Sanitation: Female Team Member Reflection

Looking at all the work we had to do for this project and the amount of holes we had to dig in one week we thought that we were biting off more than we could chew.  For us the most frustrating part for this whole project was planning where the tanks would go, how the leach field would be built, and what we would do if something went wrong.  Every time we thought we had gotten somewhere with the design, something came up requiring us to change it.  We must have changed the placement of the tanks five times before we actually installed them.  We also switched back and forth between the leach field idea and the soakaway idea a few times.  This project was made even more difficult by the fact that we didn’t really know what we were doing.  We had to quickly do research and plan the whole project in three weeks, something that doesn’t normally happen.  Although frustrating, we managed to pull everything together for a week’s worth of digging and construction.

We started out strong, although the workers we had for this project were not as enthusiastic as the ones we had for the B-Section hall.  They tended to want to take lots of breaks and were reluctant to dig.  The fastest we saw them move was when Scott told them that they would get a R50 bonus if they finished work by 12:30 (they finished half an hour late, but Scott still gave them the bonus).  We found that these workers were more willing to let the girls help too.  There was only one point where they said that we didn’t have enough power to cut a PVC pipe with a saw.  We were actively involved in the whole construction/digging process too.  At times it seemed like we were doing more work than the workers, although they probably felt the same way when we were planning our next move and they were digging.  We definitely got a workout though with all the digging we did.  The girls were able to help in almost every part of the project too which was really exciting.  The only thing that we couldn’t do alone was lift the cement bags because they were 110 lb each.

Although we worked closely with the workers, we did not learn as much from them as we did from the volunteers.  The only thing we learned was how to make concrete without using a mixer, and although it’s interesting it’s not nearly as interesting as everything else we learned while working on the B-Section hall.  We also had a different relationship with these workers.  They treated us more as bosses rather than co-workers.  It’s understandable why they did it, we and the VPUU were paying them to work for us after all, but we feel as though it detracted from our relationship with them.  We were not able to socialize with them as much as we were able to with the B-Section Hall volunteers.

The construction process for this project was more stressful than the process for the B-Section Hall, although that’s probably because we had to change everything ten times and we were given wrong information a few times also.  When we were purchasing the septic tanks we asked 4EVR Plastics for the dimensions and where the inlet and outlet were located so we knew how deep to dig our trenches and our holes.  We dug our outlet trench for the blackwater tank based on the approximate dimensions given to us by the manufacturer, only to discover that once we put the tank in the ground, the outlet pipe was actually 20cm deeper than we thought it would be.  This meant that we had to dig our current trench (which was about 12.5m long) another 20 cm deeper, which led us to run into other problems.  When we were laying out the outlet pipes, we took into account all the foundations of the pillars and strategically placed the pipes so they wouldn’t be located near the foundations.  When we started digging the trench deeper we hit the foundation.  It turned out that the numbers we were given were wrong.  We had to figure out a way to get around the foundation, messing up our design.  We managed to work it out in the end, but it definitely set us behind.  After a few long days spent in Monwabisi Park, we finished installing the septic tanks, well mostly, we ran out of concrete so we left a little for the VPUU to finish.

Looking back on this project, it was greatly different from the B-Section Hall.  We understand that this project is going to be helping the community later on, but right now we wonder how late later on is.  It feels as though this project is mainly benefiting the VPUU rather than the community as a whole.  Although we know that eventually the findings from this septic system will be beneficial one day, we wonder if that day will ever come.  This project was also not as rewarding to us as the B-Section Hall.  With the hall we could immediately see the difference we had made.  Once we were done with the septic system all we saw was sand, there were no immediate results, something that disappointed us.