Monday, October 17, 2011

Retreat #1: Finding Our Way

Our team is getting ready for our January trip to Tanzania, where we will participate in water purification work and some construction.  In anticipation of our future needs, we took on a project at the Legacy Garden on campus, building a "rain roof" on the side of an existing storage container so that we could learn about four primary areas of importance: 1) rain capture, 2) construction basics (including rudimentary roofing), 3) project management, and 4) teamwork.  

In the pictures below (which you can enlarge by clicking), you can meet most of our team and see how we spent Sunday, October 16, 2011.

We worked in the Legacy Garden on campus, where a group of freshmen in Fall of 2008 broke ground on a student-run garden that will be a fixture on campus for years to come.  Each of Shawny's travel teams has participated in projects there and we focused our project on expanding the work that her group completed last year.  

We are very lucky to have the support and cooperation of the garden steward, Julie Welch, who allows us to struggle and learn (and make mistakes!) on the garden lot.  Julie generally casts a happy, welcoming aura around the garden itself, meaning that different groups of students, staff, and visitors can venture up there and really feel like the garden is their own.  Our groups have learned a lot about planting and construction up there, but we have also learned quite a bit about our own reasoning and communication skills because Julie allows us to find our own way.  Thanks, Julie!

Last year's group constructed a composting toilet at the garden, in preparation for the possibility of building more of them at their January site (which was supposed to be Haiti, but after a last minute cancellation became Dominica).  As it turned out, they did water work instead (building a storage tank for naturally flowing spring water) but the composting toilet has become a welcome addition at the garden.  

We, then, decided to find a way to capture rainwater somewhere in the garden lot and pump it up near the outhouse to become a water source for a handwashing station.  We learned during the course of the weekend that we have assembled just the right group to take on a project like this one, where we need to start with a workable plan, but adapt it as we go.  

Below you can meet a lot of our teammates, but not quite all of them.  For some reason, a few of us avoided getting snapped, including the person who took most of these pictures, Amelia. We had one missing teammate, Academic Honor Council member Erin, who was at a conference on academic integrity.  Everyone else was there and we will brief Erin on all that we learned. Besides Amelia and Erin, we also managed to miss getting a good shot of Zoe.  We will be sure to catch all of them with our cameras the next time.  

Here are pictures of most of the team:





(Alumna/veteran of last year's trip who will join us in Tanzania)





We began our Sunday adventure by going to the hardware store all together, so that we could learn about the logistics of projects like this. We had already spent most of Saturday night figuring out our plan, running four or so options as far as we could and then selecting the one that we thought would work best.  

We were smart to make our final choice the one that was suggested by the father of one of our teammates, Josh.  Josh's father, Jack Verrips, is a brilliant local contractor who was attached to a number of previous Jan Term relief and development trips through two of his older sons, Chris and Justin.  Those two made a total of 21 trips to New Orleans, sometimes with big groups of SMC students and sometimes just with Shawny to do advance work or cleanup work for the big trips.  On two of those trips, Jack actually flew to New Orleans and joined us (Josh came too, even though he was in high school then).  

Thus, Jack is a longstanding friend of SMC, Jan Term travel courses, and even the Legacy Garden, as he, Chris and Justin were the primary consultants on the day of construction of the garden back in 2008.  Luckily for us, Jack caught wind of our design dilemma on this project and made a suggestion that helped us overcome a number of the obstacles we were facing.  He proposed a straightforward plan that would be incredibly sturdy and that would also require the smallest possible amount of materials.  

In the simplest of terms, Jack recommended that we construct a roof that sloped backward down the side of the container so that we could capture the rain at the back of the structure and pump it up the short hill to the composting toilet and handwash station. We are still working on the pumping system that we will use, with the current thinking being that we will handcrank the water from the bottom barrel to a tank at the top and then use a footpump at the handwashing station to run the water into the sink.  Pictures below might help you to see what we mean. (Or not.)

The project took us about six straight hours of constant labor, but by the end of the day we were proud of what we had achieved.  We forgot to take pics at every step of the process but here are a few to help you get a feel for our day.  

Our brilliant designer, Jack (center), came and consulted with us for most of the day.  He is one of the warmest, most wonderful people that most of us will ever meet.  We cannot even begin to express our appreciation for his help on this project.  We will promise, though, to aspire to treat each other with as much love and kindness as he offered to us.  

 We had to deal with some rough terrain (while avoiding poison oak!) to dig the postholes for our structure.  The ground near the garden is a hard clay, so digging 24-inch postholes is no small task.  

You can barely see the support board pitched diagonally at the top of the container wall above.

We got to run horizontal supports across from the container to our posts, making our roof slope toward the back of the container.  We installed a gutter on that short end to channel the water to a barrel below.

At the same time, a small crew built an understructure for a discarded sink basin.  This unit will become the handwashing station at the composting toilet.  

Scott, Hilary and Lily were the leads on the sink project.  

The rest of the crew toiled away digging postholes and setting supports.  

 As we started to attach the crossbeams, we got pretty excited about where the project was going.

The board that runs across the face of the structure took most of our hands at once to install.  

In fact, lots of the jobs took a whole lot of hands working together.  Perfect.  

As the afternoon grew longer, we finally began to install the roof panels.  

Here's the structure from one end.

 And here it is from the other.  

The gutter and rain barrel are on the back end of the structure. 

So that we can pump the water up to the (barely visible) "privy."  

Here's the privy and sink for now.  (The sink is not yet functioning.)

And here's a closeup of the sink (not showing off the lovely seashell sink basin -- darn!).  

We are happy with what we've done.  And we're excited about what we will do.  We already feel like a lot has happened for us, even though we are months away from beginning our "real" adventure.  Stay tuned for more updates on our preparations and please keep track of us when we are living and working at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in January.  Thanks for checking in!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your posts! the pics are terrific and I find myself anxiously awaiting the next and what's to come???..