Solola, Guatemala

Background Information

Guatemala is a small country located directly south of Mexico. It is located in an earthquake prone area and current local construction methods are not adequate to withstand this seismic activity. The homes in the rural countryside are constructed primarily of adobe and nationally there is a need for 1.6 million houses. UMR-Missouri S&T was contacted and students agreed to provide on-site training in the construction of seismic resistant concrete block homes. EWB sent a team to Jerez in summer 2006 to work with local builders to learn their methods and to make necessary modifications. A diagram design manual has been prepared and distributed to local homeowners.

Summer 2006 Trip

From May 20 to June 4, 2006, a team of 8 students and 4 professionals traveled to Yupiltepeque, Guatemala to demonstrate proper construction methods for earthquake resistant housing. The team spent their time in Yupiltepeque working with the homeowner and local tradesmen to demonstrate the proper construction techniques and to begin preliminary construction on a housing unit. The project is being completed by the homeowner and students from the University of San Carlos, located in Guatemala City.

Summer 2007 Trip

Ten students, one faculty member, and one professional took a trip to Solola, Guatemala in May of 2007 to begin a project that 846 Guatemalan students would soon be thankful for. They flew from St. Louis to Houston, Texas. From Houston they went into Guatemala City, Guatemala and finally, from Guatemala City airport they drove five hours to reach their final destination of Solola, Guatemala.

Located on a mountainside overlooking the picturesque Lake Atitlan, Solola quickly becomes an image that nobody can forget. Between the amazing scenery and meeting all the locals, it’s a trip of a lifetime!

The students from EWB-Missouri S&T worked on a large Federal school in the middle of town. The school had over 800 students in it and was not large enough for the amount of kids who wanted to go there. Can you imagine having to turn away a child from learning just because there is not enough space? When the team arrived they witnessed first-hand why there was not enough room. Two classes were being held in the school’s gymnasium simultaneously and when it came time to play the students stacked all their desks in one corner of the gym and had to play around them.

Since it is a Federal school there should be no costs involved with going there, but the Guatemalan government is not giving them enough money. They can’t afford many simple necessities. This is what encouraged the EWB-Missouri S&T to start the building of a second story on one of the school Buildings.

The addition that was built consisted of two different rooms and because the landscape has a history of seismic activity the rooms were built to be earthquake resistant. Concrete blocks were used for the walls, supported in the corners and at different points along the wall with rebar. Also, since this building was on the second story they built a platform that stairs could be built on.

While performing this job, they worked alongside Guatemalan engineering students from CUNOC. Working with these students was a very fun and interesting experience for the Missouri S&T team. Most of them spoke fluent English which helped the Missouri S&T students out incredibly with translations in the town. Also, they were able to teach them some of the basics of the Guatemalan culture and Spanish language. With the team only having a week to work on the project together they got a little more then half of the building finished and because of this, Missouri S&T’s friends the CUNOC students, were going to oversee that the project was completed.

At night, when all the work was done for the day, the team went to a local business college near Solola to relax and get ready for the next day. The college supplied dorm rooms and showers. They also had a footsal court (soccer played on a small hard surface with small goals) that the students could enjoy. The college allowed the team to bond more with each other as well as with the CUNOC students.

As far as the food goes, “it was so amazing I took a picture of every meal,” commented Andrew Blair, one of the Missouri S&T team members. The team ate very well on the trip with the help of a little restaurant down the road from where they worked. They ate there every day, and the meals varied from traditional Guatemalan dishes of black beans and eggs with guacamole and pita bread to American dishes such as hamburgers (hamburguesas) made with a Guatemalan twist.

The trip wasn’t all hard work though. On the last couple of nights of their trip the Missouri S&T students went to Panajachel. Panajachel is a tourist town about 15 minutes from Solola and right on the bank of Lake Atitlan. The team was given the opportunity to sightsee and buy souvenirs from the local people. On Saturday morning the team drove to the city of Antiqua where they were also able to do some more exploring. Antiqua is a very old town with a lot of history and about 3 hours from Solola. Saturday night their stay was in an interesting hotel in Antiqua and then on Sunday they made their drive back to Guatemala City where they flew back into Houston, then back home to St. Louis.