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I spent my first week in the beautiful country of Nicaragua as a Global Public Health Brigader with 21 other great brigaders. We traveled to the community of San Gabriel in Jinotega, an hour away from Esteli. The goal was to help this community become more self-sustainable. We did this by constructing septic tanks and latrines at two different homes. Smaller groups were formed to split the work.

The tasks involved in building the tank and latrines included forming and mixing the concrete, stacking blocks as evenly as possible, then filling the blocks with sand. The hardest part was mixing the concrete, which involved using a shovel to break down chunks of rocks mixed with water and dirt. It required tons of arm strength and bending of the knees! Of course in the states, all of this is automated.

Above are photos of the septic tank at different stages of progress.

At least five or more brigaders worked on the tank/latrine, including some men and a boy and a girl whom we were helping. I´ll never forget when the boy was helping us. He mixed a bucket full of concrete, lifted it by his shoulders with the concrete just inches from his hair! I was saying Cuidado! Cuidado! (Be careful! be careful!) while he walked with it rather quickly. That is one strong boy!

Though the work was fun, there presented a few challenges. One was bugs! They were everywhere, and for me the sound of buzzing normally bothers me. But since my mentality focused more on work, that fear subsided. And at some point we just have to get over our fears.

Another challenge was measuring. The US is an oddball when it comes to our custom measurement units, in contrast to the International System of Units utilized in many other countries. So when we measured the size of concrete blocks, we used centimeters rather than inches and feet. A ruler was used, but felt a bit awkward. Despite these obstacles, the work was very productive.

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Our workdays were from 9 am until 1 pm. The days were hot and felt long, though only a short few hours. We ate lunch each day at noon with a plate of meat, starch, and vegetables. On mine would be some fish, a salad, and rice. The men, however, worked all day without breaks or even a drink of water, which amazed me! But it’s clear that they are accustomed working in such conditions.

The tasks were completed in four days, as expected. The fifth day we went to a different community to dig a trench, using pickaxes and shovels. A few other brigade groups worked with us as well, and we worked for perhaps a few hours.

It was a lot of fun to do this work and make an impact in a community. A follow-up visit (within a few years) at these communities would be nice to see the long-term impact, but travel isn’t cheap.

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