Habitat for Humanity El Salvador 2014

For the fourth year in a row, a team of UBC Thunderbirds athletes, coaches and administrators are in El Salvador to build a home as part of the Habitat for Humanity Global Village volunteer program.

The team members are:
Bill Humphries – Team leader
Jayne Blank (Coordinator, Athlete Services)
Rosie Schlagintweit (women’s volleyball)
Marcus Laube (men’s field hockey)
Sarah Casorso (women’s hockey)
Danielle Lemon (women’s hockey)
Reid Mitchell (men’s track and field)
Tori Uhl (women’s soccer)
Greg Smith (men’s soccer)
Nate Fleming (men’s hockey)

The following is the first update from the team, courtesy of Sarah Casorso and Marcus Laube.

For previous updates, please visit our main Habitat for Humanity page.

May 3
Departing at 6 a.m. meant a very early morning (or a very late night) for us on Saturday. Our first flight landed in Houston around four hours after takeoff. We enjoyed a relaxing five-hour layover before our connecting flight to San Salvador. Sarah enjoyed a fried (on the grill?) fish taco, while everyone else opted for the grilled version. After the second leg we arrived safe and sound in El Salvador. We paid $10 for our temporary visas and also enjoyed the bright traffic lights that were used to control the flow through customs. Despite it being nighttime, upon exiting the building we were struck by the heat, and the air felt so humid we could practically drink it. Our shirts instantly felt damp and clammy.
The airport is located 45 minutes outside of San Salvador, which is the capital of El Salvador. It is also the country’s largest city. We all hopped in a chartered van that took us to a beautiful hotel called The Crowne Plaza. There we were greeted by Katy, our lovely chaperone and translator, who is living and working with us for the duration of our trip. Apparently she wanted to meet us at the airport, but the bus driver left her at the hotel. Just after arriving, we ate a late dinner consisting of chicken soup, prosciutto subs and fries before going to bed.
May 4
This morning we awoke to the Disneyland safari ride audio track…not really, but the tropical birds were singing like crazy. Cara, Tori, Nate, Greg and myself rose a bit earlier to take advantage of the hotel’s gym. We were dripping sweat within minutes and felt like we were lifting weights at Everest base camp. Although it was a bit rushed for Greg and I, the buffet breakfast was delicious; highlights were the grilled pupusas (thick corn tortillas stuffed with beans and cheese) and fried plantains.
After breakfast we loaded up the van again and drove into San Salvador. We toured the city’s famous cathedral, where Sunday mass was taking place. We also visited a huge memorial wall, upon which is inscribed the names of thousands of civilians that were either killed or went missing during the civil war. From there, we toured a small market, where Tori found some much-needed sandals. Next we were off to our new hotel, high in the hills above Sonsonate, where we will be staying for the majority of our trip.
At the hotel, we were greeted by the family for whom we will be building a house over the course of the next two weeks. They were delighted to see us, which was neat for us to see. We immediately sat down to lunch with all of them. Everyone introduced themselves, with the help of Katy as our translator. Tori managed to make thoughtful conversation with Mario, the mason for the build site. The Salvadorian people seem to always be happy, and they are fun to be around.
Our lodging is simple, but clean. Everyone is on the second floor, and outside our doors is a ledge with patio chairs, from which we have a scenic view of trees and rolling hills. The walls are paper-thin, so Sarah gets to listen to Nate’s laugh even when she’s really tired of listening to Nate’s laugh.
We had a great time at dinner. Sarah designated everyone with an animal name. Bill is the ‘Silver Fox’, Nate is ‘Baby Sparrow’, Danielle is a lion and Marcus is a lioness (allegedly it has nothing to do with their ginger hair), Reid is a rhino, Jayne is a panda, Katie is a koala, Greg is a wolf, Cara a bear cub and Rosie is a mouse. Tori is many things – mostly a snake, but we also agreed upon a lynx. Sarah (obviously) was a rat, but she also got votes for a racoon and “A really feminine wolf” – she’ll take it.
May 5
Monday morning began with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. – another delicious buffet which offered scrambled eggs, beans, hash browns, pancakes, plantains, salsa and watermelon juice. At 7:30 a.m., we piled into the van and headed to the build site. It was our first day of WORK. When we arrived we saw where we were going to be building – 41 steps up from the road, and 20 meters forward, through the family’s assorted shacks and farm animals. It is essentially a small property on the side of a mountain. Our task for the day was to carry pales of gravel and sand from the street up to our building site. It took us all day to accomplish it, but we succeeded, and needless to say, we’re going to have some pretty nice bums and forearms after carrying all that weight up those stairs over and over again. Luckily it wasn’t too hot, with intermittent clouds and the occasional heavenly breeze. Nevertheless, frequent breaks were needed. We probably drank a swimming pool’s worth of water over the course of the day. Snacks and food were also provided for us by the family.
May 6
Today we began using all the gravel and sand we carried up yesterday to mix cement for the foundation. Upon arrival at the site, we mixed and poured one pile of cement. After an hour of work, we headed to a local soccer school, where we were very fortunate to get to practice and play a scrimmage against a young boys team (age 11-12). Our warm up was sprinting through cones for 10 minutes without balls. We split up our crew of athletes and mixed in with their team to make two teams for the scrimmage. The kids were really good players and awesome sports. Greg and Tori (our soccer players) showed no mercy and scored half their teams’ goals. Luckily Sarah was playing defence, so the other team had no problem scoring a few. Danielle played goalie for our team and apparently couldn’t process how playing goalie in soccer is different from playing goalie in hockey and would butterfly to make saves and only stop the ball with her left hand like she was wearing a goalie glove. On Saturday we’re scheduled to play a real game against the same team.
After soccer we went back to the work site where we spent the day mixing more cement. Since we’re such hard workers we finished the foundation early and got a short day. This was great because the soccer really drained us, and the sun was out all day so it was much hotter than yesterday. We were all sweating buckets. Luckily there were no stairs today but tomorrow we’ll be carrying bricks up from the street to the house.
So far our team has been bonding really well. The routine so far seems to be to come home from work, shower, sit around and talk and have a drink and then go to dinner. After dinner, we sit and talk some more and catch up with social media. We’ve discovered our leader, the ‘silver fox’, reminds us a lot of Steve Martin so you can imagine it’s been a pretty good time so far. He likes to tell stories about his experiences and occasionally bust out some dance moves.