Today the LearnServe Jamaica group did something vastly different from what we have been working on so far. We spent the day at the Source Farm Ecovillage beginning the construction of a new learning center for the community. The Source Farm is a community of people from all over the world that have come together in Jamaica to focus on environmentally friendly construction and sustainable living. The unique thing about this experience is that the building materials for the project were “earth bags.”
Earth bags are animal feed bags that are filled with a mixture of approximately 90% mall, a white, powdery, dirt-like substance found naturally in the area of the Ecovillage, and all over the world, and 10% cement. These bags are laid over each other to form the walls of the structure and then encased in concrete. These structures are fantastic at keeping temperatures cool, a must in Jamaica, are very stable, even in strong earthquakes, and are much cheaper to produce than other building options.
For this project the LearnServe students teamed up with students from our partners at KBC Learning, and combined with the members of the ecovillage we had a sizable group of about 25 people to work on the construction. We immediately took a divide and conquer approach to the work, and my group and I worked initially on laying the gravel for the foundation, and then on transporting the mall to the mixers. The efficiency of this approach was quite obvious, as it resulted in everyone being engaged with minimum standing around, and also allowed us to progress on the construction quickly. It became obvious to me that this could be a useful lesson in leadership, education, or collaborative projects. By giving each group and individual their own, different tasks, everyone felt engaged and knew that they had to complete their part for all of the other parts to work. It also allowed us to move more quickly as a whole, resulting in us achieving our goals quicker.
After our lunch break the groups continued with their assigned tasks, rather than switching like originally intended. For my group this meant we were back to shoveling and carting mall up a hill to the worksite. What this also meant was a myriad of complaints about how the wheelbarrow and shovel work was harder than the other tasks. Thankfully, these quickly died down, and we realized that this was the right decision. Since we had already learned how to perform our tasks before lunch, we were able to spend the rest of the day working quickly and efficiently, rather than going through training and instructions for a new task.
At the end of the day, as I pushed my wheelbarrow for the last time up the hill and wiped the sweat out of my eyes, I finally looked at the progress we had made in its totality, and was amazed by how much we had progressed. When we arrived, all that had been there was a dirt patch with the outlines of a foundation dug in. When we left, only 5 hours (including a lunch break) later, there was a gravel foundation laid, and the first row of earth bags had been laid. I was proud of the students in my group, and it was a great reminder of how rewarding leadership is. I was struck, though, as we took a group picture, of how different we were. To my left was a teacher from Maryland that was spending her summer helping this community and a man who lived with his wife and three children at the Ecovillage, to my right were Jamaican students from KBC Learning, and in front of me was a group of DC-area students that could not be more different. The majority of the people there I had only begun to know 11 days ago, and some of the people I had met just hours earlier. Yet when we came together with a common vision and a common goal, we were able to achieve something fantastic. This was a perfect lesson to finish the day with, as it impressed upon me the importance of having a clear goal as a leader, and the wonderful things that can be achieved when a community rallies around a united vision. Although we will not be here to complete the construction of the learning center, everyone will remember that LearnServe was there to lay the foundation of what will become a center education in the community, and I will never forget the lessons I learned as I carted mall up that hill.