After some maintenance problems aboard our flight, we arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital, about an hour behind schedule. We met with John Gardner, Spanish professor at Rose-Hulman as well as translator for this trip (he speaks Spanish and the community speaks both Creole and Spanish), at the exit. It was a pretty quick ride with Roddy (Rudy) our trusty driving at the wheel, about an hour, to Sabana Grande. We discussed some of the countryside with Roddy as well as our plans. for the evening dinner meeting with Don Papo, the politician and main contact in Batey Santa Rosa, the community we are building latrines in.
We checked into Hotel Nuevo Milenio where half of the rooms had air conditioning. We then prepared a list of questions for Papo. Following the principles of EWB, we are trying to take their techniques and give them the technical know-how to make improvements on their current latrines so that they last longer and are more effective dealing with sitting water, smell, etc. We then had a nice meal of tacos and empanadas, costing 735 pesos, which converts to be about roughly into 15 USD. This covered enough food and drink for 7 people. In speaking with Papo, we found out that they followed our guidelines for placement but had dug them in the wrong locations due to miscommunications over the phone. The latrines they plan on constructing are going to be in the spots we had planned on, and we will work with the holes they have on this trip. After discussing our design amendments, we completed our shopping list and plans for the next day. An important topic that was discussed was the use of materials easily found in the US versus the Dominican Republic. Wil brought down quite a few examples of higher quality materials that he would like to see used in our latrines design to increase its longevity.
We bought a quick breakfast of yogurt and crackers before heading out with Papo to a local hardware store that had ‘everything that we would need’. Making it to the hardware store, we were at able to find most of the supplies and booked them to deliver everything to us later that same day. Finally making it to Batey Santa Rosa, we began to review the work already completed and to become reacquainted with the community. We first took rough measurements of the pits. They turned out to have a much larger cross-sectional area than we expected. One of the aspects of the project that Wil’s stresses is an engineer’s ability to adapt to the situation and know their design well enough to be able to change it quickly and know what parts to focus on to make sure that it is still up to standard.
We met some of the workers we would be working with and began discussing with Papo where we would store the piles of aggregate and sand. We would be mixing the concrete in wheelbarrows and were trying to find a central location for the materials to be laid. We found that two of the spigots, which hadn’t been replaced on the previous trip, were broken and we would need to buy parts to get them working again.
The truck finally arrived around 5:30and we brought in all the wood and tools into the storage area. Gravel was also dumped at the location pinpointed before. We ended up not receiving any of the screwdrivers that we had bought and made a note to request the hardware store to send some the following day. After a short break, we decided to go to dinner above the supermarket where we had ham and cheese sandwiches and chinola (passion fruit juice), which is a required staple of the EWB-RHIT dietwe finalized our material list and also recognized another design problem. We discussed two different sizes and we decided to go for the larger dimensions to give people knee space while sitting on the toilet and redid some of the material calculations because of this. After that was quickly finished, everyone went to bed around 10:30 p.m. after taking nice, cold showers to prepare for the following day, our first real day of labor.
We left right away to meet the second delivery, it was mostly more wood for the superstructure, as well as some tools that were missing from the previous day and the corrugated metal. It took a while to get all of the materials, but everything was in order and we finally made it to Batey Santa Rosa. He explained that they dug a small pit first, then put in the mold and filled around the mold with concrete. This acted as support for the pit as you dig lower so that the top of the walls don’t cave in. Also, once the slab is laid, this is support underneath that won’t easily erode away.
After arriving, we decided to start cutting the wood for the bases that would support the slab as it was being laid. The previous night we calculated the cuts for the wood, so we were prepared to start measuring, marking, and cutting. However, after cutting around 8 of the 2x4s, one of the team members realized that we were cutting wood for the superstructure instead of the bases. We cut enough wood for one of the bases and began to put it together over the pit before lunch. We began by measuring the current slope of the pit, much larger than what we wanted. We stopped after only placing two of the 2x4 due to the other load of materials finally arriving. We unloaded these materials and then, after storing all appropriate tools, continued to cut the wood and rebar that had just arrived. We were able to cut them all to the appropriate lengths. We didn’t know why we had extra, so we are going to store the materials to see if we will need them. We also discussed the placement of the door and the stool in each of the latrines to prepare for where we need to cut the holes in the base wood for the stool and the ventilation pipe.
After finishing the cuts, we thanked everyone for their help and offered to clean up the muddy floor. They said that they would clean up, but we made sure to offer for another day. We drove back with Papo and had a quick dinner after we gave Papo 4 mits and baseballs for his team.
