Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page
Monday, Dec. 19, 2011
bushes on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, a large and solitary volcano in East Africa, yield red-ripe cherries making their way as Fairtrade
coffee beans to western markets and major coffeehouses such as Starbucks. Smallholder farmers will soon receive a bonus of cash for their crops. The good news is that the price of coffee this harvest season in Uganda
is likely to rise due to heavy rains earlier this year that limited the crop size.
There’s little incentive for the farmers to save any of that cash influx, however. Village banks are few and far between; moreover, they charge account maintenance and transaction fees that rapidly sip away the meager income. Moreover, with rampant inflation in Uganda and devaluation of the shilling, it’s a pretty sure bet that their hard-earned money will be worth less tomorrow than it is today. Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo describe how the poor save without banks in their recently published Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, often “brick by brick.” The poor want to invest in something that has future value – just like everyone else on the planet.
We witnessed this paradigm last week on a visit to Mt. Elgon with the CEO of Solar Sister
(GSBI ’11) Katherine Lucey, and her amazing team of women entrepreneurs. “We” included myself; Social Benefit Operations Director Sherrill Dale (for those who don’t know Sherrill, she’s the one who makes our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator program happen); Chair of the Center’s Advisory Board Jeff Miller; and his incredible wife, Karen. We’d arrived on Mt. Elgon after visiting other GSBI alums ToughStuff
(GSBI ’09) and KopoKopo
(GSBI ’11) in Nairobi, and re:char
(GSBI ’10) in Bungoma, about a 10 hour drive from Nairobi across the Great Rift Valley. Crossing into Uganda and reaching our base at Sipi Falls was another day’s journey.
Solar Sister is an amazing social enterprise by any standard. Already employing 177 women and affording them economic opportunity through an Avon-style sales model, the team strives to bring “light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in rural Africa.” They are succeeding, and though their goal of scaling to 5,000 sisters in 5 countries within 5 years sounds ambitious, they may well exceed it.
Each Solar Sister carries a bag of products matched to different market needs in their sales territories. In the bag are ToughStuff’s affordable, modular solar-powered energy products including lighting, mobile phone chargers, and a D-battery form factor device that powers radios with the flexible solar panel module. These are the top three uses of electricity for the poor, with TVs next on the list. Also in the bag is Angaza Design’s (GSBI ’11) super-bright, sleek solar-powered lantern that lights up a typical single-room home for an average family of 7.
The ToughStuff radio-powering device is a big hit; we all like entertainment! And many purchasers of mobile phone chargers create microenterprises that provide their communities more affordable, and sustainable, ways to charge their mobile phones, critical given the information access and services now enabled by mobile technologies. (The power of mobile is well recognized within Africa with organizations such as iHub
in Nairobi fostering mobile innovation. Read more...
Lifeline Energy (GSBI ’04) CEO Kristine Pearson’s excellent blog on the burning issue of kerosene use
set the context for the contrast between those who had invested in solar powered lighting and those who had not. At the nearest town’s fuel station, we saw lines of young children filling empty 500 ml plastic bottles with clear kerosene at nearly 3000 shillings per liter, a huge fraction of the average daily income on Mt. Elgon. It wasn’t at all hard to imagine the picture Kristine had painted of an even younger child drinking the kerosene as if it were a beverage. Nor was it difficult to see how the lack of light hindered learning and damaged health.
The villagers we visited with Solar Sister had different stories to tell. They had invested in solar lights after receiving a bolus of income – it doesn’t come weekly or biweekly, but seasonally, perhaps after the coffee harvest. They were reaping the economic benefits of not purchasing kerosene every day. Depending on the lighting product, payback can be less than a month, with future savings fueling livelihoods, education, and housing.
Lidia, the very first Solar Sister, is a successful entrepreneur in her village. Her husband works for her. We visited her mother in another village and demonstrated the Angaza light to her great delight. She plans to open a store in her village - what a great holiday gift from daughter to mother – light and livelihood!
