Day 1, Buenos Aires

January 19, 2016

After almost 24 hours of traveling, we finally arrived in  Buenos Aires. The porteña’s hot weather and humidity, as well as two taxis, awaited us at at the airport to transport us to the hostel. After settling in at EcoPampas Hostel, we changed into more comfortable shoes and hit the streets to explore the wonderful city of Buenos Aires, commencing our journey in our neighborhood of Palermo, a vibrant and youthful district in the northeastern sector of the city.

In the afternoon, we rendezvoused with Nicolas Maggio, president of the Foro de Vivienda Social y Eficiencia Energética (FOVISEE) and Weatherizers Without Borders (WWB), and Paula, the programs’ architect. Both Nicolas and Paula warmly welcomed us to Argentina and to the WWB project. Dr. Maggio outlined the details of the following two-days of weatherization training, mentioning topics such as Energy Auditing and the retrofitting of dwellings. He also clarified the details of the three-day trip to the Municipality of Campana, where we would perform energy assessments, provide recommendations, and retrofit the homes of participating low-income families.

– Written by Anna Casals

Day 2 & 3, Buenos Aires

January 20-21

After a “short walk” across the city (we would quickly learn that Tomas’ definition of “short walk” drastically varied from ours),  FOVISEE and WWB staff members, Laura Brudnick and Paula Stella, met our group in the lobby of the Infinity hotel. There, they lectured us on the vision and mission of the program, their past accomplishments, and the difficulties that the project currently faces.
 On the 21st, we returned to the Infinity hotel, to recieve technical weatherization training and familiarize ourselves with the equipment. Paula and Laura stressed the necessity of clear and open communication with the home owners.  After the day’s lecture, we divided into three groups to conduct mock energy audits and practice the procedure of inquiry and data collection, before we implemented our weatherization training in the field the following day.
Sometimes, learning such professional and technological details seemed overwhelming; however, Lauren and Paula were very open to answer our questions and to share their experiences. I asked them, “How can we, students who have no technical skills, make change?” They answered that one of their biggest struggles as a non-profit organization is promoting the project. As they recognized the significance of the effective social media use, they asked me for advice in effectively navigating social media. That was such a great opportunity to listen to their struggles and experiences because through the interaction, we could figure out what we can really do besides just experience the project.

 

– Written by Yoko Taguchi, Video by Braxton Keo

Day 4, Campana

January 22, 2016

At 6 am our alarms sounded to announce the beginning of a long but exciting day. Today was our first day trip to the city of Campana, located at 47 miles from the center of the city of Buenos Aires, to apply the weatherization knowledge we learned in the training. At 7 am, a bus from the municipality of Campana picked us up from the hostel to go to the work site. Around 9 am, we arrived to Campana and met the FOVISEE and WWB team composed of some college students from Buenos Aires and various community volunteers.

Coordinated by Professor Crowder-Taraborelli and Dr. Maggio, we created three teams to work in three different houses:

The first team worked in Jessica’s house, a small, three year old, one-floor residence of built of hollowed bricks and corrugated metal roof sheets. We started auditing the house by asking Jessica questions about the residence and their use of public utilities like water, electricity, and gas. During summer, Jessica told us that the house is extremely hot and excessively humid, while in the winter, it is extremely cold. Some of the issues in the home that were identified was that when there was a rainfall, various walls leaked. We continued by calculating the internal and external temperature of the house as well as the percentage of internal and external humidity. After we finished the audit, we concluded that out of the various potential fixes the house needs, the most important ones were the insulation of the roof to significantly decrease the heat and cold inside the home. Waterproofing the roof and some of the south facing walls with water repellent concrete was also necessary.

The second team conducted an energy audit and retrofit work in Monica’s home. The team identified that there was a lot of water filtration in most of the walls. Such water leakage was caused by rainfall and condensation. The roof in the house is very low; therefore the corrugated metal roof sheets heat even faster the home; thus, the insulation of roof would dramatically increase the home’s livability. Water proofing the home was identified as another key retrofit. WWB had already started some of the work in the home, so the Soka University team assisted them in the installation of fiber glass insulation in the bedroom where all the children of the home slept.

The third team worked in Daniela and Sergio’s house, which was built by her father more than 20 years ago. Although the house is very small, the family of nine includes seven children,  and Daniela and Sergio are expecting an 8th child. We performed an energy audit on the home, and discovered many problems with the house, including: the lack of electricity, high humidity, high temperatures, mold, and gas leaks. The biggest problem was humidity in the house. The lack of windows and sunlight fostered  growth of mold on the damp walls. Some of the children have encountered health issues that are associated with the house’s condition. To solve these problems, we started by cleaning the house. We cleared out a room that was covered in garbage and clothes. Next, we worked on cleaning and disinfecting the walls, and identifying places to install windows so that the house is better ventilated system. Besides fixing and informing the family of technical problems, one of the key factors of the retrofit was social: communicating the importance of taking better care of their house with the family.