Today started even earlier than yesterday due to rain concerns. The framework from the first pit was transferred to the second pit. After making the mixture and realigning the rebars, the concrete team started placing the concrete. We continued on to the 3rd slab and set up the vertical supports and pvc pipe in addition sprinkling the first slab to keep it wet during its cure period. After lunch, we pre-casted the toilet stool to level it up with the slanted first slab. We finished the mounds for the first slab after adding adjusted supports and fixing the mixture’s form with just enough water. Zinc was then added to the 2nd slab as we transferred the framework from the 2nd slab to the 3rd slab. We stopped here and returned to the hotel. We need to think about how people personalize their latrines and plan beforehand in the future to make sure the timing is right when the concrete dries. People here also tend to reuse material as much as possible even with the lack of care for them. We also don’t want the people to be reliant on us for money and resources since we’re supposed to be just transferring knowledge. There needs to be a more formalized plan when handling these situations.
This is about the halfway point in the trip and we met with our project lead to make sure we are working towards our goal and sticking to guidelines. Basically, any negotiation with the community must be discussed as a team first and that knowledge transfer must be occurring in addition to us completing the 3 latrines. We quickly started working on the framework of the 3rd slab as the concrete team started pouring. After, we started making the superstructure for the first latrine in the sporadic rain and put up well-leveled supports. A door was then put together under the pavilion after fixing the horizontal support pieces on the edges. To finish up the day, we started making mounds and supports for the second latrine so that we could work on the superstructure for it tomorrow. On the way back we witnessed a lot of excited kids gathered around a truck. The person handing out school supplies was an Italian who frequently visited and gave away kids toys. Most of the kids were in grade 5 or below since older kids had to commute elsewhere for their education. This sighting reminded us how the little things that we take for granted mean so much more for others in less fortunate areas like this.
Today started bright and early as we raced to finish our work before the afternoon rain. We had packed our supplies the night before because we needed to leave long before any store would open. The construction picked up where it had left off the day before: finishing the structure and crafting the metal sides and roof. But before we could celebrate our hard work, we faced our next challenge; there was not enough sheet metal! The clever decision was made to cut a sheet in half using our machetes to remedy this problem. After clearing that hurdle, we finished by installing locks and a ventilation pipe. A few aesthetic changes later and our latrine was a go, but we weren’t done yet – we were just that much more eager to start on the next one.
After lunch, we threw an inauguration ceremony and gave the proud new latrine owner the keys. However, the ceremony was cut short by our ambition to work and the looming threat of rain. We split up and began working on both the second and third latrines, more diligently now that we had experience. We finished securing the vertical supports into the ground on both latrines and had begun nailing together the outside of one when the rain came crashing down. Determined, we finished the doors for both latrines from the shelter of the pavilion before turning in for the day.
Today was an uphill battle against lack of sleep, fog and diseases. (Flu symptoms and vomit are even less pleasant at 6 a.m.) But with so much work to do, we had no time to slack off. We hurried to gather our supplies and ardently worked on the second and third latrines. We even added a T bar to the PVC pipe to help ventilation and shield rain. Our perseverance paid off – before we knew it, they were finished and we were in the midst of another inauguration ceremony.
Looking back on our work, the benefit of our experience was apparent. The construction of today’s latrines had gone seamlessly and we even had time to spare to celebrate with coconuts. We spent the rest of our time cleaning up, planning for tomorrow and brainstorming even more ideas to improve upon the latrines.
Today was relaxed form the start. After we rolled out of bed around 9:30, we got to work putting finishing touches on the latrines: sealing the stools with mortar, modifying the ventilation pipes and adding durability to the doors. After finishing most of our list of tasks for the day, we realized we’d forgotten to dig the trenches! Now all of the rain water would channel straight into the latrines! While this didn’t require our expertise, we wanted to set a good example and show them what proper trenching looked like to guide water in the correct direction.
At lunch, we made an important decision. We decided that our extra materials, especially things like 2x4s, plywood and nails would be given to the community to build more latrines. Papo took charge of this and assured us that they would mimic our design with the extra materials. The unnecessary materials, however, would be given to members of the community who had helped us with construction. We obviously didn’t want the community to become dependent on us, but we decided that they could put the materials to good use.
The rain started later that day. We quickly cleaned up and discussed our plans for tomorrow before heading back to the hotel.
We had another relaxing, late start today. We divided our work into two groups: toilet stool covers and finishing up some overlooked odd-jobs on the latrines from yesterday. We used an extra sheet of plywood to make the seat covers and waterproofed the toilets.
Just before lunch, the toilet cover crew moved on to cutting the extra lumber into the proper sizes for the community to use later. They then put all the extra supplies in the storage area where Papo would manage and distribute them. After lunch, the odd-job team filled in dirt around the latrine and built a makeshift ramp to walk up to it. The other team finished the siding of the slabs to prevent water from rusting the rebar.
As the day neared to an end, we met with the three new grateful latrine owners and Papo. They thanked us and we took a group photo. As we were cleaning for a final time, we noticed some tools were missing: even some with sentimental value to Will. Despite this disappointment, we were nothing but smiles knowing that our three latrines were now complete.