by Rachel Johnson—International Build Project Director
This year the international Meal-A-Day build took place in Jinotega, a small city nestled in the beautiful northern mountains of Nicaragua. For one week in July the build team, which consisted of ten people, worked to restore a house for a family of four.
After losing her legs in an avalanche, Ruth had been given the opportunity to live in this house by the director of Hogar Amiguitos, an orphanage which partners with Meal-A-Day. She received prosthetics, and began working as a Tia in the orphanage. However, when the city came into the neighborhood to fix the roads last year, they left the front of Ruth’s house half buried in dirt. This made it difficult for her to maneuver into and out of her house. Furthermore, when the rainy season came, the house flooded and Ruth and her family had to be evacuated to stay at the orphanage until the rains stopped.
The Meal-a-Day build team worked with a local Nicaraguan contractor and construction crew to take the roof off of the house and fill in the floor with dirt to bring it up to street level. This proved to be heavy manual labor. The team spent a day moving the mountain of dirt into the house using four shovels and two wheelbarrows. Once the dirt was poured into the floor of the house it was tamped down using 30 lb tampers. Finally, the entire pile of dirt on the road was relocated into the house… just in time for the second load to arrive! The team didn’t complain, though; they just picked up their shovels, grabbed the wheelbarrows, and conquered the new mountain of dirt.
After getting the floor into the house, it was time to start building up the walls. This step started with pouring a layer of concrete onto the existing walls and letting it dry. The team got to work constructing the wooden molds into which the concrete would be poured. Then it was time to mix the concrete. This is a constant process on the job site as the concrete and mortar, or mescla, are literally the glue that hold the whole construction together. They are needed in abundance! The team learned the recipe by heart: four wheelbarrows full of sifted sand, one bag of concrete mix, two buckets of water, and four team members mixing at a time. They learned to share the hard work by tapping out and handing off their shovel to another team member who would jump in to take over mixing while they rested and got ready to tap back in. The team also worked together by forming “block lines” to pass the concrete blocks from person to person, moving them into the house and getting them in place to be passed up to the builders on the scaffolding and added to the walls.
After four-and-a-half days of working together, the Nicaraguan and American teams had meshed into one efficient house-building crew. By the end, one of the team members, John, was even offered a job by the Nicaraguan foreman!
The team said their goodbyes to the Nicaraguan crew and to Ruth and her family. The house would be finished by the local builders, but the American team had made a significant contribution to the work. More importantly, they had built cross-cultural relationships and shared the love and work of Jesus.