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

~Making A Window~

  I clearly remember how I felt when I entered Daniela’s house for the first time. The house was very small, dark, damp and shady. As soon as we started auditing, we realized that one of the biggest issues of the house was the lack of windows. In total, they only had two small windows in the house. Furthermore, those windows were blocked by the pile of garbage and a shelf, so the house got very little sunlight. As a result, walls were damp and full of mold, which could cause the children’s health problems.

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With the volunteers of WWB, we hollowed out some walls and put window frames so that they would have a better ventilation system and get more sunlight. As we were working on, Sofia told me the reason why the family had only two windows: they were afraid of windows. The house used to have a big window in the front of the house. However, the window was covered up because when Daniela was living in the house with her mother, someone tried to break in to their house for robbery. As well as the mother, the oldest daughter is traumatized by windows because of her past experience. One time, her uncle intended to surprise her parents through the windows, but he went to a wrong room and woke the children up. Taking these episodes into consideration, we installed bars with the new windows.

 

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With the new windows, the house has drastically changed. Now the gloomy and shady environment has been transformed into brighter and healthier one. Through this experience, I witnessed that such a tiny change can cause a huge impact. In addition, I clearly perceived that we were working not only in the house but also with the people who are living in the house. By transforming the house, we were changing the family’s life too. The significance of communicating with the family besides assessing the house lies in this point. I really hope the new windows will be a good peg for the new departure of the family.

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-Written by Kaori Tsuji

Backyard Cleaning

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On January 26th, we worked on collecting the garbage which was scattered over Daniela’s backyard. We’d been instructed by staff members to stop working while the US Ambassador was visiting and looking around the house; however, we were eager to do something, rather than just stand and gawk at the ambassador. As the simplest way to improve their living condition while we waited for his arrival, we started collecting garbage in the home’s front and back lawns. When I saw the scene of the backyard, where all different kinds of garbage were just scattered over, I lost my words. There were tiny pieces of broken glass, diapers, food leftovers, and many other hazardous objects, and Daniela’s kids were walking around without shoes. The amount of garbage and the smell just overwhelmed me. More shockingly, as I approached the pile of garbage, I found a girl sleeping in a bed, under the sun. The trash was just an accepted part of their environment.

We spent the whole morning for removing the trash. Meanwhile, Daniela’s children watched us hesitantly in the distance. They looked a little bit anxious, and I figured out the reason why when  the second daughter hesitantly asked me to give her back a doll which I just threw it on a pile of the garbage. The doll had lots of stains and it’s hair was almost gone. But after I passed it to her, she held it tightly and stored it in a broken fridge. For me, the doll was nothing but a trash, but I realized that for them those could be reminiscent of their fun memories. Until then, I had strongly believed that cleaning the backyard is absolutely helpful for them, but I found that it’s also so important to consider what is really helpful for the family. Otherwise, I might violate their memories and lifestyle, like I could too easily threw away the girl’s doll, her treasure.

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By the afternoon, however, some kids came out from their house, grabbed shovels, and started helping us removing garbage. One of our members asked one of the kids, who told them to ask us. He just shook his head, and made me filled with warm pleasure. By looking at us, even without words, they were motivated to clean their backyard. When I realized, more than four kids, from the age of 4 to 10, were sweating and working hard with us to clean up the backyard. Thanks to their help, we could end up making two piles of garbage and making some spaces without any bits of glass for them.

 

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However, this story doesn’t end here. The next day, we went to check the backyard. Honestly, I felt sad when I saw that new garbage were again scattered over the backyard. The scene really taught me the difficulties of changing one’s habit and lifestyle. That is to say, we might need more complicated and philosophical approaches to keep a backyard without garbage rather than just setting a trash can there. By realizing the difficulty of actually making a change, I was overwhelmed by despair. That was just too conspicuous to understand that the backyard will be filled with garbage, regardless of our and the kids’ work.  However, I still believe that we could make some positive impacts because our cleaning could show a clean backyard without garbage, and kids experienced the work of removing the garbage. That might be a little change, but someday they may choose a backyard without garbage by remembering the scene of clean garden and the work we did together.

– Written by Yoko Taguchi

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