B-Section Hall-Female Team Member Reflection

When we walked into the B-Section Hall, we were surprised by it.  We couldn’t believe that it had been built in a matter of a few days.  Once we took our initial measurements it was clear that it had been.  None of the walls were the same height or length, the room was not square, and the ceiling was put together using scraps of wood not quite long enough to span the length of the hall.  The roof leaked and the ceiling panels were sagging, not to mention the few that were severely damaged.  We were faced with a great deal of work, and only a week to do it.

We started out strong…well in our minds at least.  We knew we needed the help of volunteers, but we didn’t realize how badly we would need them until they showed up.  We spent part of the morning trying to take the roof off of the B-Section Hall by ourselves.  It was slow moving but we thought we were making good time.  While we were removing the roof four people walked by asking if we needed help, we happily said yes.  They started tearing off the roof and were moving much faster than we were.  We couldn’t believe how quickly they worked to take down the roof.  As soon as the roof was down they wanted to immediately start putting up the new one.  It was difficult to have them pause so we could measure the wood to make sure it would fit, something they did not like that much.  We quickly learned how little planning they do in constructing a building.  From what our volunteers said and implied, they don’t really measure anything.  They hold up a board, if it looks like it fits, they nail it in, if it’s too big they cut it or find a different board, if it’s only slightly too big they take a hammer to it to shorten it that extra millimeter.

The volunteers asked how long we planned on taking to build the roof and we said about three days, they were in shock.  They build shacks in one day so to take three days to build only a roof was unheard of.  Throughout the process their building knowledge came in handy.  They introduced new construction techniques to us, while we did the same for them.  One thing they taught us that we all found interesting was how to cut a piece of zinc using only a piece of wire and wood.  We were starting to cut it with tin snips but at the rate we were going it was going to take about 15 or 20 minutes.  The volunteers came over, looked at us, went back inside the hall, grabbed a piece of wire and wood and came outside.  They set up the wire and cut the zinc in a matter of 5 minutes.  We were so impressed with how they use their resources, and we actually used that technique in other phases of the project.

Throughout the construction, we bought the volunteers lunch as a way of saying thank you. It was difficult to get them to stop for a lunch break.  Although we were all hungry and unwilling to stop for a break until the current process we were working on was complete, they were even more unwilling to stop.  Their work ethic was astounding and we couldn’t have asked for better volunteers.

Right from the start of the project, it was obvious as to how gender roles came into play.  The girls were not allowed to do any heavy lifting or even pick up a tool.  One of the volunteers saw one of us picking up wood to move it in a different direction and told her she couldn’t lift it because it was too heavy.  The same thing happened to all of us at some point.  Any time we went to pick up a saw they would tell us that we didn’t have enough power to use it and would push us aside to cut the wood themselves.  This really frustrated us because in the United States, girls are able to do construction without being pushed aside by the boys.  We asked one of the co-researchers why we kept being pushed aside and she said it was because men do all the construction and women do the housekeeping.  Hearing about the gender roles in Monwabisi Park surprised us.  Although America has similar stereotypes at times, there are still options for men and women to interchange jobs.  In Monwabisi Park, women are expected to cook dinner every night even if they work and their husband doesn’t.  We found that the girls did a great deal of standing around during this project becoming the designated interviewers and socializers.  We tried to help build, but every time we did we were pushed away.  It wasn’t until one of the last days of the project where we were able to actually help.  We think it was because we pushed our involvement so much that the volunteers actually realized that we knew what we were doing. There was one point where the boys were trying to fit a piece of wood to the door frame.  They tried and failed three times, so the girls stepped in and told them where to measure and where to cut.  The boys were skeptical but in the end it worked. We made the board fit in the first try, and the boys were shocked.  The volunteers couldn’t believe that the girls were able to cut a piece of wood that fit on the first try.

We are relieved that this part of our project is over, and that we helped make a difference in the community.  People would stop and watch us work and comment on how we were helping them and some even offered to help us more.  During the project, there were people that would come up to us and ask us if we could give them a job.  That was one of the most sobering experiences throughout the project.  We felt bad saying no, but at the same time we have no jobs to offer.  When we asked the volunteers why they were helping, they told us it was because they had nothing else to do.  They said they would rather help us than sit around their houses all day doing nothing.   As a way of thanking them, we gave them a letter of recommendation, hoping that it will help them get a job later on.