Another family we visited was using the 1700 shillings per day savings to cover school fees for the girls, a very high return investment according to Banerjee and Duflo. A third family was using the savings to expand their home, brick by brick.
Lucey shows how sustainable businesses with significant social impact can be “powered by smart investment in women entrepreneurs.” Applications for the 2012 Global Social Benefit Incubator, our tenth year, are now available for inspired, passionate, and compassionate social entrepreneurs like Lucey and her sisters. They light up all of our lives!
Friday, Dec. 16, 2011
This was our last day in the community of Sabana Grande and it was time to say goodbye to our host families. We caught the 7:45am bus in Ocotal and began our 4 hour ride back to Managua to meet with the professor from the University Of Central America (UCA). Our team has been corresponding with Professor Mauricio Garcia since the beginning of Fall Quarter in hopes of learning more about the civil engineering side of Nicaragua. It was nice to finally meet him in person. He introduced us to another civil engineering lecturer, Jimmy Vanegas Salmeron. We scheduled the meeting to explain our project and experience in Sabana Grande. Both were very excited to hear of our intent to design an improvement to their current sanitation system and water resource recovery methods. We asked Jimmy if he had access to any plans and geotechnical data of the project area. He told us that he would try his best to get any kinds of records for us and that we should email him the coordinates we obtained during our trip. At the end of the meeting, we exchanged our contact information and gave our thanks. We returned back to our hotel and got our things ready for our flight back home the next morning.
Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011
In the morning, the group headed out to Susan's home to go for a small hike up the solar mountain. As soon as we got there Susan further explained the construction projects around her home that Liz briefly went over on Monday. The men were working on constructing a bodega, solar kitchen, and a classroom. Each structure is built using sustainable, local materials and traditional building techniques, with a few modifications. The main difference between traditional structures and the newly built structure is the addition of carvings of beautiful pictures on the exterior.
The men were also finishing building their first, experimental double compost latrine. Each wall was made out of three different materials: straw, bamboo, and chicken wire in order to determine which material works best. The double pit compost latrine was also made aesthetically pleasing with carvings of their national bird and sunset on the walls of the latrine. The community enjoyed this aspect of the latrine and became much more excited, especially the women. It is unfortunate that most of the community still associates sustainability with poverty. For example, the community would love to have flush toilets in their homes, but they do not have the necessary resources to do so. On the other hand, most of us volunteers are trying find ways to improve their sanitation without heading in the direction of water abuse. With the help of aesthetics in these projects that which the community can take part in, slowly this mindset within the people has been changing. Keeping that in mind, we will try to incorporate aesthetics within our design as well.
After we finished touring Susan's home, we then began our hike as Susan explained their reforestation projects. To keep families from using wood as their heat source for cooking, some of the women in the community helped build several solar ovens. Susan had about 4 ovens behind her home and a few of the local women that have worked at the Solar Center have one solar oven at their homes as well. The best thing from our experience with the solar ovens was that they roasted beans of delicious coffee! Whenever we were offered a cup, our answer was always yes!
On our way up to the mountain, we saw that a family was building an additional house behind their home. They had recently finished building a church with steel C sections, adobe bricks, and metal decking for the roof. We were glad to see that this community has the skills to construct simple buildings, which we will keep in mind when creating our own design. After observing their construction in progress, our hike continued up the mountain. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to go up higher into the mountain since we had planned to visit the Mayor’s office in Totogalpa.
Since we had some trouble retrieving elevations with our own GPS, we hoped to gain any information or data that the government had for “El Projecto.” This could include construction drawings, soil properties, and topographic maps. Luckily, at the Mayor’s office, Susan was able to obtain electronic files of the housing plans of “El Projecto” onto her flash drive and later email to us. After we finished up our meeting in Totogalpa, sunset was approaching, so we all rushed back home to avoid walking through the darkness.
