When I first came to Paraguay it was as a volunteer teaching English. The school was to be in the countryside outside the small town of Piribebuy.

A site had been found for the project and camping arrangements made for the volunteers like myself who were coming from England. A local family had kindly made available a field that formed part of their land for the English school.

However initially there were no buildings other than an old kitchen standing on the site. A school house was going to be needed to be built before the children started arriving for lessons.

First though us volunteers had to arrive and be introduced to those running the project and the country. It took two or three days for everyone to gather together in Asuncion.

Then loaded in the back of a lorry on top of all the supplies and we headed out into the countryside.

On arrival it was obvious to all just what a picturesque place we had found ourselves in.

The field itself was flat and green. Covered with lush green grass and of ample size for a large football pitch. At a little distance to one side of it stood the family’s home. A couple of houses and accommodation for the farmyard animals such as cows and chickens.

Next to the field stood the old kitchen and over on the far side some trees beyond which we would pitch our tents.

In front the ground rose gently to a dirt road along which the occasional vehicle would pass. The behind ran a crystal clear stream the other side of which the ground rose steeply to the rocky hills that overlooked the whole of the valley.

It was really not a bad place to be. There were though of course as yet no school buildings. Just an old open sided thatched structure that looked like it had once been a place to dry crops.

After discussion it was decided to reuse the roofing timbers below the thatch and to raise it higher to become the main school house.

Next to that a second building would be built partitioned into two smaller rooms for storage or smaller classes and an open thatched forecourt.

Before any building or teaching could be dome we all needed to explore our surroundings.

And so the first couple of days were used to acclimatise ourselves. We were visited by and went to visit all the local families. They were all very welcoming towards these none Spanish speaking visitors who had arrived to teach English to the local children. All were keen to get the school up and running.

We soon found the stream which was filled with fresh clear water running down from the hillsides. It called to be bathed in.

Then across the stream we were taken up an ox cart trail into the hills. Sometimes on foot, sometimes on the back of the ox cart. The path rose steeply and the summits of the hills were in the main flat bare rocks offering expansive views over the surrounding countryside.

An ideal way to acclimatise to the the local surroundings. A school though did need to be set up. No classes could be given until there was a roof under which the children could sit and somewhere to store teaching materials.

The first of the buildings upon work began was the new two room hut. The other would require disassembling before work on it could begin.

The builders were local men who knew the local area and materials and had built similar things before. We did the fetching and carrying to ensure everything was on hand as needed.

All the building materials were natural ones and were sourced locally. Either within walking distance or from where an ox cart could bring them.

From the woods that covered the hills came straight branches that would become the roofing timbers. Also from up on the hills came solid tree trunks that would support the weight of the building. Three were along the side of the building with three further taller ones down the center to support the roof.

These nine posts were soon fixed firmly into the ground and upon them the framework for the roof was built.

Next came the thatch. This was made of locally growing grasses which were cut to size and bundled up before being delivered by ox cart.

The thatch was sewn and tied into place and soon formed a layer that would be thick and durable enough to keep out the weather for a number of years.

This was the basic structure of the building requiring just such things as walls, doors and windows.

As with the roof the materials for the walls were sourced locally. Rather than brick wood was used.

That came in the form of palm wood. Not the sort of wood that anyone would wish to use for carpentry but fine for forming simple walls. The posts supported all the weight of the roof and so the walls merely had to fill in space.

To find enough palm wood searches were made up on the hills as well as on neighbouring properties for dead or dying palm trees. These could then be cut down and split into the planks that would form the panels of the walls.

Building the walls was no more complicated than assembling a wooden fence around the building. A gap between wall and roof did not matter as the overhang of the roof kept the weather out. Additionally leaving the building unsealed allowed a space for fresh air to enter keeping the temperature inside down a little.

Rough palm wood is full of splinters and unsightly to look at on its inner surface. To resolve this and also to ensure the walls were waterproofed they were plastered over.

This material was again obtained nearby. Its main constituent was heavy clay soil that could be dug up from anywhere. Once dried it formed a solid and waterproof coating for the school house.

Of course not everything could be picked up from nearby. Paint was bought to finish off the walls and doors and window frames came from elsewhere.

It was though on whole built by local workers using local materials.

With s few days lost to rain it was three weeks before the structure was finished. By then everyone was fully settled in to life in the Paraguayan countryside and eager to start teaching. Futhermore the local children were keen to begin their lessons.

As for the second building, the main school house, work started on that after the school had opened. The old thatch had to be stripped and the roof lifted off before the rebuild could commence.