In our last post we shared you the first part of Bryan’s reflection. Here is part two of Bryan’s musings.
Each Solidarity in Action volunteer has a choice to participate in various activities defined by the communities we work with. So I was faced with several decisions: Would I work on the construction crew digging a foundation for a wall to support the addition for the nursery school being built so that the children would have stimulation while their mothers worked to better the community or to gain money for their families? Would I assist in a school for children and young adults with mental disabilities, run totally without government support? Would I go to the orphanage after the two weeks to work on a photo project with Calyn (Project Karma), one of the leaders? Would I work with a team doing ESL lessons for teens prepared to give up their holidays to learn more English? Or, do ESL with teachers spending their mornings on pedagogy but who told us they wanted more of EVERYTHING” – and this is how they wrote it – in afternoon sessions when they could be at home with their families?
I chose mostly to work as a teacher of second language with 11 year-old and 15 year-old students intent on becoming superheros. Originally, they had planned to learn some English. Little did they know that after finding a second, secret identity with heroic purposes, I would invest them with superpowers which they could use for the good of their fellow Peruvians. Later, one of their super-heroic acts was to spend a day in Pacífico working on the cement crew, rolling whole loads of sand, mixing it with cement powder, stirring in the water and, along with a chain of women passing bucket loads to the forms for the steadily rising wall for the nursery. Not wanting to appear a shirker, I challenged the brawniest of the teens, who with the aid of two of his friends had managed to put most of the wheelbarrow load of sand into the pile to mix with cement by picking up the next load and alone wheeling it onto the pile. Announcing, in broken Spanish :El viejo hasta mas fuerza que jovenes! Non es possible” – roughly, the old guy is stronger than you teens? Can’t be!” , I laughed and showed them the technique mastered after two weeks of wheelbarrow work in a rampant Ontario garden gone wild.
Elsewhere, there were other challenges: For a week, the women of our Solidarity group had been working on digging the wall’s foundations, digging it back out after a cave-in, carrying the four by eight forms down a steep mountainside to the nursery school, shovelling sand and cement and heavy wet mix. This had not gone unnoticed. My wife, a former OSSTF member, now retired, reported how on the day the Canadian women had begun to work at manual labour, a community leader had called out on the loudspeaker that “los gringos” were here, that they must show that they are united and strong in wanting a nursery school for their children, by helping in its construction. When, one evening, a large batch of cement lay waiting as supper time appear, she again called families to postpone supper and to lend a hand. The Canadian women, and the one man in the construction team, were not, she said, to be allowed to do all th e work for them. Later that night, one of the women from Pacífico de Villa, told us that “You have taught us that women can do anything”.
Apparently the men took notice. When I arrived with my merry band of largely male students and superheros, there were only women at work. When I next arrived, after the female crew had erected one half th e wall, there were men with wheelbarrows at work. One leaned toward me and whispered in a male conspiratorial voice “The women aren’t strong enough to manage the wheelbarrows”. Apparently, he thought he needed to talk loudly to the gringo so I would understand. Obviously, a Peruvian women overheard, took up his challenge, grabbed the next wheelbarrow load of wet cement and trotted it, with a smile of accomplishment, to the second portion of the wall. Round one soccer: Men 6, women 2. Round two cement: Women won.