Thursday, February 9, 2017

Roads in San Mateo?!

Before I came to Belize, I'd heard about how the people had built their town and then their school over a mangrove lagoon, but I could not fathom how it was done or what the before and after was like.  Here is the story with pictures.

Enter Kim Shackleford (on the right), a social work professor from University of Mississippi.  As part of a 3 hour class, she brought her students down to do a community assessment.  The person on the left is Katy Gominger, a former student who still visits regularly with Kim.  The students went door to door in San Mateo asking what people felt that they needed and what sorts of troubles they dealt with on a daily basis.  Kim felt sure that they would need a medical clinic because there was so much illness, but when all of the information was gathered and examined, what they really seemed to need, and have the energy and desire to build for themselves, was dry land and roads.  The whole town was built on stilts connected by narrow board planks.  They even already knew how to build the roads, they just needed financial support and the encouragement to organize.

The students went home to the States and started a series of fundraisers, raising enough money (book drives, karaoke nights, 5k runs, yard sales, and soliciting large donations through social media) to pay for supplies and some labor (digging up the rock and sand - the people of the community provided the labor to build the roads once they had the materials).  People in the community of San Mateo began to organize and appointed a board.  Below is a picture of Maggie.  All 7 of her children helped to build the road, including baby Miley who toddled around with a little shovel and lifted everyone's spirits.  Maggie cooked for the workers and helped with keeping communication going between everyone.

Once the money and organizational structure was in place, they went out to the edge of town and started breaking up limestone from the bottom of the lagoon and shoveling up sand.  Here you can see the area where all of the limestone and sand came from.

For an excellent video of how the road was built, narrated by Morgan Freeman, check out this link.

Here is the first road once it was finished.

Once the road was finished and people had dry land under their houses, it was possible to install electricity and septic tanks.  Coconut trees and other plants were planted.  People no longer fell off of the plank bridges into the sewage contaminated water.  Illness and injury rates dropped.  Life improved.

While there were a few squatters in the houses on stilts, most of the plots of "land" where the houses were built had been divided up and sold by the city.  People had paid money and were paying property taxes for the right to live over the water with no sewage, water or electricity.  Once the community got mobilized and built the first few roads, the politicians were shamed into building more.  To save money, they decided to use trash as fill instead of limestone.  The trash as fill leads to some odd contrasts (see previous post "Contrasts" from Feb. 6).  Below you can see another dump pile waiting to be packed down and covered with sand (just beyond the wooden fence in front).

And here is one of my favorite contrasts.  "No Dumping"?!!  Dumping happens everywhere to add to the roads!

The resulting roads are not as high quality as the original.  The organic matter breaks down and the plastics get compacted over time resulting in enormous potholes, but at least there is dry land to walk and drive on.

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