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011
After getting up early and eating breakfast with our families, our group reunited that morning at Reyna’s house. Upon arriving there we noticed that one of our group members looked rather sick. We suggested that she stay in for the day to rest up and get better because today was going to be more tedious than others. Soon after, the rest of the group walked outside into El Proyecto, a community of about 45 homes. Before coming to Nicaragua, we were able to obtain a GPS in order to get the coordinates of the community and the different elevations. We walked to the corner edge to of the community to start and we took coordinates and elevations every 10 feet. After walking for about 2 hours, we finished gathering data around the whole community. One thing we noticed when we were recording the elevations was that they varied greatly during different times of the day because the GPS uses a barometric reading. As the pressure changed throughout the day, so did our elevations that made our readings unreliable. Our coordinate readings were accurate enough in order to find a topographic map of the area that will give us more accurate elevations.
After lunch, we decided to continue our interviews with other families in the community. Since Susan was busy at this time, we would have to go on our own and knock on people’s doors to see if they were willing to answer some questions. The idea of this made us feel a little uneasy, because we didn't feel comfortable enough going door to door, in a sense we felt like we were intruding. After finding some courage, a team member stepped up and went door to door asking families if they would like to help us by answering some questions. After each family agreed to assist us, the two members that spoke Spanish would ask the questions and converse with the families. After interviewing several families, we decided to go to our homes early to get some rest.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Are you out of ideas for holiday gifts and haven't crossed off a single name from your list? Well here is a list of GSBI Alumni organizations that can provide a unique gift for your loved ones and can also create a lasting impact in the life of someone one in need.
Gifts to Give: Many of our GSBI Alumni use fair trade as a means to create economic opportunity.
Craft Network ’08 (International) provides export facilitation and enterprise development services, through high-speed satellite communications, linking artisans from over 300 fair trade producer groups in the developing world to consumer markets. By breaking down barriers to global markets, thousands of artisans worldwide benefit from job creation, increased sales, strengthened ethical trade practices, and standard of living improvements. You can visit their online store here.
||eShopAfrica ’05 (West Africa, Ghana) uses the worldwide web to preserve cultural artifacts and enhance livelihood opportunities for traditional African artisans. You can visit their online store here.
|GRUPEDSAC ’09 (Mexico) has been working for over 20 years to educate, train, and carry out activities to promote the development of sustainable societies for low income, small farmers in Mexico. Simultaneously, the organization works on the development of environmental responsibility among all citizens through and appreciation of indigenous knowledge, skills and systems for increasing the well-being of rural communities. You can visit their online ecotienda here for unique handmade bags and purses.
||Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation ’09 (Philippines) provides product development assistance and training which help people sharpen their creativity, improve their craft, and strengthen sales. The market access that Gifts and Graces provides contributes to increased incomes and an improved quality of life though enhanced food security, shelter, health, and educational opportunities for families. The producers also gain pride and self-esteem from being productive, contributing members of society. You can visit their online store here.
Gifts that Give: These GSBI Alumni offer ways for you to directly assist or invest in a beneficiary.
||Angaza Design & Solar Sister Team Up!
Angaza Design ‘11(Africa) is dedicated to making clean and affordable energy accessible to the 150 million East Africans without access to electricity. Angaza aims to replace the dependence on dim and toxic kerosene lanterns, with clean, bright solar-powered LED lights.
Solar Sister ’11 (Africa) empowers women through economic opportunity. Using a market based solution to eradicate energy poverty in rural communities throughout Africa, Solar Sister gives women the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty.
Support two GSBI alumni at one time! Give the gift of light here.
