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Hi everyone! My name is Calvin and I am a rising junior fortunate enough to be a part of the DukeEngage team in Chile, where we’ve spent our last week focusing on the conversation of both plant growth and animal life. Throughout the last few weeks of the program, a large chunk of our time has been dedicated towards building a greenhouse to promote sustainable crop growth. In this blog post, I will be describing the overall process of the construction, throwing in pictures along the way to help you visualize our work. If you are a dog or animal lover, you’ll want to keep reading until the end, as we had a rather unique experience in the preservation of animal life as well.

Our greenhouse project started by attaining the necessary materials to construct the foundation: pole anchors. These were transported to a local farm that had partnered with the organization we work for (Fundacion Huilo-Huilo), and the project was overseen the whole way through by Raúl, a local expert. We decided that the greenhouse would be supported by six poles, and so twelve holes needed to be dug, six on each side, to support the structure. Each hole was measured meticulously to be 40 cm long, 30 cm wide, 40 cm deep, and 2 meters apart from one another. Subsequently, we furnished cement and used that to secure the anchors inside of these holes.

After letting the cement dry for a few days, we returned to erect the framework of the greenhouse. As the anchors had cylindrical tops to them, we were able to slide the structural tubes over each anchor top on both sides to create a semicircular design for the greenhouse. This layout allowed the greenhouse to be about 9 feet high and 20 feet wide. Attaching the tubes to the tops was no easy feat, however. It took several of us holding the pipes securely to stabilize the building process, as a lack of caution would have allowed the flexible pipe to flop around and potentially hurt people.

The greenhouse after attaching the fundamental pole structures.

With the pipes attached, Raúl and the farm owner brought out a drill to attach additional pipes along the sides of the greenhouse and along the top horizontally. This acted to further stabilize the structure so that high winds wouldn’t uproot the poles and put an end to all of our progress. Lastly, with the greenhouse secured, we added a plastic covering to the greenhouse to provide the rain protection and temperature regulation needed for year round vegetable harvest. This took us a while at first, as the first plastic tarp we received had been mistakenly sent to us and was actually meant for a hydroelectric power plant. We spent 2 hours trying to improvise a solution to make the smaller cover work, unaware that the material we had received was faulty. Finally, after the correct plastic tarp had been sent, we completed the greenhouse project and took some pictures to celebrate our achievement. Now the farm will be able to produce a variety of vegetables all year long, regardless of season, principally for local consumption at the main hotel, and for the town of Neltume and its citizens!

Although this final construction project was full of excitement and fun, our last week in Chile had some stressful moments. Throughout the course of our time here, there has been a dog named Lola spending her time and sleeping outside of our cabin. She had been in heat during our first few weeks of the program, so when we saw her bleeding again, we didn’t think much of it. However, after seeing her energy levels drop drastically and her mood change, local medical students looked at her and received some awful news. Lola had suffered a spontaneous miscarriage and was hemorrhaging hard- she needed to be brought to a vet in a nearby city for surgery to have any hope for survival.

A picture of Lola taken early in the trip.

The next morning we were headed to Pucón for a weekend trip, but we knew we had to bring Lola to the vet on the way. However, in her pain and anguish, she had hidden herself underneath the porch of one of our cabins, and no matter how we baited her, she did not have the energy to come out and into the car. It seemed like all hope was lost, until one of the workers at the cabin took a pickaxe and tore apart a small piece of the porch, so that Lola could be lifted up and placed in her own cardboard box in the trunk. Thankfully, our site coordinator Aaron brought Lola to the vet as we embarked for Pucón, and a few hours later, we received the amazing news that Lola had been operated on and was now in recovery. The vet said she had a great “espirito de luchadora”, or fighting spirit, as her condition was very uncertain prior to the surgery. When we returned, we were ecstatic to see Lola recovering, with her energy levels a little more back to normal. As there are no animal shelters in rural southern Chile, we hope that someone will adopt her soon so that nothing like this would happen again.

As for the trip to Pucón, we had a wonderful time seeing the lakes, taking pictures of the nearby Volcán Villarica, and touring the beautiful streets. It was especially great to explore the local markets and stores, and many of us bought souvenirs to bring back to our families. Needless to say, we also made sure to treat ourselves to the delicious dining options in the city. Here are a few photos from the trip!

Overall, it was incredibly rewarding to contribute towards Neltume´s agricultural production, and we were very happy to have been there for Lola. With our greenhouse project completed, we wrapped up all that we set out to do, and we delivered a presentation to the community on Tuesday night summarizing our time here. On Wednesday, we spent the day packing and tying up loose ends before each heading our own way home. I am currently writing this post on a plane from Santiago to Lima, from where I´ll be connecting on a flight back home to New Jersey. I had an incredible time in Chile these past two months working toward the town´s development. Getting to know the local people and work in a different culture was fantastic, and I’m very happy to have improved my Spanish as well. ¡Gracias y adios, Chile!