Thursday, March 25, 2010

Update!

Things are settling down now again with the EMI group in Atenas as everyone is back from project trips and such.  It's nice to have everyone back in office and back in town.  Now we're only missing one person, Josh, who is currently doing work in Chile.

This is an exciting time in the office from a "business" point of view as it seems like we are finishing so many projects.  We have three new projects this semester, of which two are pretty much completed.  We finished my specific project two weeks ago (the school expansion in Costa Rica), and it was exciting to send it all to the missionary.  Since then, he has sent us photos of the excavation already in progress, so hopefully we can go back to the site soon and see our design being built!  Another project we have, a school in Guatemala, we should finish any day now.  That project is different because the missionaries there have actually already started construction, which of course greatly limits the design on our end.  In other words, it's hard to tell them to change the location of the foundation... because it's already there!  The group there wants a building immediately, so even though that limits the scope of work on our end, our job is to serve them, so we are happy if they are happy.  Our third new project is a 7 story church building in downtown Lima, Peru, which because it's a bigger project, will take us at least the rest of the semester to complete.  However, because the other projects are complete (or almost complete), we can now put more people on this project.

What's exciting is that since we are finishing recent projects, we now have time to finish older projects.  If you remember we had two project trips in September to Haiti -- one being a YWAM youth center and another (my project) a church campus.  We're excited because as of this week we finished and sent out the YWAM project, and now we have more people working on the church campus project so we will be able to sent it out soon as well.  I feel lucky that I've been here for both this semester and the last because I've gotten to see these projects from beginning to end.  Now I just want to go to Haiti and see them built!

The project that I've been working on recently will be an orphanage in Haiti called Haitian Children's Home.  This is a project from last May, so we are hoping to finish it as soon as possible.  It's a really interesting project, especially from a structural engineer's point of view.  The photos that the project leader, Dan, has of the site are amazing. It's located on top of a large cliff overlooking the ocean on the southern border of Haiti -- absolutely beautiful!  And absolutely one of the worst places in the world for hurricanes!  The design has to take into account the high winds that will surely come, large earthquakes (which we all know can happen!), and poor construction methods by Haitians.  I'm really happy that I've had the opportunity to be apart of this project!

I want to tell you about one more small project, then I'll stop talking about projects!  Yesterday, we were given another excited job.  We are being asked by Compassion, Intl. to design a quick, temporary home that people can live in that were displaced from the Haiti earthquake.  They want something of course very basic, that can be copied again and again for so many people.  All the challenges make it interesting.  They want the cheapest, most resourceful option that can be built in 3-4 hours, will last for up to 5 years, and will withstand future hurricanes and earthquakes.  So we have to come up with a unique design to satisfy all this criteria -- can't pour concrete (too slow) so we have to use a lighter material like wood, which is difficult to hold in place in high winds and difficult to keep water out.  They also want the design by the end of the week so they can start building immediately.  Although I'm not the one of the people working on this project directly, it's still very interesting for me to see and watch the different solutions being thought out.

Well if you made it through those 4 work-related paragraphs without getting too bored, then I'm impressed.  I've been doing other stuff, too!  Two weekends ago, my host family took me camping in a national park surrounded by a volcano called Rincon de la Vieja.  It was a really special experience for me as not only were we in a beautiful place, but I spent the whole time with locals speaking Spanish.  What's neat is that it felt like family.  I loved doing something cool like that in another country and not feeling like a tourist!  Here are a few pictures.

Until next time,

Ben

A birthday cake my host family brought for me


My host sister, Ana Maria, came along, too.  She was a champion!

This is my host brother, Esteban.  He wanted stay behind me while we hiked so he could protect me.  Thanks to him, I made it okay!


We hiked to these natural hot springs.  Very tranquilo!

Here is my host brother, Andres, enjoying the hot springs.



The last day we drove to this awesome waterfall!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Project Trip all the way to Bethlehem... Costa Rica

I apologize for being a little late on updating you on my project trip!  It's been about 2 weeks now since we got back from our trip.  As some of you may know, EMI does a "project trip" for almost all projects we do, in which we stay on or near the project site with the missionaries in order to get a clearer idea of exactly what is desired and expected for the project.  This was my second trip with EMI, and our project is a local one in Belén, Costa Rica, which is translated to Bethlehem for those of you out there who habla inglés.

The project had an interesting start.  The project we had planned was in Pavas, Costa Rica where a local pastor wanted to build a church.  Dan, the project leader, put the team together based on those needs, which was mainly architectural and structural.  However, about a week before, the project fell through, but at that exact time a missionary living in Belén, Matt, wanted us to come and do a project there for his school.  We already had a team coming to Costa Rica from the States, so by pure chance it worked out to do this one instead.  The fact that he requested help and was ready for us within the week was pretty amazing.  The only issue was that we had architects and structural engineers to do a project that now was almost purely civil related.  We felt like because of the circumstances and way it all worked out, that the Lord wanted us there for some reason.  So we went!

Matt and his wife, Lisa, are missionaries from the states who started and run a bilingual Christian school in Belén that Matt's father had a vision for before he died.  The school is called La Palabra de Vida (the Word of life).  Now, they have enough buildings and staff that they can run a pre-school through high school program, with about 350 students in all.  The students take all the classes offered in the public school, plus extra classes in English, and plus classes on religion.  Thus, the students have a full workload, but the program offers them terrific building blocks for the future.

The main reason Matt wanted us to come there was to design a new roadway for the school because at the moment they have significant traffic problems.  He also has a desire for a new multi-purpose building in the location of an existing building that was built with pretty shady construction.  Although the multi-purpose building is a few years down the road, the school needs a building that can hold all students at one time, which is projected to be at about 500 students.  The new building will be used for chapel, graduations, and other large events.  Steve and I, the two structural engineers, worked on the roadway design, while Fred and Alexa, the two architects, worked on the new multipurpose building design.  Dan, the project leader, coordinated our efforts and helped out where needed.  For a team of only 5 people, it was amazing how much work we accomplished in one week!

Now that we're back in the office, I have been working on finishing up the drawings and some design.  Our goal is to complete everything and get it all to Matt and Lisa by March 12, which is soon but a very reasonable time frame.  After that, I will surely be busy helping with the other projects this term, which are a 6 story church building to be in downtown Lima, Peru, and another school to be in Guatemala.

Here's a few pictures from our trip.  I noticed that since I was still in Costa Rica for the project, I didn't take many pictures as it didn't seem much different from my home in Atenas.  Here's a few that I do have...



Some sketchy construction.  If you look closely, you might notice the "S" shape piece holding up the roof over the porch!  This building will be demolished and replaced with the building below...

A sketch of the new multi-purpose building by Fred, the architect




Our team and Matt and Lisa eating lunch in the school cafeteria




Steve and I presenting the new plan for the entry road to the school board and construction guys




Some of our group with Omar and Julio who are the construction gurus of the school.  Left to right: Dan, Matt, me, Omar and Julio, and Steve.

Our team eating lunch on Sunday at our friends Yeremy and Eveth's house.

This is the current Chapel room filled with students.  Not everyone is able to fit and the current room isn't ideal for large gatherings.