Progress at the School

September 9, 2007

Dear friends and family,

Gday to you all once again.  Hope you're all well and enjoying life.  I guess the year is flying by for you as it is for us.  We have little more than 2 months until the school year ends here.  And the little school here, Unidad Educativo Técnico Industrial Richard Gates (UETIRG for short), will be having its very first graduation from secondary school!  The school started four years ago, with only the first year of secondary school, and has been adding one more year of high school every year.  The schools in Bolivia only have four years of secondary school, unlike our six years of secondary school in Australia.  So the first graduation is quite a milestone, and will be a very special event!

Some of you will be glad to know that the 5000 litre water tank is now mounted on top of the completed 6 metre water tower.  And some of you will also be glad to know that...  no we did not sit the tank on the ground and dig away the earth beneath it until it was 6 meters in the air, like the Egyptions did with the pyramids!  It was raised using ropes and pullies etc, and went very smoothly.  If you are interested in seeing a short video please click on this link...

Well a 5000L water tank is no good without pipes. The aim was to dig the trenches with the backhoe, but as this kept breaking down to a point where no one at the school was able to fix it, and the students and some of the staff, set to digging the ditches by hand.  Within one week all the ditches were dug...and this was no small effort.  The ditches are about waist deep on me, and one foot wide the whole way down!  And a rough estimate, is that the ditches would be in total length about 400 meters or a little more.  And since then, with the extra help of some volunteers from the USA who came down for a couple of weeks, the new water system is now fully functioning!

This system will support the growing needs of the school well into the future, replacing the hodgepodge of undersized pipes, that were buried only 10-15 cms below the surface (and were constantly being damaged and repaired) that were no longer capable of supplying water to the campus.  As well as this, with the new water piping system the pump only has to run 20 minutes to fill the 5000 litres rather than 1.5 hours to fill 1500 litres in the old system (due to appropriately-sized vs undersized pipes).  So its all round good...and should mean an end watertanks running out half way through a shower!

About a month ago now, we had a two week period where we had a real spiritual emphasis, a "week of prayer" (that went for 2 weeks).  At the school the students normally have an early morning worship (girls and boys separately in their respective dorms), also a staff early morning worship, and in the evening we have a combined worship for everybody together.  In the first week, we had special morning and evening worships with the girls and boys having separate worship times.  All the female staff would attend in the girls dorm, and all the male staff in the boys dorms.  This was important to have separate worship times in the first week because the girls and boys at our school have very different spiritual needs.  The boys at the school generally tend to be a lot deeper spiritually than the girls, and the girls had a lot of disharmony in their dorm.

The second week was similar, but with everybody (boys and girls and staff) combined for the evening worships.  It was a really special time.  Through these weeks, we saw God really working in the student's lives.  We have seen some of the girls who absolutely hated each other make things right with each other and become good friends, we have seen students commit their lives to God, and we have seen the beautiful changes that God is helping them to make in their lives.  These weeks or prayer didn't only make a different in the students lives, but also was a blessing to the staff, drawing us closer to God and to each other.

Also around a month or more ago now was Bolivia's Independance Day.  To celebrate their independence each town in Bolivia has a parade with all the schools marching in the parade, with marching bands etc.  Well, I am fully convinced that if Bolivia ever has to go to war, they will never be short of a marching band! It was just amazing how many schools had marching bands.  One other thing that surprised us was the number of schools in the little town of Guayaramerin.  I think the town has a population of somewhere around 30,000-40,000 people, yet they had enough schools to keep the parade going for around 1.5 hours!  It was quite a surprise.  The town obviously has a young population.  It was a chaotic, disorganised affair, but was interesting none-the-less, and exciting for our students.

A milestone at our project here in Bolivia is the recent commencement of work on preparing an airstrip for a medical aviation program here in Bolivia.  For some time now it has been the hope to start a medical aviation program in Bolivia, based at the school where we are working.  Some of you may be aware that Gospel Ministries International (GMI - the organisation we are working with) has medical aviation programs in other countries such as Venezuala and Guayana.  Several months ago some money was donated for the development of an airstrip and hangar for our project here.  Michael wrote about this to a friend, and so I will paste in what he wrote...

"When God provides the resources to accomplish a work, and yet other things are delaying the accomplishment of the work it is very frustrating.  This was our experience with the construction of the airstrip for several months...but now God is opening doors to bring this dream to a reality.

