Making dreams concrete

(Updated)

The most satisfying part of my job is seeing women come in to our Mata Kartar Kaur Prenatal Clinic every Sunday. While my weeks are spent writing, researching and planning the expansion of the Mata Jai Kaur Maternal and Child Health Centre, Sundays are when what we’re doing becomes tangible. Women who’d otherwise not receive quality antenatal care are getting it and it feels really good to see it happen.

Over the last year there’s been another aspect of the project that’s been very satisfying to witness – the construction of new buildings on our compound. Bricks and mortar are literally making our dreams come true (and most of the time I don’t have to get my hands dirty).

Construction in Rajasthan is very different than in Canada. Everything is much simpler here – walls are made of a single layer of bricks, support beams are made of concrete and iron rods, and electrical wiring and plumbing are easily fitted after most of the structure is complete. Since Rajasthan is a desert there’s no need for insulated walls and low precipitation (outside of the monsoon) means roofs can be flat.

Simple construction, however, does not mean fast construction. As I’ve come to learn (frustratingly at first) labour can be hard to find in rural Rajasthan. At harvest time – of which there are at least three in a calendar year – most people are busy working in the fields. Otherwise they’re occupied doing other jobs, including toiling on public works projects that are part of a controversial guaranteed-employment program set up by the central government. When our contractor is finally able to round up enough workers – usually young men from 35BB or surrounding villages – things move fast. The lag time in between, however, can be excruciating!

Having said that, things are moving along. Below are some pictures and captions of our progress so far.

Back in September, 2011, when I first got to India, this is what the MJK grounds looked like. The white building at the right is the Mata Kartar Kaur Prenatal Clinic where we see our patients every Sunday. The stone building in the back is the main on-site residence.

Back in December and January work began on the lower-level of the second major building on the compound – our future doctor’s residence and parking garage.

All the bricks we use are handmade at one of the many factories that dot the countryside. The woman in the background lives and works at the factory.

A brick factory down the road from 35BB.

Here workers are preparing to cement the roof of the garage as seen from the balcony of the main residence.

Jinder, a resident of 35BB, works on doors and window frames. All the money spent on construction is being spent locally –materials (except the finishing stones), labour, carpenters and contractors all come from the area.

The doctor’s residence will be finished using the same stone as the main residence building, as will every building on the compound. The masons and artisans and the stones themselves come in specially ordered from Jaisalmer in western Rajasthan. When everything’s done it’ll look like an old-time Rajasthani haveli. It’ll be a nice place for our patients to come and get care.

In May, 2012, we started building our staff residences.

The staff residences run along the southern wall of the compound. Currently we are building six. Here you can see our Managing Director, Balwant Kaler (aka Banth Bhaji) keeping an eye on things.

Young guys hauling cement from the mixer to the brick-layers.

Setting the foundation for our staff residences.

After laying the foundation of the staff residences, tractors haul in dirt to fill in area. The dirt-movers came at dusk and worked some hours in the dark before coming again in the morning. This shot was taken at 5am.

Thian Singh, our contractor (in white), and his workers building up the walls of our new staff residences.

Here Banth Bhaji, with a scarf over his face to shield his asthmatic lungs from the dirt (not to look like a bandit) lets the dirt-movers know who’s boss. He then takes his turn on the tractor before getting stuck on a mound of dirt. Banth Bhaji wears many hats on this job, and when things don’t go as planned, he’s able to laugh it off. The rest of us help him with the laughing part!

Here’s a wide shot of how the compound looks now. To the right you can see the nearly-completed doctor’s residence and garage and the staff residence coming up against the southern wall to the left. The open area in the middle is where, eventually, our main maternal hospital building will stand.

That’s all for this week. I’ll keep you updated as things continue to progress on the MJK-MCHC compound. Stay tuned!

Update (August 11, 2012):

Construction has continued steadily through the summer and much of the brickwork on our staff residences is now done. Getting these residences to this point is a milestone for us – it signals our intention to move beyond what we’re currently offering with our Mata Kartar Kaur prenatal clinic. It’s also a strong signal to the community of our long term commitment to them and the MJK-MCHC.

Our nearly-completed staff residences. The next steps will include installing the plumbing and electrical wiring and put up the final stones imported from Jaisalmer.

A major step in construction is finishing the roof. Here you see the cemented roof covered with a layer of water. Ironically, because Rajasthan is so hot, the cemented roof needs to be covered with water as it dries to prevent cracking.

I’m back in Canada for a few months and expect to see some major progress when I get back to Rajasthan in the fall. I’ll continue to update this post as the pictures come in.

@aneelbrar

All photos copyrighted

One Comment on “Making dreams concrete

  1. I am so glad to see the progress. I can hardly wait to go and see the place. I am hoping this will be the place where all our family next genrations will go and volunteer their time.

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