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ES Student Profile
Eric Hansen '08
Masons on a Mission
I volunteered with Masons on a Mission to help built estufas,
as well as moving materials and painting a composting toilet. I worked
with a team of volunteers and several Guatemalans. The first of my two
weeks focused on construction of the estufas. On the first day, I
helped to deliver and organize materials for the oven construction. I
unloaded the cinder blocks, bricks, oven tops, stove pipes, oven
tables, tile, and bags of cement. These were then sorted into piles for
each stove and the families brought the materials to their house. I
built stoves for the rest of the first week in the village of Tzununá,
where I worked with two other people, a skilled craftsman and another
volunteer, and any family members that were available. We built one
stove a day, working in the family’s house. The stoves are constructed
on cinder block legs, with a cement table on top, on top of which a
frame of cinder blocks is built to contain the brick fire box. A metal
stove top, tile, and a stove pipe are laid on top of the fire box and
finally, the entire structure is covered in stucco.
I spent the second half of the week painting a composting toilet. Recently, a Waldorf-style kindergarten in San Marcos had received a composting toilet. One of the stipulations of the funding, however, was that the toilet must be painted. I consulted with the American couple that runs the school, bought paint, and developed a design for the toilet. The design focuses on Mayan symbology, and features a Ceiba tree, the national tree of Guatemala. The Mayans believe that the branches of this tree are the spokes of the heavens. I drew out the final design on the toilet, and then painted it with the help of other volunteers.
Through this internship I learned about both construction and development projects. I learned an extraordinary amount about masonry and the impact of innovative construction on human and environmental health. I also learned a lot about the challenges of running a small NGO. Funding is a huge issue for the organizations and by far the limiting factor. However, organization is also very important at the village level. I worked with two villages, Tzununá and San Juan, only one of which had a women’s organization. The women’s organization in San Juan proved invaluable; work went much faster and more efficiently in this highly organized village.
While I gained a lot from this experience, I was not always sure about the impact my presence was having on the community. This is what made the painting project was the most rewarding part of the experience for me. I brought skills that were needed for the project and that didn’t exist in the organization already. I believe there was a real net gain from my help with this part of the project.