In the beginning...
Long Way Home began its grassroots operations in the municipality of San Juan Comalapa, in the indigenous highlands of west-central Guatemala on Feb 1, 2005.
Together with our neighbors, we built a community park, Parque Chimiyá, on five acres of rural land. The park features a tree nursery, terraced organic gardens, a regulation grass soccer field, a basketball court and a playground. Parque Chimiyá has a community kitchen and a pavilion for presentations and other community events, and at the time housed domestic and international volunteers and interns. In 2012, Long Way Home was pleased to return administration of the park to our local partner, Chuwi Tinamit, the organization that originally commissioned us to develop their property.
Among the many lessons learned while building Parque Chimiya and establishing relationships with community members, the most influential at the time, was that although the park is well attended and an overall success, recreation is not top priority. For years, as we built the park, we observed that people (including children) were spending significant portions of their days carrying firewood and water to their homes; incidents of diarrhea in children were high, likely due to the fact that all of the rivers and streams were polluted; kids had runny noses, likely due to a combination of indoor smoke inhalation and living in homes made from corrugated metal. Overall people were suffering because there were few solutions to their problems that fit into their price range. It was time for us to adapt our strategy.
To address these issues we discussed building an elementary, middle and vocational school complex, using sustainable materials. But, before we could commit to integrating alternative materials into the construction of an entire campus, we had to answer some basic questions. Our pilot green building project was the construction of a small home using said materials, for a local family. This experiment provided us with the following conclusions:
Yes, alternative materials (trash) is available;
Yes, this is cost efficient;
Yes, both boys and girls can contribute;
Yes, it is warmer and cooler when appropriate than a conventional cinderblock house;
Yes, the process is ecologically sound;
Yes, using alternative materials means increased labor needs and thus job creation;
Yes, green building requires community participation;
Yes, both the local and international community does enjoy building with alternative materials;
Yes, this process does require innovative problem-solving steps;
Yes, the buildings perform well during tremors;
Yes, this process can be replicated and scaled;
And yes, this initiative builds on the strengths and resources within the community.
Enthusiastic about our findings and poised with new questions we broke ground on the Centro Educative Tecnico Chixot (CETC) campus on January 1, 2009.