As soon as school started again after the mid-year vacation, we started working towards re-negotiating with the contractors who Jeff (the director here at the school) had previously made agreements with, but which had not come to fruition.  With very few options available for the hire of large equipment, customer service is often poor and you can't be fussy if things don't go as planned.  However after several weeks more of broken promises and delays with a contractor who has a bulldozer, we started talking to other people, and were able to come to agreement with the owner of a large excavator who claimed that his machine was just as efficient at clearing jungle as a bulldozer, and who was prepared to agree to a similar price to using a bulldozer.  Also we had used this contractor's services once before and found them to be both honest and reliable to work with.  (This sort of large equipment is normally not available here in Guayaramerin, but it is working in our area this year because of a large bridge & hydro construction project.)

Thus on Wednesday 3 weeks ago after a delay of only three days from the plan :-), the work began.  And one week later we had enough jungle cleared to be able to see all the way through from the school end of the runway out to the main road (approx 1km) - praise the Lord!  Although it's exciting to see a clean path through the jungle, in reality this is really just the beginning of the work.  There are boggy patches that will require lots of soil to be brought in to lift them up along with drains and culverts.  Then will come the task of bringing in gravel for the central runway surface and of levelling and seeding the sides with grass to inhibit the jungle from groing back.

There are also several risks to the project.  At the end of this week, the contractor has a couple more weeks of work on his main construction project which will take him away from our project, however in reality this may be a blessing in disguise as it will provide time for the ground to dry and to test the initial cut-off drains to see if they are sufficient to drain the soil adequately or whether we have water springing up from underneath and have to do something more drastic.  Another risk is that at present we are still relying on the first unrealiable contractor for a grader later on in the project - every indication is that the grader is much easier to gain access to than the bulldozer, but we need to keep this in our prayers because if this fails we are aware of only one other option.

One big blessing has been that we have been able to use a GPS to guide the excavator through 1km of jungle and come out in the right place at the other side.  Although alternatives do exist, penetrating through 1km of jungle in a straight line and coming out at the right place at the other end through other means is no easy task.  We thank God for allowing this technology to be created to aid in His work."

So that's what has been happening at the school.  As for us, at present we have taken a week off to meet up with my parents who have come over to visit us for a short time.  We met them in La Paz, and travelled together to Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu.  Its been an enjoyable but busy time together, seeing some very beautiful scenery and interesting places.  One thing we have learned is that Peruvians are a lot more opportunistic than Bolivians...and for tourists, this is not necessarily a good thing.  The number of times people have tried to rip us off begins to make me quite a suspicious person.  The best one was probably the restaurant man who gave us one menu with one set of prices to order from, and then used a different menu, with much more expensive prices on it to add up the bill!  Dodgy!!  Then there was the shoe shine boys who begged me to let them clean my dirty work boots for a price of 1 Peruvian Sol (30 cents US), but after completing the job wanted 10 Peruvian Sols ($US3.30).  And the taxi driver who said the ride would cost 3 Sols ($US1) but when we arrive tried to charge us 3 sols each person (4 times the original price quoted, as there was 4 of us).  You'll be relieved to know we didn't let any of them get away with the restaurant we recalculated the bill and paid him on the generous side of what we thought he deserved (and yes he accepted it), the shoe shine boys got 2 Sols, and the taxi driver...he got only the 3 Sols that he'd quoted us.  But we're pretty sure we got ripped off in at least one or 2 other situations.

Machu Picchu was just beautiful.  The scenery there is almost surreal and the photos only do it a partial justice.  Unfortunately we didn't have sufficient time to hike the Inca Trail, and only had one day to visit it.  As we were driving in the bus to Machu Picchu, we realised that we hadn't downloaded our camera's memory card from the previous days photos, so only had half the capacity of the memory card to use (approx 110 photos in total).  We used them well though, and Michael took the last photo when we were just about 5 minutes walk from our hostel.

So this week we will be travelling back to the school with Mum and Dad, and will be giving them the privilege and pleasure of trying out some genuine "grass-hut jungle living"!  Its just to make sure that they really will enjoy their Tempo Holidays tour of Brazil and Argentina after they leave us!

Well, I think I will need to leave it there now.

Trust you are all doing well and (for those of you in Australia) enjoying Spring!

Love Dani and Michael