Like may of my projects that I am passionate about, this project falls into the same category: jump into the deep end and see if I can swim.
Having spent a week at my placement at Best Hope Preparatory Center in Moshi, Tanzania, I wanted to help beyond just educating the children; therefore, I offered to put in cement floors for my classroom. I know you might be wondering at this point if I’ve ever put in cement floors. The answer is no. However, if there’s a will, there’s always a way.
Having spent a day researching cement floors, I made a shopping list: rocks (to level the ground), sand, and cement. Seemed simple.
The materials were placed outside the school, about 150 yards from where they needed to be, however with only a small entrance gate into the school, it was as close as the dump trucks could get. Thus, it required us to carry the materials into the school one bucket at a time.
Day 1: Level the room with rocks. This took about 4 hours with four people (all women!). Several people walked by and looked at what we were doing, the elder women cheered us on, and the men smiled while walking past. With still a heavy gender divide in Tanzania, it was a very rare site to see women putting in a cement floor. One man even commented “this is what equality looks like” – it put a large smile on my face.
Day 2: Lay the cement. There were several obstacles with this since there are no cement mixers, however I learned the Tanzanian method! Mix all the materials on the ground and carry the cement mixture bucket by bucket to the room. This method worked very well.
There are three different cement mixtures that get placed into the room (Tanzanian method).
1. Cement, sand, gravel, and water (same in U.S.- thanks wiki how article)
2. Cement, sand, and water
3. Cement and water
The first layer of cement took 3 hours to place with four people working on it.
Then came the other two layers.
The final product!
Although there is a lot of physical soreness which I am currently experiencing, it was so wonderful working on this project. I have spoken to several locals and some have noted that they don’t like when volunteers come to their community because we come in, tell them how to do things, and leave. Before starting this project, I spoke to the Director of the school and asked what he needed most (plaster on the walls? floors?), he said floors. By working with the community and partnering with them to help, volunteers not only leave a lasting positive impression, but we also leave something worthwhile for the community.
After my first day working on the site, I ran to the local shop on the corner to grab a coca-cola, and as I was waiting in line, a woman came up and said “You put in the floors. Thank you.” (news travels fast in small villages) It was a wonderful exchange. Moreover, we had several young girls in the community watch us work (aged between 6-12 years old). It’s important that we don’t just pitch male/female equality, but that we show young women that women can do anything. By physically showing gender equality, it will empower women more than just telling them they are equal. Who knows, maybe those girls will be building their own homes in 15 years time?