn’t have a stone. The consequence of this was the front wheel spinning in the mud and ...yep you got it. I was black with dirt!! Poor Martin’s taxi was filthy as the mud dried and fell off me! On the way back we met another taxi that was trying to take a couple higher than our community for coffee. Would you believe it; they were going to persevere until they saw Susannah and I!! We also met another larger NGO heading up in a 4*4 jeep. We discovered later they did make it. I can tell you we are now very focussed on fundraising for a 4*4 as this is unacceptable situation for us! Currently Rita is travelling up on the back of Wilfredo’s bike and that in itself is risky in this poor weather! If you are thinking..why did you start building... this is frak weather with the rains coming very early.
Wilfredo and Rita agreed to visit the community on the following Monday while I was in Argentina. However things deteriorated dramatically!! On this occasion only 11 people were there and it was the older men and women! The walls were built but nothing else could be done so it was a wasted trip and money! To compound this Wilfredo’s bike gave up in the community and they had to walk back!! He hadn’t been looking after it so it packed in and would require a lot of work. When I got back from Argentina on the Sunday I wasn’t even out of Cusco when Sonia phoned. I visited her that night. Because we needed to make sure the community knew the gravity of the situation we had called a meeting but they were reluctant to attend and Sonia had been dismissed by the president of the school board (APAFA). This plus a few other things gave Sonia real concerns so we were forced to do what we hate doing....withholding the food for the children! A meeting had been called for 8am on the following Wednesday to discuss the problems. We weren’t sure if all the relevant members would attend as communication there is very difficult. There is one public phone that is charged by the sun...so no sun..no phone!! It is only available from about 11am to 4pm and if you get a child then you can forget having a conversation!!! Anyway we were pleased to see the school director, president of the APAFA and the president of the community. After Sonia did the introductions, and opened the meeting it was passed over (rightly so) to Rita. The outcome was what we hoped for and they would have a faena the next day. This is when all the men of the village come together to help each other. What we then discovered later that day was Wilfredo still didn’t have his bike back! It would be another week! He wanted us to pay for the hire of a bike and I was adamant we wouldn’t pay that. There were a few problems we had to iron out but I was not letting him think we were a bottomless pit of money! It was agreed he would go and hire a bike for himself and go up to supervise the roof going on. This didn’t happen due to the cost of the insurance! Later that week we discovered he couldn’t pay for the vast repairs to his bike. Eventually we agreed to advance him the money for the finish of the construction in advance. This would have been paid in about 2 weeks anyway. I was not happy to pay anything else! Jess was back and came to support us with this. We have amended his contract to make sure it is crystal clear what has all been agreed. I feel confident all will go better now. He has a good reputation in the district and among NGOs so he will not want that damaged!! We were very concerned for the germinating plants as the lettuce was ready for transplanting. Rita had managed to contact the community so they could do something but they really needed Wilfredo to show them how to put on the roof. To catch up it has been arranged that Rita, Wilfredo and the community faena will push on to catch up on Wednesday 19th October, Thursday and if necessary the Friday to catch up. To have a totally sealed greenhouse and the ground prepared to transplant the lettuce plants. Rita must get all the rest of the information that the community were dragging their heels about next week. It is not acceptable to delay any further and they know that.
We will need to see if this can stay on track. I am hopeful as it is so important for this community. As for the food... we sent it on Saturday. This is one thing Living Heart has over other NGOs... the food program is very powerful and collaboration is essential. Just to help you understand there is one community much closer to Ollantay that has about 20 NGOs working in it! The community are very lazy and expect everything to be handed to them. They are pilfering the money left and basically it is a nightmare. We wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole! We look for communities off the beaten track that others tend to ignore, where the community is engaged and wanting to work with us; and where there are obvious signs of the children being malnourished. We are proactively assessing communities who have approached us and looking for funding to extend our amazing food program. The difference between our food program and others is ours uses local nutritious ingredients in season, with tried and tested recipes ensuring the children get the right balance of protein, carbs, and vitamins they need. There are some amazing cereals here..quinoa being one. I really like it.