I had just put the last post into the ground when our Ecuadorian guide, Don Rafael, arrived with the barbed wire for completion of the fence. Putting in the posts had taken us several days, largely because we were forced to dig the holes without shovels. Instead, we used “gallos”; a blunt machete normally used for beheading chickens. Now, all that remained was to nail the barbed wire onto the posts. This is going to be a piece of cake, I thought to myself.
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The strange part was, remnants of the old post were still in the ground from the last community service trip to Ecuador, only a year earlier eleven students from the United States just like my group and I, had spent a week or more putting up a fence that was now part of the earth itself. How come their fence did not even last an entire year, and if theirs didn't, why would ours be any better? Was our group just some pointless symbol of foreign aid to these citizens of a country in need? It was almost like we were painting white walls white again, the purpose unclear. How could this fence be put up differently, to prove it would not just fall down again, like the last groups?
Back home, I had been taught the best way to prevent a fence from falling down, is to string the wire on the inside of the fence, so it is on the same side as the cattle, facing them. This little trick-of-the-trade would prevent cattle from leaning against the fence post, or attempting to push it over with their heads, since the wire would be pushing back on them, in a way. When driving through the lush countryside of Ecuador, I noticed all the barbed wire on the fences was on the outside of the fence, not the inside, and when I say all of them, I mean it. All of them were put up wrong. Maybe this was why our village’s fence had fallen down in such a short amount of time?
I wanted to make a difference for this community and tell them about the fencing technique, but I was on my own in trying to discuss my ideas with the village builders, the “maestros”, since none in our group had put up a fence before. After many hand gestures along with my limited knowledge of the Spanish language, I had discovered they wanted to place the wire on the outside of the fence posts for the aesthetic pleasure of it, that that was just how fences were supposed to be put up. It's true if the fence were the other way around, if the wire were positioned on the inside, it would look backwards to the average person.
What could I do to help them out in the long run, or even to get my idea to them? I approached one of our trip leaders, a native of Boston, and told him about the urgency of my plan. He, not being a native Spanish speaker himself, was not able to get the idea across well enough and the builders did not agree with the idea of placing the wire on the inside of the fence. These farmers, building a fence for their dairy cattle and a struggling cheese factory, did not see the urgency of the matter as I did. During this time, with the lack of a fence, their few cattle were left confined to walking in their own filth, eating the grass within their small circle of existence down to the very root. They were famished.
Why would a group of work hardened farmers, far surpassing my knowledge of agriculture and building, listen to a seventeen year old, who, for all they knew, was a rich city kid who had no clue about this kind of work? Our second group leader, Macca, a native of Ecuador who had lived in America for most of her life, was the last my last resort. She and I walked together toward where the builders were meeting. During the discussion, I told my idea directly to her and she translated my idea to Spanish. Some looked at me in admiration, some looked with what seemed to resemble contempt, as if who was I to tell them how to put up a fence? My hope sank.
The fact the lead builders Don Luis and Don Rafael, decided to go with the idea of my fence, was a small victory with what I felt was to come. I had never felt more worthwhile, more useful in the scheme of things than when I looked into their faces and knew they liked my idea. I felt content, knowing if I put my heart and soul into any task, then the outcome will always be good. This day showed to me there was still hope for this community service trip, we weren't just putting up a fence that would fall down again in twelve months time, we weren't just repainting white walls. This time a difference was made.
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