Keira Donnelly — 4Walls Student Ambassador

Keira DonnellyMeet Keira Donnelly, who just got back from her first trip El Sauce. Keira is 13 and will enter 8th grade at Allendale Columbia in September.

While in Nicaragua, Keira commented that she hadn’t understood much about the trip before leaving Rochester. “Yeah, I knew we were going to build a house, but I wasn’t sure how it would work. I didn’t know how much we would get to know the family. I didn’t understand how emotional it would be,” she said. “I wish I had known more.”

Keira volunteered to be the person who makes sure future students know everything they need to know.

 

4W: Thank you for signing up for this job.

KD: I think I can help kids understand. I am good at talking to people my own age. We have similar interests.

4W: We love that more and more student groups are volunteering with the 4Walls Project. Your role will be important.

KD: I know. It’s important to get the message out. That will be my priority. I want parents and adults to understand, too, how moving this experience is — how moving it was for me.

4W: How will you start?

KD: Over the summer I want to design a plan with goals. I’ll do a slide show that I can bring to different schools. My mom is in education. We live in Victor. I’ll probably start there. I want to tell the stories — what we did, who we met. That’s what people want to hear.

Keira thinks she was her best self in Nicaragua. She is already planning to go back. Check out the video she created for the family and friends who helped raise the money for her own trip.

4Walls First Student Learning Trip to El Sauce

We love this video/music montage of the latest 4Walls trip. The videographer is Gwen, a Keuka College student who travelled in January on Keuka’s first student learning trip. She captured the building time in El Sauce, as well as some R&R time in the colonial city of León and at the Pacific beach called Las Peñitas.

4 Walls @ Imagine RIT

The 4Walls Project will be part of this year’s Imagine RIT.

Imagine RIT showcases the most innovative and creative projects of RIT students, including their project to create roofs for 4Walls houses.

Meghan’s Story

Why I was inspired

My name is Meghan Haslam. I came to El Sauce, Nicaragua in November of 2006 as an Environmental Education Peace Corps Volunteer. The inspiration for the 4 Walls Project stems from an encounter with a young man named Juan Pablo who grew up moving from one house to another. When he was in his teens, a nun who had been his teacher donated Juan Pablo a small piece of land. He and his brother built a house of adobe bricks on the land, but they only had enough adobe to build the walls halfway up. They requested some plastic sheeting from the mayor’s office, but to no avail. So the family made do with what they could find: cardboard, scrap metal, plastic, etc. It wasn’t a comfortable place, Juan Pablo told me, but it was still their own. They continued to petition the local government for help, but were refused. Then one night about two years ago a powerful storm roared through El Sauce and one of the walls collapsed. Juan Pablo and his family were grateful to survive, but could only cover the space with a plastic sheet. Due to their hand-to-mouth lifestyle, the wall has been plastic ever since. Although Juan Pablo and I were good friends, he, unlike other Nicaraguans, did not invite me to his home. The people of Nicaragua are proud of their homes; even the poorest will share whatever they have. After asking many times where he lived, and receiving a vague wave to the east, Juan Pablo finally took me to his house. He told me he was worried he would lose a friendship because of the poor condition of his family’s home. I asked other friends of his if they’d been there; most said no. After this, I discovered a similar situation with some of my young students – third and fourth graders who were embarrassed to show their teacher where they lived. In addition, the utility companies are reluctant to provide services to people with these unstable houses. Every person, young or old, deserves a sturdy home with four walls, a roof, running water and electricity to shelter and to provide them with a basic foundation for life. The 4 Walls Project is my answer to the lack of this simple need.

What I did

The 4 Walls Project began with a project proposal including descriptions of housing conditions in Nicaragua, building materials and a brief biography of the four families who were chosen as the first beneficiaries. While in the US in December 2007, I raised funds for the pilot project. After receiving donations, 4 Walls developed a contract to be signed by the beneficiary and the project manager. The contract states the beneficiary’s basic responsibilities, including providing the labor to build the wall, beginning and end dates for the construction, etc. Two families built one new wall on their house. Another family built two walls and installed a zinc roof. A fourth family received aid to rebuild the four walls of their house. All four families have completed construction and written thank-you letters. The second phase has been initiated with two more families. One family has already received and used 10 bags of powdered cement to complete a home for 12 people. Another family built a wall with the help of a volunteer from the US. They have since completed another wall towards their ultimate goal of four brick walls.

What I intend to do

With the 4 Walls Project launched and having seen success in the first round of houses, I am seeking a way to keep the project going. I would like to see 4 Walls become a sustainable option for poor Nicaraguan families in need of better housing. In the short term, I want to complete a small scale second phase of the project to improve upon the first phase. At the beginning of 2009, I hope to have a small group of donor-workers come from the US to help build more walls, see the fruits of the project’s efforts and most of all, connect with the 4 Walls families.