I mentioned briefly in my last post that I, along with three other volunteers, have been working with our youth group on building a basketball court, or “cancha.” Well I have great news to report.
At the end of last week the project’s prospects were looking pretty dismal. The mayor blew off our meeting, and the letter we gave to his assistants must not have been as persuasive as we thought because we kept getting the run around when our youth asked about the funding.
In the letter we basically said that our barrio, El Chorro, did not have a basketball court or play (baseball field) for kids to do recreational activities, but they did have more than half the concrete already completed for a mini-cancha as well as a broken hoop. The community also had motivated youth that had the knowledge and ability to finish the court and the support of the neighborhood association. All we needed was 15 bags of cement, red, blue and white paint, and two meters of sand.
The estimates we got for the materials put the cost around 8,000 pesos, about 220 dollars. We thought it would be an easy sell to the mayor because it was just a one time expense for a barrio without a court and he wouldn’t need to do anything but sign the check. Our youth seemed optimistic as well.
Well when we went down to his office to make our pitch last Monday we were told that the mayor had an “emergency meeting” and wouldn’t be able to meet with us. So we made the pitch to his aides and gave them our letter with pictures of the unfinished cancha, and they gave us positive feedback and looks that said “all you’re asking for is 15 bags of cement?” So we waited all week to hear back and never did, and our youth kept saying they were going to find out tomorrow, then tomorrow, then tomorrow. Finally by Thursday we all knew we weren’t getting anything from the mayor, not even a no.
It wasn’t unexpected, we had always assumed we would be rejected by the mayor and had been trying to get our jovenes to walk the beat and make similar pitches to the hardware stores, businesses, and political candidates. But the whole week they had said we would get it from the mayor so we waited and waited, and then when we had wasted the whole week we finally were able to get a group organized to hit up businesses on Friday morning.
But by then we were really under the gun. It was October 9th and all the volunteers had to have their projects done by the following week. Basically we were starting from scratch, and as we walked downtown to meet our youth to go from business to business I was pretty pessimistic that we would get anything from anybody. I was mad we had waited to hear from the mayor instead of fundraising and had wasted the whole week and was disappointed that we had apparently failed in our admittedly ambitious attempt to help build a basketball court.
But something amazing happened once we hit the pavement. It started slow, the first politician blew us off, and then some hardware stores said the boss wasn’t in but they would deliver our letter and call us back, not very promising. Then our luck started to change. A couple of our youth knew someone who worked at another hardware store, and he said we should come back in the afternoon to talk to his boss, so we had an in. Then while standing on the street writing down the name of a political candidate whose face was plastered on a truck, the candidate walked up, it was his truck! He was unshaven and clearly just a regular working man during the day, and one of our youth started talking to him and showed him our letter, and he just reached in his pocket and gave us 500 pesos, about 15 bucks. It wasn’t a lot but it was something, our first donation.
From there we went out and met another candidate who promised to donate something, then a water distribution plant that promised a couple bags of cement and all the sand we wanted. The ball was rolling. From there we went to another hardware stuff who said they would call us, but while we were waiting one of your youth recognized the ex-mayor and told him about the court and he just bought us four bags of cement on the spot. Later that day we got some paint from the owner of the hardware store we had visited earlier, and two bags of cement from the water place, and our group got six more bags and some paint plus 1,000 pesos from other sources.
The day was a complete 180, we had gone from nothing to everything and could actually build the court. We started to plan things out and after preparing we started building the court on Sunday morning. It was hard work, we didn’t have a cement mixer so we had to mix the gravel,
sand, cement and water by hand. We also had to get the sand from a disgusting river and bags of wet sand are about the heaviest thing I have ever tried to lift. But our youth were incredible, they had all the connections. The brother of Kelvin works in construction so he led the laying down of cement, and a guy they knew had a backhoe so he ripped up the broken rim and also dumped sand for us to mix. We worked all morning on Sunday, then the youth finished the laying down the cement that afternoon.
We let the court dry on Monday and then on Tuesday went over there early to put the lines down and paint. Dean and I printed international court dimensions from the internet and tried to make an official court while Jenni and Alicia painted the backboard and cleaned the surrounding area with some neighborhood kids. Putting the lines down was much more complicated than we had envisioned, we had to measure and place tape 5 cm apart at perfect angles 6.25 meters from the non-existent rim for the 3 point line, and make perfect circles with nothing but a measuring tape and string. It was extremely tedious work and took a long time, but we got the lines painted in yellow and they finished painting the court red, blue and white. And I also got the world's worst farmer's tan to show for it.
Now we just need to install the hoop and then on Thursday we have our inauguration/bball tournament so that should be a lot of fun. All in all I'm really happy with the work we've done here in Constanza over the past five weeks. It was just supposed to be training but because we were paired with such an incredible youth group we were able to complete a project that we can all be proud of. Not a bad start at all and now I'm really excited to get to my site and do work in the place I will be calling home for the next two years.
(more pictures of the cancha can be seen here and there will be more to come)