You can also purchase an Angaza light for your own home emergency kit here.
||Kiva.org ’06 (International) is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Help an entrepreneur start their own business here.
||Lifeline Energy ’04 (South Africa) Lifeline Energy improves the quality of life of vulnerable populations. We provide renewable energy alternatives to those most in need. This includes sustainable access to information and education, as well as lights and solar panels. Give a radio and give the gift of knowledge here.
||ToughStuff ’09 (International) is a pro-poor social enterprise which provides solar-powered products for low income people, replacing expensive and environmentally damaging kerosene lamps and batteries. Users substantially increase their incomes as these robust products that provide less expensive sources of light and power allowing them to work more effectively and live fuller lives. Help support the “Business in a Box” with your gift here.
||Trees, Water & People ’11 (Haiti) delivers immediate triple-bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere by leveraging its 13 years of experience toward the development of a charcoal stove that reduces household charcoal consumption by up to 40%. This allows families to repurpose 20% of their annual household income from fuel expenses toward other productive activities. Give the gift of a cook stove to a family in Haiti here.
|SAMRUDHI ’09 (India) SAMRUDHI Micro Finance Society provides cost-effective, livelihood-based, collateral-free, financial services (such as microcredit) to rural and urban poor households. SAMRUDHI reverses the age-old vicious cycle of low income, low savings, low investment, and an expanding system of low income people, through the injection of credit for livelihood investment, more income, more investment, and more income. This brand-new site helps entrepreneurs in India. Learn more here.
||Solar Ear ’10 (Brazil)manufactures low-cost, solar-powered hearing aids with a workforce that is deaf. With a purchase price of only $100 (vs. equivalent products priced at $750), Solar Ear makes hearing aids available for low-income people who could not otherwise afford one. In addition, Solar Ear partners provides training, education and employment opportunities for deaf people in the local communities they serve. Give the gift of hearing for a child here.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Kiva.org is the fruit of a philosopher who asked a practical question: what could I do to help very poor people improve their lives? Matt Flannery visited Africa and discovered that a very small amount of money could help people in big ways, and that people in existing communities of trust would ensure that a loan was repaid. With some friends and family members, Matt started making a few loans. Kiva.org is now one of the most visible micro-lending institutions in America. Matt visited Santa Clara on November 9, and told stories of how this came about.
Every time I hear news about the big banks, the ones too big to fail, I get a bit more cynical. The enormous salaries to men whose banks’ bad behavior brought the American economy to its knees, credit default swaps so complex their inventors could not understand them, secret loans made by the feds to banks, government bailouts used to fund lobbyists to fend of regulation...these stories prompt in me a question: is the whole banking industry a parasite on society? The occupy movement does have a point here.
Starting a bank was the farthest thing from Matt Flannery’s mind, but he found, as I have, that one cannot foster human flourishing for poor people without providing them access to some capital. Matt was a computer programmer at TiVo with a Masters degree in philosophy, so he came to banking through a nonconventional path. He didn’t get into this line of work to make money, but rather, to alleviate poverty. Perhaps it was the ethicist in him that perceived economic options where others saw nothing but risky loans. In the Ugandans he met he found people alive with hopes and dreams, and he activated his networks back in America to partner with them. To accommodate the compassion of micro-loaners like you and me, he created a website to share the stories of people who needed credit, and Kiva.org was born.
This form of economics has nothing to do with the predatory or parasitic practices that foster cynicism. Instead, it’s based on mutuality through the international sharing of stories. Micro-loaners here in America learn about the needs of the poor, working so hard -- but unable to escape the traps of poverty without credit--in poorer countries over there. By exchanging stories, Kiva.org fosters practical compassion. People do want to make a difference, and by making a micro-loan, they can. Kiva.org facilitates this exchange.
Matt clearly loves what he does, and he has apparently found his life’s work. He used his computer programming skills to help countless people. From another perspective, his is a very old solution. In response to interest rates of >40% during the late Middle Ages, members of my religious order, the Franciscans, devised and launched local credit unions to provide loans at a fraction of this rate. These were the forerunners of the modern banking system....and this from a religious order that takes its vow of poverty quite seriously!
