Scene v: Power Struggles


After our Thanksgiving holiday break, it was difficult to get the women involved in the work outside. The work was a little more labor-intensive, one of the women was looking for a permanent job, and others were feeling sick. Still, the team produced a large amount of work, motivated by the surprise delivery of the fountain basin on Monday. Once the fountain was done and we were only waiting on the pump to complete the job, the attention shifted fully to the playground and dryer lines. The children were out of school for Christmas break and excited to watch and help.

Cast of Characters

WPI Safe House Team

Mama Pilisani

Safe House Residents


We were accustomed to the work routine at the Safe House by now: drop off supplies in the yard, bring bags in to the house mother’s room and greet Mama Pilisani and the women there in Xhosa, and invite them to the yard to work. The sun is almost always beating down on us and the children are never far from the group. However, we decided to break the cycle today. After a quick stop at CashBuild to pick up supplies, we walked into the Safe House ready to remind the women of why we were all there. Sam opened the team laptop and started a slideshow of the past few weeks. The cheerful music played and the women gathered close around the table. The unity felt restored, and we hoped motivation was restored. The children laughed when they saw themselves and the women collectively “awed”. As the music faded out, we prepared for another physically demanding, but productive day.

Actions & Observations

We eventually moved outside and got to work. Some people sanded and waterproofed the timber we planned to use, some painted tires in bright colors, and some began work on the tire balance beams. Having changed the plans yesterday, we were nervous about the final outcome of the balance beams in particular. About three quarters of the way into constructing these, the power went out. Suddenly our ambitious plans were limited by what we could accomplish without a power drill. The tire balance beam, tire ladder, and dryer lines, which were all advancing concurrently were brought to a standstill. After discovering that we would remain without power for another four hours, we brought each project as far as we could. We were content with the work we had done, but frustrated by being held back by something uncontrollable.

Balance beams

The final balance beam design before implantation into the ground

Reflection & Learning

With the accelerated schedule due to nearing the end of the field work allotted for our project, we employed the changes we made just yesterday to make our balance beams. Although not entirely complete, it is rewarding to see that our new structures are robust, fun, and visually appealing. We were fortunate enough to use our intuition and make a decision that provided us with a more desirable final product. This learning process is one that we have been developing throughout and continues to be important for us.

On a disappointing note, losing power in the middle of the work day proved to be a setback for us. However, it was something valuable to experience. It put into perspective another aspect of the life of the people we are working with. At home, when we need to eat, the simple solution is to order food. The Safe House women explained to us they generally cannot afford to eat out and may go to bed hungry tonight if the electricity does not return. The unknown of when it will return and when it will go out again is a struggle they frequently deal with and it can make a large impact on their day to day life. Living in constant worry of not being able to eat can certainly take a toll on anyone and can certainly impact the recovery of the residents of the Safe House.

Notes for Future Scenes

According to Mama Pilisani, the power will be on for one hour and off for four hours repeatedly for the foreseeable future. This led us to prepare as much as possible for the hour time slots that we will be working with next week, our final week. After an effort at the end of the day to prepare everything in conjunction with a final trip to the store after work, we believe we are in a position to fully utilize the time we have electricity. In the time without electricity, we will have plenty of concurrent projects to advance with and we are fully prepared to cope with the circumstances we have been thrown in.

Scene vi >>