Our next 2 day training on “Renewable Energy in the Developing World” — solar photovoltaics and solar powered water pumping — will be held with Portland State University, all day Saturday and Sunday on November 20 & 21, 2010.  For more information, please contact: jason@greenempowerment.org. To register, please contact Sherri at Green Empowerment, (503) 284-5774.

Monique Leslie, who is conducting fieldwork in Nicaragua for CuencaClima, provides an inside of the rainy season that affects the farmers in the Teustepe municipality.

Walking through Jose Felix's mixed fields of corn and beans. He's one of the more progressive farmers in the area, with drainage systems and shade grown crops.

Limited to a short growing season, farmers in the Teustepe municipality are very busy in the rainy months of June through October. It is at this time that lands are cleared of weeds, and crops are planted, nurtured and protected from pests. If the season goes well, families will harvest enough beans, corn and millet to last a year, with enough left over to

Weather station in El Jocote. Locals built a barbed wire fence around it to keep it safe. So far, we've had nothing but good experiences with the equipment.

Last year the rainy season was abnormally short, meaning that many families did not harvest enough crops to last them through the year. Outside food donations helped, but many farmers worry about their future food security. This year is looking better, and if the current precipitation patterns continue, farmers should have enough food to feed
themselves and to generate income.

Having been to the area before during the dry season, I was fascinated to see the difference during the rainy season. To my surprise, the streams seemed low given the amount of recent rain. It didn’t take long for me to experience a heavy rainfall. Roads were shut down and people (myself and my family included!) became stranded in our homes for many hours. It turns out that the stream levels do raise, and quite drastically, but only for a short time. These types of flashy watersheds are unable to retain rainfall, allowing precious water to runoff before it can infiltrate soils and nourish crops and native vegetation.

An old check dam in El Jocote built in the 1970's. People wash their laundry here, and cattle drink the water.

Weather patterns are an important aspect in understanding watershed behavior. Precipitation, wind and sunlight, are integral components for plant life, and dictate the ability of a landscape to produce crops, generate productive soils and support healthy forests. A good understanding of local weather patterns starts with detailed observations. Part of why I was in Nicaragua was to further that goal through the installation of a satellite modem, allowing for real time weather data monitoring.

A combination of local knowledge and weather data will lead to improved climate change monitoring. Water harvesting possibilities can also be more effectively designed. Equally important, is the possibility to identify more diverse and appropriate crops that may be better suited for the challenging climatic conditions.

Some beautiful Bramadero faces!

Walking around the countryside of Boaco, I always had a group of friends with me, to keep me on the right trail, to answer my numerous questions, and to install equipment. Most importantly, my local friends were there to keep a watch out for those dark rain clouds that had the ability to turn our little jaunt up a hill into a muddy slide back home.

Mayquelin and Juneili, wonderful guides.

Caitlyn Peake, a PSU environmental science graduate and current AsoFénix intern updates the Green Empowerment community on some of her recent work with AsoFénix.

I have been out of touch too long now and so I want to take this opportunity to share snippets of my work here this summer in Nicaragua.  One update is that I only intended to stay here for six months, but have since extended my time here for up to three years! The opportunity presented itself and the work is amazing so I decidedto stay and keep  working with AsoFénix.  The last three months here have jam-packed coordinating interns, groups, biogas digesters and improved cook stoves.  Here are some work updates:

In June a group of business students from Portland State University came and worked with AsoFénix.  Students toured our hydroelectric, wind, solar, biogas and potable water projects to learn about the work that AsoFénix does.  One highlight from the trip was installing solar panels in the community of Poza de la Piedra with the technicians from the neighboring community El Corozo.

PSU Students Installing a Solar Panel

After leaving Nicaragua students diligently spent their summer developing business projects for AsoFénix.  The focus of the projects is for students utilize their talents to help us become more economically sustainable and to grow economic opportunities in the communities we work in.

Biogas Digesters
This summer our biogas technician, Ronald Torrez has been hard at work repairing biogas digesters, conducting surveys and providing general support to families with the assistance of one of our summer interns, Fiona Dearth.  Ronald enjoys working with families and “likes to support families with knowledge and help them learn about caring for their biogas digesters.”  Here are some of the pictures of Fiona and Ronald installing new tarps on some of the biogas digesters and working with a family to install a roof to better protect their biogas digester.