Fostering practical justice means understanding the economic reality of people who are poor, and just might be able to make it out of their poverty trap with a loan. Cynicism of American banking may be warranted, and the occupy movement may decry greed, but understanding how well conceived economic interventions based on solidarity can make a huge difference in the lives of others seems highly appropriate for a Catholic university that prides itself on teaching conscience. It is my hope that the Global Social Benefit Fellowship can help some Santa Clara students learn this.
Keith Douglass Warner OFM is a Franciscan Friar and the CSTS director of education.
Watch the Video of Matt's Kiva talk from November 9th, here.
Posted by Keith Douglass Warner OFM |
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
At around 8:30am we met up with Susan Kinne, as planned. We took the long route to the Solar Center in order for us to see the rest of the community. Upon arriving at the center, Julian, a volunteer from Canada, was there awaiting our arrival. We walked to the recently built restaurant at the Solar Center, which has a stove that is powered by biodigester. We then walked outside to see the where the biodigester was located while Julian explained how it worked. A biodigester is a system that takes in organic wastes to be digested by bacteria, where the byproducts are methane gas and a nutrient-rich liquid. The methane gas can be collected and used as fuel to cook with and the liquid can be used as fertilizer. At this moment, we all had a big interest in implementing this idea into our design. After seeing only latrines in this community, it was weird to actually see a flush toilet around this area. I jumped at the opportunity to use this flush toilet and I made my contribution to the biodigester. After being at the Solar Center for a while, we headed back to the community. We still had time to before lunch, so we decided to start interviewing the people in the community by asking them questions that would be crucial for our senior design project. We all felt comfortable having Susan there while we began our interviews because she knows everyone in the community and she was able to introduce us to several families. All of the families were very kind, welcoming and willing to help us. It was interesting to hear some of the answers they had to give and see how conscious they were about how much water they use and how sustainable they think their community is. All of the families we interviewed were very open to the ideas we had for our design for example having double compost latrines at each home as well as a communal flush toilet that will be next to the water pump. After retrieving a lot of useful information we had lunch at Reina’s house. After lunch we visited Ocotal, the nearest city to the community we were staying at. The purpose of our visit was to go to a hardware store to check what kind of materials are available in Nicaragua that we are going to use for this project. We also went to an internet café so that we could all check our emails and call relatives at home. The city of Ocotal was a beautiful place and it reminded me a lot of typical cities that you see in Mexico, so everything looked pretty familiar to me. After we were all done with what we needed to do, we headed back to the community to have dinner with the families that hosting us and get some rest for the upcoming day.
Monday, Dec. 12, 2011
On Monday morning Susan thought it would be best to meet up at 10AM to give us enough time to rest after our nearly 18 hour travel. We all met at Susan's house, which is basically the hub for the "Solar Mountain".
The "Solar Mountain" is a land reclamation project, in which workforce from the community has come together to reforest a section of the mountain that had been deforested by a previous land owner. This deforestation has led to issues with erosion control and groundwater recharge. They hope to not only alleviate these issues with their efforts, but to also gain expertise and as Susan calls it "social wealth".
Staying with Susan was a volunteer architect named Liz, who had been designing a small educational building for the community. The location of the building was directly behind Susan's house. Liz explained to us that the building will use sustainable materials and be made out of adobe bricks, which the people of the community will fabricate. The women of the community have already had a tremendous amount experience fabricating adobe bricks because they had previously fabricated them for the main building of the Solar Center. The men have already begun the layout of the education building. It is very impressive that they are able to do so much without the modern construction technologies seen in the states.
