Stories From The Field: Derlin Activates Community Spirit

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Derlin and his son

Because of the local geography, the walk to school was often unpredictable and unsafe for half the children of San Antonio.  Parents took matters into their own hands and built a permanent pedestrian bridge across a river that was dividing the community in two. The bridge is a great source of pride, providing children a safe, reliable path to school, and the entire community consistent accessibility that sparked capital investment and growing economic opportunity.

What kind of memories do you have of being a kid and exploring the neighborhood? Was it going to your friend’s houses? Or being grown up enough to walk to school all by yourself? In the rural community of San Antonio, the children on the opposite side of the river from the school could see the school from their homes, but would walk an hour in the opposite direction to a different school because often times the river was too high to cross safely.

Meet Derlin. When the community was in discussions with Project Schoolhouse to collaborate on building a school, they decided it was important to make sure children on both sides would be able to have equal, safe, and convenient access to the school. When the residents voiced this need and asked Project Schoolhouse to collaborate on building a pedestrian bridge, Project Schoolhouse was happy to respond to the request.

Derlin is a local father who stepped in as a community organizer. His easy smile and approachable nature contribute to his ability to bring people together to pursue a common goal. While Project Schoolhouse paid for the materials, engineering plans and skilled labor, the community volunteered all of the manual labor to bring this project to fruition.

The roughly 35 families of San Antonio volunteered 3 days a week to excavate and build a school and bridge. Darrelin reflects, “It’s really worth dedicating this time to work. It doesn’t matter if we have to dedicate a year or more to work because it’s an effort that we as parents can do so that our children can achieve more opportunities, so that they can have their school, have water, so that they can feel safe and happy.” Darrelin kept everyone energized and engaged throughout the project with his positive attitude and reminders of why the work is important.

The people of San Antonio truly demonstrated their capacity to organize and work collectively. With a Project Schoolhouse master builder directing them, the families volunteered countless hours to get the job done. They collected 5,000 boulders from the river and then excavated the riverbed using 5-gallon buckets. They dug pits, built pillars, and even learned how to weld! They did everything by hand…including lifting and placing the giant metal beams. It took 9 months of hard labor, but the 100-meter bridge that now exists enables all children a quick and safe walk to school.

The bridge has also contributed to a great deal of community pride in San Antonio. Because they built it with their own hands, the bridge has a special meaning. Having this key piece of infrastructure has also contributed to economic activity since it provides consistent, easy to access the community.  We see residents investing in their homes and farms thanks to the stability this infrastructure lends to the community. The bridge has united the community and set them up for growth and prosperity.  It is an example of why Project Schoolhouse takes great care to listen and respond to voiced need, the bedrock of how we work.  

Pedestrian bridge built in the community of San Antonio in 2016

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