Thursday, June 26, 2008
Ecuador 2008 - part 1
I´ve been in Ecuador for the last 9 days or so with two other students from MIT, Fatima and Cassie. We have been working to advance the water project in Santa Ana while I mentor Fatima and Cassie in the technical and social aspects of this sort of work in a tiny rainforest community with unique customs, language, culture, and individuals.
Generally things have been going quite well. The water system functioned for about two months straight after Fernando and i left last time (February and March), which is unprecedented : ) Then the community lost electricity for two weeks and couldn´t use the pump, and it seems like the operator and water board kind of stepped back from that point on and left the system essentially not working. On Monday the community decided to scale down the water board and have the president of the water board be the same as the president of the community, and keep only the secretary and treasurer. The theory is that among fewer people they can coordinate better and avoid the problems of five people trying to run something. Given the people that are in these positions, i think it will work out well.
They also elected a new operator, Francisco Vargas. He is probably the most enthusiastic operator I´ve trained so far -- he has spent all day every day with us since acquiring the position and at the end of the day when we are getting tired it is Francisco who suggests something else that needs to be done. This gives me great hope for his ability to take responsibility and initiative to keep the system running.
We have installed a new connection to enable the community to fill the slow sand filter from the bottom. This is the proper way to initiate a slow sand filter and was never installed in this community. Last night we were finally able to start filling after days of acquiring misfitting parts and fixing this and that. Hopefully by the end of the day today it will be filled and they can put the filter into functioning again... Sorry about the low quality of my english. I talk about all these things in spanish so much that my mind is translating spanish to english instead of thinking in english. Sigh.. Anyway, we hope by this new connection we will eliminate air-binding and increase the flow rate of the filter.
We have taught the operator and the water board president (Telmo) how to use the coliform testing. While I make purchase some tools and supplies in town today, Fatima and Cassie are helping Francisco and Telmo teach others in the community how the testing works. They are all so excited to have this capability in the community, something that can´t even be done in Puyo! Francisco and Telmo made some very astute observations when they saw the results, and it never ceases to be a really powerful experience when they get to actually see the differences in quality between river water, rain water, ground water seeps, boiled water, and water with chlorine. They get to see how much cleaner rain water is if it is kept in an enclosed container with no way for people or animals to touch it as opposed to an open bucket where people dip in cups to extract water. They get to see how boiled water can also be contaminated if it wasn´t boiled long enough. And they get to see the sky blue paper of the water with chlorine.
In our house to house surveys (we have done over 20 so far) we have found that the majority of people are now in favor of using chlorine in the water system, which is a big change from the first summer we spent here. Overall, progress is slow of course but the change has been enormous since the first summer. I can tell the community now with confidence that they have the knoweledge and tools to make this system work, and they look back at me and know that it is true. There is nothing that can compare to knowing that I have been a part of such a process of transformation.
I have to go catch a bus. I will write again with some fun stories, for there are many.