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Swawou Project Week 07 - Jack Of All Trades

Masons, carpenters, steel benders, welders, labourers and the military on site this week. The masons finished Block A masonry which looks stunning, and a local girl we hired went round cleaning all the bricks so it really looks beautiful now. They started Block B and the kitchen and were working at a faster pace with an additional four masons joining the team but unfortunately due to our ever un-reliable brick supplier we ran out of bricks! A huge blow to the schedule and to everyone’s dismay, the quality of the remaining blocks were so poor that we decided to freeze masonry work until the next order of good blocks arrive beginning of next week. We tried to source other blocks to keep us going, but we couldn’t find any that were suitable and in the quantities we needed. Another setback in the masonry schedule but plenty to do to elsewhere on site to keep us on track and busy.

The welders brought their workshop to site and set up their jig for creating the roof trusses. It looked like they were setting up a railway track from one side of the site to the other! It is very very long. We set up the jig as a template to the largest truss size and they then spot welded the frames to the jig which is a temporary connection in order to get all the angles correct and proper, then they go back along when they are happy with everything and properly weld (called seam welding) the pieces of metal together. Using the jig means they can power through the work. Two days into the job they had already created three out of eight trusses! They have a couple of men welding, one man overseeing the angles and dimensions and one man painting the finished frame. Extremely simple but effective way to create the frames quickly and accurately. It’s also nice having them on site as anyone who is working or visiting the site can see the work as it happens. Having the roof on site, has everyone realising the pace of the build and how quickly we will be ready for the roof to be raised.

We struggled to find carpenters at the beginning of the week that were willing to work for a daily wage. They were trying to get a contract in place and quoting ridiculous amounts of money for the formwork for the concrete ring beams, and when they heard what we were willing to pay them they thought it too small. We are beginning to realise that generally workers here don’t understand contracts. We always base our contract value on the daily wage and present a fair number, but they over quote by millions without thinking about how much that would mean they were making every day. We finally got all the workers on site to bring along any carpenters they knew and one of our foundation masons headed up the team. We find that with skilled technicians they tend to be skilled in a few areas. Some masons can be good at carpentry, some at steel bending. If they have the tools and are intelligent skilled people then they just adapt those skills to another job. This team of carpenters have started creating the formwork for the ring beam and we created a prototype experiment on the ground of how the formwork and mortar will work. We will lace the inside of the formwork with a smooth layer of mortar so when the formwork is taken away and the concrete cured the mortar should rub away to leave a smooth surface. For the formwork we require plenty of bush sticks, for propping up the timber, and they are sourced locally from the surrounding hillside and brought to us. It is great because it involves the local community and the money is going to them rather than sourcing them from suppliers in town who charge an arm and a leg and the money goes to the contractor.

On top of everything else on site we also had our foundation team plugging away in the background, finishing off Block C and starting on Block B. The concrete mixing team came in and we poured the concrete floor slabs to Block C. We have three boys working on digging the latrine pit for the toilet block which needs to be 15ft deep! There was an incident at the beginning of the week, one morning we arrived after heavy rain to find the latrine completely flooded. An onsite swimming pool! After assuming it was the rain we soon learned that it was sabotage by the men from our bad brick supplier. They had off loaded bricks late at night, came to use the hose pipe, dismantled the end and then left it in the latrine to fill up with water! We had to hire a pump to get the water out and the boys digging the latrine went on strike. The military were called in as it is their duty and responsibility to provide night time security and the following night we got a phone call to say they’d arrested one of our truck drivers! He was on site after dark and we didn’t know he’d be there that late, so they arrested him. Pretty amusing, and nothing too serious, but at least the military were doing their job properly! So it's been an interesting hectic week to say the least.

Off site, we have had Paul running around purchasing materials, speaking to suppliers, sorting out our brick suppliers, and starting the manufacture of window and door prototypes. We met a Swedish man who has cycled from Sweden down through Europe and down the West coast of Africa and is headed to Cape Town in South Africa. He joined us for dinner and we got to ask him about the rest of the country that he has seen and his trip. We haven’t seen much more of Sierra Leone than Kenema, the town we are in! We are determined to get a day off this Sunday and hopefully do something fun and relaxing like heading to the local river beach or to the waterfalls.