Once we all arrived at Susan's house, Erika and Jorge (two young and knowledgeable members of the community) took us to get a general idea of the housing project they call "El Projecto." This housing project will be the community for which we will prepare our design. In "El Projecto," there are 45 homes, of which only 28 are occupied with families. Each home is numbered and has a similar footprint. In "El Projecto," we were extremely surprised to see that within 50 feet were two wells, one on each side of the cluster of homes. One well was located at the lower end of the community while the other well was located at the higher elevated side of the community. According to Jorge, the wells were approximately 270 feet deep. Each well had a manual hand pump that the women and girls would rotate to dispense water. Constant labor was involved to pump the water. Not only would they have to rotate the wheel continuously until the buckets were filled, but would then have to carry the 40-pound buckets back to their homes. Although the distance was not anywhere near as long as we expected, the task was still arduous in comparison to the luxury we find of turning on a faucet in the states. However, for the people, it was just part of their day. We were all impressed by how well the women were able to balance the buckets on their heads. One girl was able to have an entire conversation while balancing a bucket she had just filled up.
Near the well on the higher side was a community washing facility. The facility was comprised of two shower stalls and a clothes wash station. Neither of the stalls nor the wash station had incoming plumbing, but they all had drains to collect the waste water. The waste water is then channeled out to a centralized area for the water to percolate back into the ground. The well on the lower side did not have a wash facility. However, there was a large amount of relatively flat, open space near this lower end. When we asked Jorge and Erika why there was not a wash station located on this side, they didn't seem to know why. We assumed it was due to a lack of funding. One thing that Jorge mentioned was that the lower side tends to have issues with flooding during the rainy season. He explained that at times flooding can be as high as half a meter. They had dug a simple channel to alleviate this flooding, but the channel only led to their main dirt road. This led to problems with erosion on the roadside.
After our tour of "El Projecto" we were brought to the house that Lizzie was staying at. Reina, the mother of the house, cooked us all lunch. They explained to us, that we would eat lunch there every day as it was the most centralized location for everyone else. While waiting for our food, we all realized that the design we had in mind before the trip was not needed for this community. The community did not need a potable water supply but instead they truly needed an improved waste and wastewater management system. However, implementing double pit composting latrines alone would not be a sizable enough task for our design group. Therefore, we would have to figure out other ways to improve the community in a meaningful way.
During lunch, we met with volunteers of Grupo Fenix. One volunteer had just graduated from High School in England, and the other was a carpenter from the US. We were able to discuss our plans for surveying the families of the community. We came to the conclusion that we should ask some general questions later that night to the families we were staying with. Once we got a feel for how they would respond to the survey questions, we would then be able to come up with a master survey for the families of "El Projecto." Susan then suggested that we take some time to plan out our week. This would allow her to make herself available to help us with the information we would need to collect. Since we didn't truly have a grasp of what our revised design intent would be, we focused on trying to collect as much information from the people in the community as possible. We hoped to gather elevations and coordinates for the community. This type of data would help us no matter what our design intent would become.
After lunch, Susan took us to the Solar Center. The Solar Center was located on the opposite side of the Pan American Highway from Reina's house. The Solar Center is the main headquarters for Grupo Fenix in that area. Early on, the Solar Center was the location where many of the solar panels had been fabricated by members of the community. As of late, it has evolved into a research facility. The volunteers along with engineers and local community members have begun to work on multiple projects such as a biodigester and a solar-powered distillation process. Mauro, a mechanical engineer who runs the solar center, explained to us the distillation process they are currently working on. They are hoping to be able to use the distilled water to create batteries and possibly sell the water to companies that make batteries. This would be a substantial revenue generator for the community and seemed to be an extremely "clean" process to create distilled water. Since it was getting late, we were unable to meet with Julian, a volunteer who was helping to monitor the biodigester. However, we were able to schedule a meeting with him first thing the next morning. We headed back to our respective homes for dinner and planned to meet at 8am the next morning.
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011
The travel was rough, but after a 5 hour overnight flight to Atlanta, a 5 hour layover, another 3.5 hour flight to Managua, and a 4 hour bus ride to Sabana Grande; we finally made it.
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
Hilda Garcia, Kyle Magazu, Lizzie Mercado, Agustine Perez, and Lisa Yabusaki are senior civil engineering majors and Roelandts Fellows at SCU. Their senior design project will focus on designing a water distribution and sanitation system for the area of Sabana Grande in Nicaragua.
