Colombia House Building #8: Gratitude

Dear Families of Colombia Housebuilders,

Thank you for sharing your children with us this past week. As parents of our own children, we recognize that you entrusted us with your most precious possessions. After reading their final reflections, you can see the depth of commitment, emotion and leadership that they brought to this experience. We could not be more proud of them.

On service learning trips there are rarely chances to give students genuine, authentic decision making opportunities. A few days into this trip, we learned that the 3rd family we planned to build for was not able to complete the foundation for their house, through no fault of their own. We gave the students two options for the remaining three days. 1) Spend two days building the 2nd house and a ½ day working on the foundation for the third house, or 2) building the second house in a day, spending an entire day on the foundation for the 3rd house and then doing work on an agricultural collaborative on the final day. We told them that they needed to make a unanimous decision and then left the room. After 15 minutes they reported that they all agreed that they wanted the second option because they felt that they could do the most good for the most people.

The next morning, we arrived at the foundation of the second house and told the team that it was their house to build. As much as possible, the adults would remain on the margins of the construction, with the exception of Jacho, the Colombian director of construction. The group quickly huddled together, identified their own leadership roles and dove into the construction process. Eight hours later, they handed the keys to the house to Enrique and his family. It was a moment they will never forget.

On Sunday, they dug the entire foundation for the third house and then took on the challenge to dig a 2 meter hole for the septic system. Everyone jumped in, literally. After a break for lunch, students ran back to the hole to resume digging. With ½ hour to go before we had to leave, the hole was 80 cm deep and the soil was becoming more densely packed. We set a timer for 30 minutes, students turned up the volume on their music, and they became a well-oiled machine. Some students loosened the soil, then turned the job over to the students who straightened the sides of the hole and shoveled out the dirt. When the timer went off, the hole was 130 cm deep and they all jumped into the hole for a hot, dirty dance party.

On Monday, students divided into three teams to work on the farming collaborative. One group moved a mountain of rocks up a steep, slippery path for a retaining wall that needed replacement. Another group cleared and planted a field while the third took on the truly lousy job of removing inches of packed manure from a sheep barn. In just a few hours, they did a day’s worth of work in all three locations.

In the evenings, we pushed your children out of their comfort zones in daily debriefs. We started by asking them to consider how they would tell the stories of the people they met and the stories of their own experiences to others now and years down the road. We asked them to notice and wonder. We challenged them to examine their own privilege in the context of the families with whom we were working and to tackle difficult concepts like food sovereignty. Even at the end of long, physically taxing days, your children picked up their pens, wrote thoughtfully in their journals, and openly shared their ideas, questions, and uncertainties.

We hope that you’ll have the time to listen to your children’s stories and reflections. You’ve done a great job raising hard-working, thoughtful, compassionate, brave children and we are grateful for the opportunity to spend this last week with them.

Hardy and Sheryl