By Mrs Holly Charlton-Ricks, Assistant Housemistress, Manor House
This summer, I was lucky enough to be selected to be part of the adult leader team heading out to Ecuador, to participate in the Round Square Big Build. 49 students represented schools from all around the world, including the USA, Canada, Australia, India, the Philippines, France, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, and the UK with three of our own students attending from Felsted.
Almost all of the pupils flew into Ecuador unaccompanied, being met by members of the leader team at various times of the day and night at the airport with a giant Round Square flag! Strangers quickly turned into friends, and we all spent a night in a hostel in Guayaquil before heading out to the coast to start our build in the small town of Puerto Rico, a 4 hour coach journey away.
Accommodation in the village was basic but comfortable, and Camp Costa soon became home, although I can’t say that I miss the cold water “bucket showers” or the beetles and centipedes that tried to get in our work boots overnight!
Each morning, we were assigned tasks per group and collected our tools before heading out to the worksites - one where we were building a safe area for the local children to play, and another where a multi-use centre was being built from scratch. The first site involved clearing the ground, creating a concrete ramp to access an existing building, constructing a bamboo fence and gates, adding plants and putting together a flat-pack train for the children to play in which had been made by one of the ‘maestros’ in the village.
All of this was done with basic tools such as hammers, shovels and heavy iron rods; we had no access to any electrical items, which as a DT teacher took a bit of getting used to for me! The multi-use centre was a bare patch of ground when we started, and the team at Camp Costa set us the challenge of constructing a whole building in just 8 days which would then be used by all the community for fundraising activities and events, perhaps even dance lessons and parties!
We started off by digging foundations, laying stones and steel reinforcements for the copious amounts of concrete that needed to be mixed. One day the entire group worked on making concrete using over 40 wheelbarrows full of sand, 40 of gravel and 20 sacks of cement each weighing 50kgs, needless to say by the end of the trip, we were all mixing gurus and could evaluate the consistency and ratios of sand, gravel, cement and water to produce the perfect mix.
We poured huge columns, bases for walls, and having filled the floor with endless wheelbarrows of soil we added a concrete layer for the final finish, before moving onto laying bricks for the walls on the final day - the progress we made as a team was amazing, and all the students pulled together supporting one another.
There were also a couple of excursion days and welcome relief from the hard work, including a trip to Agua Blanca to learn about the history of the indigenous people and try out a clay mask from the natural sulphur pool. We also had a very bouncy boat ride 40km out to sea to Isla de la Plata, spotting humpback whales and dolphins on the way. The island itself was home to blue footed boobies who nested everywhere and anywhere, and the group had a chance to go snorkelling spotting lots of colourful fish on the reefs.
During the evenings back at camp, we were treated to marshmallows around the campfire, locally grown and hand ground coffee tasting, birthday cakes and a pinata, salsa lessons, resting in hammocks, card games and football with the locals on the pitch just opposite. Watching the local children play with the students with basic toys like hula hoops, tennis balls and frisbees and getting so much joy from it was humbling to see, and all without a single mobile phone or laptop!
The donations and fundraising from Felsted and other schools meant that toys and games like these could be shared around the village, as well as enough school supplies to provide at least 40 children from different year groups with individual packs to help with their learning. Even a small toy car brought such happiness and fun.
Whilst the trip was undoubtedly hard work, and I was very glad to climb into my bunk every night, being with such an amazing group of young people and leaders for the two weeks kept me going. The students threw themselves into every task, and their hard work and dedication to meet the goals we were set was inspiring; they genuinely wanted to help this community and make a better place for them to live, whilst supporting each other through the hard work days with humour, kindness and leadership.
As much as I never want to mix another bag of cement in my life, I can certainly recommend going on one of these trips, both as a student, or as part of the leadership team; the experience is unforgettable and makes you really appreciate what you have when you return home