Clean, potable water is a privilege that many communities are currently lacking. In this day and age and with all the science and technology available to us, it is hard to believe that such a basic necessity is so difficult to come by. Although rain is abundant and the water table is high in the area, there is a high incidence of child mortality due to unsanitary water. In the past, various designs have been attempted and implemented in the region, but periodic flooding and difficulties coordinating the maintenance of systems make it difficult to find a sustainable solution to the lack of potable water.
We will be looking into designing a pump and well system which will implement a solar-powered pump, a reinforced concrete storage tank, a pipeline network for distribution, and looking into measures for water quality and sanitation including waste disposal and resource recovery. For our system, we will also look into alternative methods and designs to withstand the periodic flooding of the area and fit into the lifestyle of the community in which our design may be implemented. We will also look into technologies that have been attempted and implemented in the region to help guide our design, such as pump and well designs and alternative components like water catchment systems.
Coming from a small Jesuit university that prides itself on its service to the underprivileged, we feel that we have been equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge from our civil engineering curriculum at Santa Clara to go into the world to make a difference and serve those who are often forgotten.
Why We’re Doing It
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In rural areas, there is a major lack of access to potable water. Often, women and children have to walk long distances to wait in line for water from a contaminated source. This is a problem because having to spend so much time for something as simple as water keeps them from going to school and perpetuates a cycle of poverty.
Although Nicaragua has an abundant supply of water, it is prone to periodic flooding and most areas lack a sanitation system. The surface water that the impoverished communities do have access to are often contaminated with pesticides, runoff, and waste from humans and animals. This makes it unsafe as a primary water source.
In many areas, wells are dug and the groundwater sources are tapped into as they are somewhat protected from the surface contaminants. Conservation and sustainability is not a natural part of the culture, however, and it is especially lacking in the rural areas. Industrial deforestation coupled with individuals chopping down trees for use in their homes contributes to a growing problem with the water sources available to them. Deforestation increases the runoff experienced during the flood season and decreases the amount of recharge to the groundwater aquifers. In other words, it reduces the amount of water going back into the ground and is thus slowly depleting the groundwater supply.
Possibly the most disconcerting issue that we have come across is the lack of a sanitation system in many areas in Nicaragua. Without proper disposal of wastewater, providing clean water is pointless. Wastewater, if not treated or disposed of properly, has the potential to contaminate all water sources. This is why our project will encompass everything from retrieving water from a source to taking care of it after it is used.
What We Have Done So Far
After deciding to design a water distribution and sanitation system, we needed to find a specific site to design for. We had initially made contacts in the Lower Rio Coco area, who gave us some great insight into some of the general problems of rural Nicaragua. From there, we consulted our professors who had recently visited UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) this past summer. They were able to put us into contact with a UCA representative, who has been very supportive of our project.
Later, we got the opportunity to meet Susan Kinne of Grupo Fenix
. She was also extremely supportive of our project and proposed a community that would greatly benefit from our project, if it was ever implemented. One unique point about this community was that the people there were familiar with photovoltaic technologies as they manufacture their own solar panels and utilize solar cookers in their communities. Ultimately, this pointed us in the direction of Sabana Grande, Nicaragua, the site for which we are designing our project.
Where We Are Now
Because our Senior Design Project will be focusing on a design in an undeveloped area, we must conduct a great deal of research to create an efficient and feasible design. We have received a generous grant from CSTS (Willem P. Roelandts and Maria Constantino-Roelandts Grant) and funding from the Dean of the School of Engineering (Senior Design Project Fund) to do research for our Senior Design Project. On Sunday, December 11, Lizzie, Kyle, Hilda, and Agustine will be arriving in Managua, Nicaragua, where they will continue on to Sabana Grande. There, they will be staying with host families in the village and they will conduct the necessary research for the development of our design. We are hoping to share our experiences and design process with you through this blog.