Our first full day in the village started with waking just before dawn (in our dark, electricity-less room), finding our clothes, water bottles, gloves, etc, with the help of our headlamps. Then we headed out into the dawn light to use the outdoor latrine and then make the roughly 10-minute walk over to the BuildOn central meeting area. There we would have a delicious breakfast (which was prepared by the BuildOn chef) while having a brief discussion about the day’s schedule, as well as reminders about staying hydrated and safe on the worksite.
Very shortly after, we started the 5 minute walk to the worksite. Today would be our first workday and we’d start this morning (like every other workday morning) with a big circle that included our team, the BuildOn team and all the villagers that would be working on the site throughout the day. We’d all hold hands in the circle, hear some inspirational words from our translators and do some stretches, which Roxy led the first morning, followed by others from our group on subsequent days. The villagers would always giggle while they stretched, having never done it before!
At the end of our circle time, we all gathered into a tight huddle with everyone’s hands in the middle, where two people in the middle (one person from our group and one villager) would yell “Ino Ndefou” (meaning “we are”), while all the rest of us would respond with either “BuidOn” or the name of the village (Diokoul). We then hit the worksite!
On average, we worked from 9am – 1pm, and then we broke for lunch. Long before coming to Senegal, we’d been told (by friends that built a school there last year around the same time of year) that it could be as hot as 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, and we were all a bit worried about doing construction in the blistering sun. Fortunately, though, we got really lucky and the weather was cooler than we had expected, even with a slight breeze blowing from time to time, which was very welcome on the job site!
The school we were building will be a large and airy building with two large classrooms and a separate building that would act as the bathrooms, albeit with squat toilettes, no running water, and no electricity, but still quite nice!
On the worksite, there were various “stations” that we would try to alternate through throughout the day: digging ditches for the school and bathroom foundations, as well as two 6 ft deep septic tanks (using pickax’s or shovels), tying the rebar together that is used as internal structural support within the concrete foundation and columns, making bricks (all the bricks used for the construction were made on-site), and lots and lots of passing of finished bricks and buckets filled with sand, gravel, dirt, and concrete!
It was truly back-breaking work, especially the hours and hours of digging and the making and carrying of hundreds of very heavy bricks. The really wonderful part of this though, is that while working on the job site, we got to work hand in hand and side by side with our adopted families and community…men, women, and children alike! It was truly humbling to see how hard everyone worked. And there was a great spirit of teamwork and fun too!
When people were lined up to pass buckets, often the women would start singing and dancing, which we just loved! And of course, to make it more amazing, many of the women had their babies strapped to their backs while they worked.
The first few days were during the local kid’s school holiday, so many came out to help as well! I think it’s fair to say that we all fell in love with the children of Diokoul. Their spirit just exuded a pure joy, enthusiasm, and excitement that we rarely see at home and they were just beautiful, all around. Our interactions with the kids are definitely one of the things that we miss most, when thinking back on our experience.