Learning through service

When leading a container transformation project, I often focus on the final outcome and forget to focus on the value of the moment. Consumed by the planning of the project, like creating material lists and soliciting the necessary supplies, I can miss the real purpose of the project, which is to connect people through service.

 

While working on our most recent project with Monarch High School in Louisville, Colorado, I have been able to enjoy the actual building process and the human interaction that goes on during the build.

 

In order to enhance the learning process, Homes of Living Hope has provided a basic project framework and left much room for the MHS students to apply their ideas. I simply met with the students and explained what I wanted: a health care clinic for an impoverished settlement in Mexico City known as San José Las Palmas. The container would be fully operational as a medical and dental clinic to be run by the non-profit ConeXión Mosaico. We would be working with an unfinished shipping container and a plot of ground in the outskirts of Mexico City. Although we would have access to water and plumbing, electricity for the facility would be difficult to come by in the area.

 

The students started brainstorming and came up with three different designs. We discussed the merits of each and they settled on a final design that was different than anything we had done in the past. It was great watching how they questioned, challenged, and reminded each other of the goals and challenges of the project while developing the final design. The students created detailed drawings and a 3-D model of the clinic, putting the skills they developed at school to the test.

 

The container was delivered to the school during a day off to avoid the congestion of a crane and trucks around an active driveway. I was so impressed to see students gather excitedly to witness the delivery of the container. A student from the school newspaper took photos and interviewed students to put together an article for the school newspaper.  The students were curious about how this large container would be offloaded and placed on a hill. Curiosity is a great motivator.

 

Construction began soon after the container’s delivery. Each day during the first hour of class, students from Monarch’s architectural design class measured and cut boards, nail 2 x4’s together into wall sections, and carried them out to the container to be nailed into place. With only 50 minutes to build each morning, the students learned to manage their time and resources efficiently. The design class’ teacher, Mr. David Clark, encouraged students to think critically in solving their own questions about the design and the building process..

 

Each afternoon, a group of students from the MHS Shazbots robotics team would pick up where the morning class had left off. It was fun to see how these students figured out how to build a wall section or cut a hole in a sheet of paneling for a light fixture. Being in the construction trade for most of my life, I forgot how fun it was to take numerous measurements, lay it out on the panel, check and recheck the dimensions, cut the hole, and then celebrate when the panel slid perfectly into place!

 

The MHS art club offered to design and paint the exterior of the container. This would be a large, real life application of their talent, and the most visible portion of the clinic. The students shared what they understood about the culture and environment of San José Las Palmas and the impact their art could have on this community. After preparing sketches and color palettes, they settled on three designs, one for each side of the container. The students gathered after school hours to paint huge murals for a community they would probably never meet. It was so great watching the fun they had while applying their skills.

 

The students exuded pride in their work; I overheard excited conversations between students, faculty, and community members about where the clinic would be going and its purpose. I witnessed their skills improve in both building and critical thinking, and saw project leaders helping new volunteers become involved.

 

One of the things I had communicated with them was the need to provide security bars for the windows and we talked about how these could be welded. One student took it upon himself to learn how to weld so he could build these bars!

 

The construction of the project is nearing completion and I’ve enjoyed this as much as any project I’ve ever been involved with. I have been able to watch these students solve a puzzle with curiosity and willingness. They are addressing the lack of health care in the slums of Mexico City, and will change lives in an underserved international community. They have learned about the issues faced in another area of the world and have invested themselves in a solution.


Several of the students from the MHS Shazbots robotics team will have the opportunity to travel to Mexico City in October to assist with the clinic’s implementation in San José Las Palmas. They will be able to see first hand the difference this clinic will make and share their insights with their school community.