-Written by Anna Casals, Video by Braxton Keo

Day 5, Campana

January 23, 2016

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Photo by Braxton Keo

Above: our second day in Campana began with a debrief of yesterday’s energy auditing process. From the results we shared in the circle, we determined which projects would be most effective to conduct at each home.

Today at Jessica´s house, the weatherization team tackled two major issues: humidity and temperature. To combat the leakage on the northern wall, members of the team began to layer cement and stucco onto the exterior facade. Under the tutelage of more experienced workers, Soka students took turns flicking gobs of wet cerecita onto the brick surface and smoothing it up the wall with a flat-edged trowel. Although the learning curve was steep, we finally mastered the tricky maneuver by the end of the afternoon, thanks to the patience of our weatherization mentors. Meanwhile, inside the house, we began to construct the frame that would eventually house the anti-conductive fiberglass insulation. Metal rods were sized, cut, and then nailed in a grid formation to the corrugated tin roof. After the grid was complete, the fiberglass was stapled to a layer of protective drywall and inserted below the tin. During this process, standing beneath the insulation was measurably cooler than standing directly underneath the exposed tin roof. (According to Jessica, the exposed tin roof had previously cooked her family´s home upwards of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.)

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Photo by Braxton Keo

At the same time, in Monica’s home, students and WWB volunteers began applying stucco to the cracks between the drywall pannels to create a smooth and water resistant roof that could be painted later.

When we left Jessica’s home, we felt confident about the tangible progress we´d made. We would save the final touches for completion on Monday with the visit of US Ambassador Noah B. Mamet.

– Written by MacKenzie Kermoade, Video by Braxton Keo

Day 6, Campana

Today – the last day we were supposed to spend working in Campana – provided us with an opportunity to finalize what we started. Plastering the walls, insulating the ceilings, adding more windows to let some more light in and improve the air circulation in the house – that is just a fine selection of all that we actually did. Physical work aside, we went head-on with the social aspect of this work. It is simply not enough to fix a house without ensuring the owners understand the importance of the act and the actions they take upon it themselves towards further improvement of the living conditions of their home.

However, that was not today’s highlight. What became an unforgettable memory for us was the visit the American ambassador paid us. We were in the middle of our regular workday when he ambassador, Mr. Noah Mamet, arrived. He, first, visited Jessica’s house, where we discussed the work we were doing: he inquired about the plastering and insulation, and later expressed his conviction of our work’s significance for the families and its overall importance for further advances in promoting sustainable housing, especially in regards to low-income families.

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Photo by Braxton Keo

The ambassador then went on to visit Daniella’s house. Upon entering the home, he was not able to conceal his sincere concerns about the home’s health-and-safety environment. A few of us currently working in this house did not hesitate to explain to the ambassador what we were trying to accomplish inside of the home. Mr. Memet expressed his excitement about our work in here as well and proceeded to take a picture of the semi-finished front window with his personal cell phone, which communicated to us that he perceived our work as notably beneficial with apparent progress towards our goal including the visible positive change.

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Photo by Braxton Keo

After we took a group photo with the workers from FOVISEE and Weatherizers Without Borders (WWB), the ambassador and Daniella’s family, Mr. Memet and everyone else moved over to the local kindergarten where ambassador Memet delivered a speech about the pivotal role of sustainability in our socio-economic outlooks for the future.

Overall it was an uplifting encounter, which happened to somehow increase the worth and importance we all saw in the work we were doing. The ambassador’s visit and kind words filled us with enthusiasm and made us vehemently try to finish what we started at all costs. To our disappointment, we were not able to do so on time as we lost a significant amount of time during the first day while still learning the skills necessary for conducting the fieldwork. However, it is definitely not off the table to say that we accomplished something of great importance (not only) for the families we worked with.

-Written by Jaroslav Zapletal

Day 7, Campana

January 27, 2016

Four team members returned to Campana to record more voices from the house owners for our documentary. After a weekend of reflection and consideration, the audio/visual team had generated more specific questions for the home owners,  and returned to the field to collect more detailed stories from the families as well as their reactions to this project.  Two of those students later visited Monica’s house and helped Paula sand the roof to facilitate the painting that would occur after stay. The sanding roof team finished one third of the whole ceiling and interacted amiably   with Monica’s family. Although we could stay in Campana only for three hours, we collected the materials necessary for our documentary and completed some difficult but fulfilling work.

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This marked our final day of working in Campana, and I felt strange feelings when I was leaving the neighborhood. Either because we had just four members this time, or because I was feeling something similar to nostalgia, today’s Campana was quiet, and even serene. Also, I could stop feeling some kind of confusion of leaving there in the middle of the work. Who will finish sanding the ceiling? Who will recollect the garbage in Daniela’s garden after we left? Thinking about those things, I was overwhelmed by the necessity of enduring involvement of this project. Compared with the amount of effort and work by the volunteers in Campana, I feel that what I have done is too little to call as work. However, I have learned something from this three days of working in Campana. There must be something that I can do. On the way back to Buenos Ares, I have been wondering, what I can do, what I can do to continue working with the organization, the volunteers and the families?

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-Written by Yoko Taguchi