I am exhausted. My eyes feel like peeled grapes and according to my coworkers, it sounds like I am trying to forcibly remove my lungs by coughing them out through my mouth. Despite my current pathetic situation, I’m feeling pretty good about things. I just got back from a 4 day trip to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, where I went down to take a look at a neighborhood school to see if we could add a 3rd story onto an existing building.
The story behind this is really long and I don’t think that in my current state I would do it justice. The short version (or at least short for me) is that there are some doctors who go down to a hospital in Santo Domingo twice a year to perform hip replacement surgeries at little or no cost. They get all the parts donated and then they each typically perform between 10 and 15 surgeries for free. It’s pretty amazing what they are doing but in addition to the surgeries, they are helping out a local school. At first, there were only a few kids at this school, but the doctors were impressed by the people who were running the school and decided to help them out by covering the rent on their building. The school continued to grow and the doctors helped find them a new location where once again they covered the rent for the school … which still continued to grow. Ultimately, the doctors decided to simply buy the land and the building and let the school operate out it without being exposed to the whims of a landlord.
… and the school continued to grow. Next they decided to help by having a second floor added on to the building they just purchased to expand student capacity. Again, all these costs are covered by two doctors – the same two doctors that come in and donate their time to perform hip replacement surgeries. Now it’s time to add another story to this existing building to accommodate the ever-growing attendance at the school.
That’s where I come in.
This is the school – Colegio Cristiano Marileidy. The contractor who is building the KHouse Modern – Barry Buford – became involved with this group because he knows one of the doctors. They got to talking and Barry offered his services as a contractor to help solve the problem of building a 3rd story … and Barry asked me if I would help.
How could I say no?
We flew down early Sunday morning and the plan was to spend 4 days on site looking at the property, taking existing field measurements, meeting with the potential contractor, and talking with the folks that run the school.
This is a fairly poor area and as I understand it, the cost to attend this school is about $15 a month. This pays for all the supplies and salaries of the people who work at the school. I will tell you that there is a can-do positive attitude with the people I met with, they were so grateful that we were there to help – they don’t waste anything and are very proud of their school. The positive atmosphere is extremely infectious.
I am going to donate my time to do the studies and draw up plans and elevations for this 3rd floor expansion. I spent the better part of 2 days collecting information about existing conditions, looking at the local construction techniques, and trying to get a good feel for how these people use the space surrounding the building – which is almost as important as the classrooms themselves.
Classes were going on while I was measuring and I was a huge distraction to these kids. I tried to sneak in and out of rooms when the children were at recess or on a snack break so my as-built drawings aren’t all that pretty.
Thank goodness I will be the one entering this into the computer, I’m not sure anybody else would know what they’re looking at!
The rooms are very simple – they take advantage of natural lighting and the windows are crucial for temperature control – there isn’t any air conditioning in the school.
This is the roof of the existing building – looks pretty rough. Considering it was 90°+ with matching humidity, the process of collecting the measurements was fairly unpleasant. As long as I didn’t fall off the roof (which seems to be a theme lately) it was a simple process to collect measurements.
Yes .. I am wearing sandals. What are you going to do about it?
On almost all the buildings, you see rebar sticking up through the construction. Everything here (since it is a hurricane area) is made up of concrete slabs and columns with fully filled concrete block infill panels. You have to admit that there is a certain amount of optimism here considering that everybody plans for future expansion by extending the rebars.
I decided to take a break in the shade and clean up some of my notes … it wasn’t long before I was joined by a curious onlooker.
Soon, this grew into a few more kids who wanted to watch me draw. We took some time out to draw jack-o-lanterns for a while.
Next thing you know, I was surrounded by curious little kids. Believe it or not, many were curious about my white hair and wanted to run their hands through it.
This is Barry Buford … my good friend and trusty traveling companion.
Barry was good at helping me get my measurements … by distracting the kids.
There is a sport court that the doctors put in a little while ago that gets heavy usage. This courtyard is really the spiritual center of the school and it all hinges on the giant mango tree in the middle. Not only is it a terrific gathering point, the shade it provides is greatly appreciated.
The young woman in the middle of the picture above is Anna Buford (Barry’s daughter) … she turns 17 this weekend. She came down to observe the doctors performing their surgeries (she is thinking about becoming an orthopedic surgeon herself one day) and she decided to create a school project so she was interviewing the kids … in Spanish.
Awesome. She is also a good traveling companion and I really enjoyed her sense of humor. I’m not sure she’s realizes how funny she can be.
Of course, you spend some time on the school grounds and you realize that there is a lot of good work getting done here. The kids were happy, healthy, well-mannered, and extremely curious.
I have about 1,000 of these sorts of pictures. Who doesn’t want their picture taken by the white-haired stranger who draws jack-o-lanterns for you?
There was some architectural downtime and I used it to get a better understanding about what the doctors were doing – and they were only too happy to accommodate my curiosity. Did you know that you only have to be 12 years old to participate in surgery in the Dominican Republic?
I’m definitely older than 12, so I observed several hip replacement operations and scrubbed in and assisted in one other.
Say what you will, but I totally look like a doctor … scrubs will do that to a person. I sort of wish architects had some version of scrubs, people look at you different when you’re walking around in them. Pretty sure that people thought I was a real doctor. I know what you’re thinking “Did you wear your scrubs outside of the operating room?”
Yes. Yes I did.
I didn’t actually do any cutting, mostly I provided leverage and held the surgical site open to allow the doctor to do his work.
This is one of the two doctors – and the one that I spent watching 90% of the time. I am on the left and Dr. John Barrington is on the right.
This is Dr. John Barrington – the doctor who allowed me to assist and see up close what hip replacement surgery looks (and smells) like. More importantly to me, he is the driving force behind adding the 3rd floor to the Colegio Cristiano Marileidy. He was generous with his time, his patience, and his money. I thoroughly enjoyed being in his company and I am already looking forward to my next opportunity to return to the Santo Domingo for the next phase of this project.
In the meantime, this opportunity came as a result of saying “Yes”, when I could have easily have said “no”. I am on record for thinking more people should say “yes” more often and despite the fact that I am exhausted, and pretty sure I am sick as a result of my current workload, being surrounded by people the last 4 days who feel the same way I do was invigorating and I highly recommend it.
ps – if you just have to see a picture from the surgery I scrubbed in on, you can find it here … just a warning though, they are fairly graphic and there is a lot of the color red.