Fiona and Ronald installing a new tarp in Candelarias

Fiona and local child find a beam for the roof of the biogas digester

Improved Cook Stoves & Oven
My passion for the summer has been improved cook stoves.  With Fiona’s help we constructed more improved cook stoves in the community of El Roblar.

Fiona and family member prepare materials for the improved cook stove

Building the Eco- Justa improved cook stove

The final product

I also had the opportunity to build a fuel-efficient oven with Emilia Bello’s family in El Roblar.  Based on a design from the Aprovecho Research Center, the entire family helped to build the Winiarski Rocket Oven and to eat all the delicious things Emilia bakes in it.

Even the smallest members of the family helped out

Emilia with her new oven

Baking mango cobbler

As fall approaches, Seth and Sarah Hays will be finishing their service after three years of working with AsoFénix.  They have contributed so much of their time, energy and ideas over the last years and AsoFénix will be sad to see them depart.  However, we are welcoming changes and looking toward the future as we move into a new office, begin the installation of new projects and welcome new interns.

Julie Wells recalls a water based project in Candelaria, Nicaragua

This past May I had the incredible opportunity to travel with Green Empowerment to Candelaria, Nicaragua. The landscape was very rugged and dry, quite unlike our previous village where it rained almost every day. Due to the dryness of this area, the village needed a way to get a ready supply of water. Solar panels powered pumps that pulled the water from an underground reserve to a large container where it was kept.

Piping for the water to flow from the sand filter to its collecting hole

Once Candelaria had water at its disposal, there were other projects soon to be underway. One project was building a sand filter at a woman’s home. Previously, the water used to wash the clothes would fall to the ground along with the bleach used in the water. The water was not being used efficiently. Building a sand filter would catch the wash water and filter out the clean water so that it could be used for other purposes.

We began by going down to the creek and gathering various rock sizes and gravel. A large barrel would first be filled with the large rocks and then decrease in size until the gravel was placed on the last layer. In this way it would act as a filter to catch the bleach-laden water.

After filling the barrel we dug a trench along the hillside that would contain piping for the water to flow down. The water would collect at the bottom and it could be used to water the garden. This project was completed in several hours and it was very rewarding to finish a project that would soon be used by a family. I thought it was an innovative project that was making good use of the water that was available.

Collecting rocks and gravel for the sand filter

David Zhou, Michel Maupoux, and students from Northwestern reflect on their project of installing water pumps in the Philippines.

Over the past year, a team of students from Northwestern started working on a technology called the hydraulic ram pump.  By communicating with Green Empowerment and Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc (AIDFI), a local NGO in the Philippines, our team slowly began to build up knowledge of the pump and its system. We learned that the ram pump functioned purely as a mechanical system with two moving parts and that it used gravity from falling water to build up pressure and push water uphill. To further experiment with the pump system, we built our own model and received a full-size ram pump body from AIDFI. After learning about some of its minutiae, we began to brainstorm ways to improve the system. One of the main problems with the ram pump is that the waste valve becomes harder to open with increasing size of the pump. Hundreds of pounds of force needs to be applied in order to start a 6 inch ram pump, one of the newest models. Our team designed a lever mechanism that could be affixed to the pump and allow the user to apply the leverage necessary to manipulate a 6 inch pump. At the end of the academic year, four members from the team traveled to the island of Negros in the Philippines to help install and implement a new ram pump system.

The installation crew - tired but content

When I first arrived in the Philippines and went to the construction site, two things immediately struck me. First was the steepness of the hill that led to the source of water. The climb was over 60 meters and by the time I climbed to the top my thighs were burning, my back was drenched with sweat, and I was out of breath. I couldn’t imagine Filipinos, especially kids, having to carry heavy buckets of water up these hills. Second was the amiable nature of the workers. Each worker had to walk 30 minutes a day and needed to brave the unpredictable weather; yet, each of them was cheerful and outgoing. After a couple weeks of building, the ram pump structures near the source were completed and work moved to Tres Hermanos to build the reservoir, line, and tap stands. There, the residents had to endure a similar grueling walk in order to fetch water. During our stay, an auxiliary line was diverted for us from the pump and it soon became a gathering place for the villagers. People came to shower, to wash their clothes, and to fill their water jugs. I was seeing firsthand the impact that clean, running water was having on the community. When the distribution line was finished, tests showed that the pump was delivering twice as much water as predicted, over fifty thousand liters per day! This would provide ample water to the 48 households in Tres Hermanos. Now that I am back in the US, I am so thankful to have had a chance to work on this project with AIDFI and Green Empowerment and my Northwestern teammates. It has made me appreciate the little things in life that we in America take for granted. We will not easily forget the people we met in the Philippines nor the friendships we made.

