Clean up, Clean up. Everybody Cleanup
In Cerro Montedonico, many of our students live in homes overlooking a small recreational soccer field. It is a dirt field, partially fenced in on three sides, with a scaled down goal on each side. You’ve seen this field before; it’s riddled with bumps and divots, there’s no sidelines, and it’s on a slight angle, but it works. Most importantly, its their space. Whenever they have free time, they can walk down to meet up with friends, fly a kite, or, most importantly, school their friends on the soccer pitch.
Every Wednesday, we drive up to the cancha, as it’s called, to pick up our students for English class. Suffice it to say, it’s not always easy to pull them away, as they’re often involved in an intense game or have taken their kite to new heights. Over the years, we’ve sadly seen this space accumulate more and more trash. As it’s an entirely communal space and Valparaiso has not provided sufficient trash removal resources, large piles of everything imaginable have grown around the fencing. Without regulation, this tragedy of the commons (for you economics nerds out there) will continue to prevail, as there are, so to speak, bigger fish to fry in the community and the neighborhood is not moving any closer to the city center. Fortunately, we have the resources to address such problems in our communities and exist to fill these gaps.
This past Saturday, after ironing out the details with parents and members of the community, we headed up to the cancha to finally clean it. We brought shovels, rakes, trash bags, gloves, a wheelbarrow, and a variety of other tools necessary to remove years of accumulated trash. My mom came equally prepared to clean my dorm room senior year. We were energized and ready to go when we arrived, but the weather had other ideas for the day. As is somewhat typical in Montedonico, we were trapped in the midst of a dark cloud, taking the brunt of intense wind. It was difficult to even see the cancha at first, but didn’t stop us from breaking out the equipment and getting to work as quickly as possible. If anything, the shivering forced us to move more quickly and to maintain that drive we had started the day with.
The process was not unlike cleaning my dorm room after senior year; different items continuously appeared as if from thin air, making our progress seem constantly futile. We filled bag upon bag, separating cans and plastic bottles, of which there were many, and heaped everything else together as best we could. Our energy was palpable and only grew as rays of sunlight began to poke through the thick marine layer, allowing us to shed our own layers as well #wordplay. Neighbors, grandparents, parents, and students all pitched in and it the cancha began to look exponentially better as each hour passed.
While the cleaning was in full force, some of us painted blue signs to put up around the fencing as a means of spreading more awareness. Our students’ youngest siblings were extremely enthusiastic with the paint, putting down multiple coats on the signs, my shirt, and my face. Tío Claudio, our director and resident grillmaster, fired up some charcoal as we worked, motivating or, in some cases, demotivating us with the sweet smell of sizzling chorizo. At that point, we had built mountains of trash bags around the fencing, but still had quite a lot to do and not enough hands to do it. We had every intention of cleaning until the cancha was spotless, but had to accept that, given the time, we would have to return to do the job. This was an important lesson for us to learn, as it can be easy to become self critical in development work and it is necessary to temper expectations at times.
That being said, the cancha still looked like an entirely different space after our work and is now a significantly more welcoming space for the community. We will return in the near future to finish up, but are happy to see it born anew. To reward our good work, we enjoyed choripanes and stuffed peppers as a group and admired the work we had accomplished. Everyone put in their full effort despite a cold start and worked as a team to make the task seem like a fun lead up to chorizo, rather than an insurmountable task.
Fittingly and necessarily, we ended the day with a group soccer game. With our help, one of our students put chalk lines around the field to finally mark its boundaries and we then selected teams. It was, to put it mildly, a pretty fluid game, with teams switching around throughout the hour. Goalies left their posts to take absurd runs down the field, trick shots missed the goal by a mile, and turnovers were frequent, but we all had a blast and the intensity rarely faltered. The newly minted field created a hopeful energy that spread throughout the group, causing fans and players alike to celebrate each goal as if it were the World Cup. We’re excited to host more games, huff and puff down the field, and see the community enjoy (and take care of) the space in the future.