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In our third week in Nomzamo, our group began doing construction at a daycare center in the local community. The ten of us were split into five pairs and each pair came up with something to build for the center. I was paired with Kayla and we decided to build a tetherball post. Of all the pairs’ projects, ours went the fastest. We finished our project with time to spare.

With our remaining time, we were tasked with completing a project that a previous GVI group had left unfinished at the site. The project was to build a concrete base for a water tank. What that meant was that we had to mix and pour wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete onto a rectangular plot so that the water tank could rest on ground that could support its weight. It was grueling and repetitive labor. Kayla and I spent hours heaving massive bags of sand and concrete powder and lugging endless buckets of water, only to gain the pleasure of digging our shovels into the wheelbarrow and manually churning the mixture into pourable concrete. We mixed and poured and mixed and poured and mixed and poured again. Little by little, we filled the plot and created a base stable enough to support a water tank.

The end product was unspectacular at first glance (it was just a big, grey rectangle), but as far as big, grey rectangles go, this one was extremely valuable to its owners. That big, grey rectangle made it possible for children to have easier access to water. That big, grey rectangle was going to be of use to a lot of people. The more I think about that big, grey rectangle the more I realize that the experience was representative of my experience volunteering as a whole. The base represents foundational improvement and lasting change. The base we built provides infrastructure that will last for years and improves the daycare’s long-term ability to provide water to children. That base is the type of sustainable change whose positive impact will live on long after we leave.

“The end product was unspectacular at first glance (it was just a big, grey rectangle), but as far as big, grey rectangles go, this one was extremely valuable to its owners. That big, grey rectangle made it possible for children to have easier access to water. That big, grey rectangle was going to be of use to a lot of people. The more I think about that big, grey rectangle the more I realize that the experience was representative of my experience volunteering as a whole.”

Building it was not easy, and it was not glamorous. Strong foundations are created by hard work. Building that base made me realize that sometimes you may never get the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of your labor but that doesn’t makes the work less worth doing. I wasn’t there to see the water tank get put on the base, and I wasn’t there to see any kids drink from it. All I saw was a big, grey rectangle.

All of us participate in ACE because we want to help people, and we would all agree that helping people is more enjoyable when it is face-to-face and as direct as possible. But as the base proves, sometimes the work that will help the most isn’t the most direct.

Finally, working on that base taught me the value of working with dedicated, hard-working, positive people. Building that base required long hours of repetitive and physically exhausting work. Working with someone like Kayla McCoy gave me the will to continue on even in the toughest moments. Kayla is a person who never complains, always does more than her share of work, and constantly maintains a positive attitude. Working with people like that pushes me to be better myself and to keep up with her enthusiasm and effort. I’m proud to have worked with Kayla, as well as the rest of the group, and I’m proud of the work we did. We were committed to sustainable and positive long-term change, and I believe we accomplished that.

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