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Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 3
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.