We arrived at the school a little before 7AM and were given our assigned rooms to set up our sleeping bags and pads. We were split up into three rooms, boys, girls and staff. I was unclear if I would be assisting Sofía in her position as “joker,” helping out with the cooking and the sick and other miscellaneous necessities, or if I would be joining a group, a “cuadrilla.” Because of my position working at TECHO I decided to set up my stuff in the staff room so I would be sleeping next to Sofía. I had a very thin, yoga mat like sleeping mat to go under my older-styled sleeping bag that I borrowed from my grandma’s sister to set up on the hard, cold tile floor. After setting up my stuff they had tea/coffee and bread with jam set up in the cafeteria for breakfast. The fresh bread hand made by the local panaderías in Chile is always delicious (although as breakfast and often a snack for the next 10 days it got old fast). After breakfast I found out that I would be put in a group so that I would be able to get the full experience of the Trabajos. We met with our groups quickly and introduced ourselves; there were 7 groups of about 10-12 high school students and 1 or 2 advisors or “asesores” who were university students. All the volunteers had different levels of involvement with TECHO, some were volunteers who worked a few times a week in a specific “campamento” while for others this was their first experience working with TECHO. I was glad that I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t done any constructing before. We got the necessary materials together to head out to the buses to be taken to our first site. There were 4 groups on our bus so we were like sardines, lined up shoulder to shoulder from front to back carrying shovels and chisels. The ride was about 20 minutes from the high school where we were staying as we crossed the river and the train tracks and headed up into the hills to reach the houses of the families we would be working with. The houses were pretty spread out; each group was dropped off a couple miles apart from one another to meet the family that they would be building a new house for. We met our family briefly in the beginning, eager to get down to business. Señorita Juana, the head of the household was accompanied by her husband, who was not the father of Juana’s two daughters, Juanita who is 14 and Maria who is 5, they all followed us across the road to the plot of land that would be the place of their new residence.
After we asked where they would like the front door to face, the family watched as we began to dig the first hole. The first step, and probably most time consuming part of the construction is digging the 22 holes where we place wooden cylinders that must be equally level and spaced in order to create the foundation for the house. We were given lunch to bring to the site for Señorita Juana to prepare for us. At 1:30 we took a break in the construction to have lunch in the families current home. They had a room with a roof and 3 walls, opening up to the outside that had a very small kitchen and a couch with a table, where we ate our lunch. Next to the kitchen was a small bedroom just big enough for all of the family to sleep in. There wasn’t much room for anything else.
After a quick lunch we continued digging and burying posts, it was warm when the sun came out but generally the wind kept it pretty chilly. The Municipalidad, the part of the housing department of the city of Freirina who were funding the new houses, came by to drop off a snack and to thank us for our time and our hard work so far. We worked up until the sun set and then the bus came back to pick us up. We all sluggishly boarded the bus as we headed back to the school for our first night sleeping on the floor.
When we got back to the school I went to the kitchen to help Sofía cook our first dinner and update her on my first day. Because of the tight budget I learned that my meals for the next 10 days would consists of mostly spaghetti, like we had for lunch, or this kind of canned fish and rice that we were preparing for dinner tonight. It wasn’t the most delicious or healthy food I had tried in Chile but because I was so hungry from the manual labor of the day it did do the trick.
In the morning before leaving to the site, we were told that we would be playing a game where we would have to know the names and important information about everyone of our group members. It was up to us to get to know our fellow workers very well throughout the day. The goal of the first day was to start the trip off with group bonding and integration with both the teenagers and the families we worked with. Everyone was meant to feel comfortable enough to talk to our groups and share thoughts and feelings about the work being done to help the poor.
After the game and dinner, we met back with our groups in separate spaces around the school for a discussion lead by the “asesores.” We started by asking trivia questions about Chile’s geography and the Chilean population and things along those lines. This was to inform the students about how much information they may not know about their own country. Then the discussion was opened up to ask about how the first day went for everyone. Individuals shared what it was like for them to first meet the family we would be working with. Questions were asked to prompt discussion such as “did seeing the poor have an impact on you?” One girl said that she had always seen pictures and videos of people living in poverty but it was very different to actually see and experience how and where they live everyday. At the end of our meeting we were told that it was our job for the next day to get to know the family and continue to have conversations with them.
When we were dismissed to our bedrooms around midnight I brushed my teeth and quickly got into my sleeping bag to try to stay warm on this freezing night. The staff, all bundled up in their sleeping bags, sat up for the end of the day staff meeting. Each group leader was asked about their progress of the construction and about both the group’s dynamics and the dynamic working with the families. Then finally, after the long and tiring day the lights were turned off to get some rest.