Ethan McCoy, an OIT renewable energy engineering student and current AsoFenix intern, chronicles a trip to the community of Cuajinicuil Nicaragua.

July 13th 2010

Out in community sunlight dictates life, much like I experienced last summer in the waters of SE Alaska. The group of engineers for this outing to Cuajinicuil from AsoFenix includes employees Gustavo and Edwin (Nicaraguans) and two interns Emilee (French) and myself (American). The purpose of the trip is tri-fold; the first of which is to collect information from households about their demographics, work and general economic background to gain a better
picture of who exactly AsoFenix is serving, the second is to gather site data for a solar water pump system that will provide water to most of the houses within the community of Cuajinicuil and the third leg is to provide a training session for community technicians in solar installation and give supervised, hands-on experience for them via household installations.

(L-R) Emilee, Gustavo and Edwin use GPS to plot data

With the help of community members we have all our gear needed to complete the training and solar installs portaged up to the ridgeline community of Cuajinicuil: Gustavo will prove to be the point man during the two day affair. We arrive in community to have the clouds open up and for the better part of an hour, are held captive in a local’s home following a completed a survey, waiting for the rain to dissipate. After entertaining the few curious children who had followed us from house to house, as Spanish being the base language for the AsoFenix crew and with boredom waiting in the wings, we three non-native French speakers begin to discover the world around us in French. Finished with the domestic inquiries, we spend the next hour or so traversing bean fields and forested areas in light rain, surveying the nearly completed well and potential sites for the tank component of the solar water system. Past sunset and into the evening, Gustavo holds the solar technical training session, attended by at least a dozen curious community members as well as the three technicians.

July 14th

Up just after sunrise by a rooster, the second and only full day in Cuajinicuil is to be dedicated to household solar installations. After completing the first of four homes, we split into two groups; Edwin and myself with two technicians and Gustavo and Emilee with the third technician. The idea is to have the technicians complete the second and third homes with our supervision and then complete the fourth on their own. The rest of Cuajinicuil is supplied with electricity by a single wind turbine, (a joint project of AsoFenix and another NGO) but four homes are too isolated from the main cluster of homes to be serviced by the turbine and thus are being outfitted with solar systems.

Gustavo guides technicians through the installation of a solar panel

Our home is up some rugged terrain on a false summit of the eastside of a hill, dropping away with an amazing view to the east, the hill continuing up to the west. The installation goes well considering it being the second time for the technicians, some adjustments made from the memory of the first installation and new lessons are learned. At
the finish, the technicians traverse down the rocky topography to return with Gustavo to prepare the final paperwork and instructions: Edwin and I are left near dusk to soak in the view and chat with the family. We end up leaving with a bag of shucked corn, offered in gratitude by the family for an afternoon of work and the installation of technology that will undoubtedly help to soften the rigors of daily life.

The evening concludes with a hike at dusk, back to the centrally located house we had been using as a base and I regret not having brought my headlamp: I did not figure the day would go this long. Over a meal prepared from the kitchen of one of the more lively women of Cuajinicuil, a meeting time is set for the following morning that will precede the roosters in order to complete the hour long decent to catch the bus that will take us to our next project of micro-hydroelectric data collection.

Surrounded by curious locals, Gustavo finishes up the solar installation as technicians look on

Executive Director Anna Garwood speaks about her work with Green Empowerment at the next Thirsters meeting Thursday, July 1st at 8:15 pm. Anna also lived in Cajamarca, Peru for over two years working on a range of Green Empowerment renewable energy and water projects including: small wind, biodigester, and micro-hydro projects. Thirsters meet every Thursday at the McMenamin’s Tavern on NW 23rd Ave at Savier Street in Portland, Oregon. Please join us!