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Archive for October, 2008

Green Empowerment recently offered a technical training to over 30 participants (October 17-19) — arranged in partnership with Portland’s professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders and hosted by the Environmental Science & Management program at Portland State University (PSU).  The 2.5 day training focused on “Renewable Energy & Clean Water for the Developing World” and connected directly with Green Empowerment’s mission to partner with local NGOs and rural communities in Latin America and Southeast Asia to develop renewable energy and water projects in order to alleviate poverty and improve the environment.  In addition to local professional engineers and students from PSU, participants in the course included: Portlanders interested in international development, community based projects, water, and renewable energy; students from the University of Oregon; students from Linfield College; and Green Empowerment (GE) Interns & Volunteers.
 
The first evening session was led by Jason Selwitz, GE’s Director of Service Learning. He offered an introduction to GE, an overview of developing world conditions and needs (lack of power, lack of water), and how GE works to improve these conditions. As with most rural, off-grid service projects, the extreme importance of the cultural and social situation was frequently emphasized. This means learning about the “real” past and future needs of the community, as well as the necessity of creating reliable community-based upkeep (maintenance and repair) of any system. We looked at a case study of a solar water pump installation in the Philippines.
 
The second day was taught by Michel Maupoux, GE’s Renewable Energy Engineer. This began with a primer and short lab on electricity basics and then led into a discussion of solar power projects for rural communities. We learned about the extensive engineering and planning behind even a small installation. Michel offered several first-person stories, based on his own hands-on experience with projects in several countries. We were reminded that cultural and social differences can be interesting and are always challenging and are sometimes the largest (i.e., most time-consuming) part of a project.
 
The first part of the third day was also taught by Michel Maupoux. This session covered solar water systems, including project concepts as well as engineering and design. The remainder of the day was taught by Greg Price, MBA student at PSU and staff member of Abundant Renewable Energy (of Newberg, Oregon). The session was about wind energy. Greg gave us some basic background information about wind mill design theory and power production, as well as overall project considerations. We finished the day and the Training by assembling a small wind mill just outside the PSU Science II building.
 
Several of the PSU students, their professor (John Rueter), and Jason Selwitz will travel to several villages in Nicaragua at the end of this year to do a study tour/service project as a component of their  “Sustainable Innovations for Tomorrow’s Social Entrepreneurs” project team.  During their trip, they hope to: learn about a solar pump/water project, visit a recently installed solar water pump, meet with community members, learn about irrigation for home vegetable gardens, build solar cookers, plant trees, build an improved cook stove, help install a wind turbine demonstration, install 2-3 solar panels, learn about revolving loans fund for the household solar system project, and finally spend the night at a school and celebrate with the families who have electricity for the first time.

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Water the Price of Gold

An elderly woman, wrapped in a hand-knit shawl tells me “Agua es vida,” water is life. Here in the highland communities of the Tumbaden district of San Pablo province in northern Peru, water is not taken for granted. It seeps from shallow holes in the meadows of high grasses, running in narrow streams through fields of scattered cattle. People dip their buckets into the green pools to sustain life over 10,000ft above sea level.

drinking water?

drinking water?

I spent the day in Incatambo (also spelled Ingatambo or Inkatambo, meaning Incan Trail) to better understand the water issues facing this quiet community of 70 dispersed families. The mayor had invited us to attend a gathering to discuss the threats to the lagoons at the top of the watershed which filter into the ground and emerge as springs throughout the province. The big Denver-based mining company, Newmont Corp., which owns the enormous Yanacocha gold mine in the area also owns the land that contains the lagoons. The provincial government created an ordinance to protect the water sources, and now the company is suing. The case is pending in a high court in Lima, but people are not sitting idly by waiting for the legal proceedings. They are organizing to make their voices heard. The provincial, district and village mayors, a leader of the irrigation association, a priest and other leaders spoke passionately about saving the lagoons as they are the headwaters that feed the watershed. They called to unite the communities of the watershed in the name of life and health: “Aqui queremos la vida, queremos la salud, no queremos al oro a al plata!” The conflict redefines what real value is, after all, you cannot eat or drink gold. In eloquent orations leaders called for the defence against the translational company and the protection of the natural resources that give life to the people. The arguments on the dangers of resource extraction are often heard in the critique of ‘globalization’, but the words have a whole new power when spoken by campesinos with dignity and urgency since their very livelihood depends on the outcome.

Forming the Frente de Defensa de las Lagonas

Radifying the Frente de Defensa de las Lagona

When the crowd disbursed in the early afternoon, Florintin, Incatambo´s mayor and primary school teacher, and Ronald, the village’s registrar, and I walked the quite hills to see where people were currently getting their water. 20 of the 70 households are connected to a decent water system fed by a closed spring box. Three other households capture a few springs and channel them into a pond. Water is then delivered in pipes from the pond to the households. Everyone else drinks directly from ‘puqjios’ (shallow surface water holes) or ‘quebradas’ (streams or gullies). Some people boil the water because a health promoter told them that the surface water is dirty, but others drink it ‘crudo’ (raw).

Florintin and Roland showing drinking holes

Florintin and Roland showing drinking holes

Incatambo is not alone in its water problems. There is a grouping of 5 highland communities in the district of Tumbaden that do not have potable water systems. There are another 4 communities where less than 40% of the families have access to safe drinking water. We would like to launch a larger water program in the area to address the needs of all of these communities.

The easiest place to start is in the neighbouring community of Suro Antiguo. The 70 families in the community of Suro Antiguo have no drinking water system, and rely on shallow surface water holes and streams for drinking, washing and cooking. In an area with livestock and no latrines, these water sources are simply not fit for human consumption. Two years ago, 30 households did have access to a system that captured spring water and delivered it via gravity to household taps. However, that system fell apart and, despite pleas to the local government, has not been repaired. ITDG and Green Empowerment propose to rebuild the water system and assist the community in organizing to keep the system up and running in the long-run. Experience from other communities shows that a micro-enterprise from the village that collects a small tariff, and thus creates a fund for long-term maintenance, is effective at sustaining water projects.

In Suro Antiguo and Incatambo as in much of the developing world, easily-preventable illnesses pose a serious health threat, especially to children. It is frustrating to see that something so basic, cheap, and relatively simple as a clean water has yet to reach these communities so close to one of the largest gold mines in the world.

If anyone reading this would like to help us work with the community to build lasting water systems, please email me at anna@greenempowerment.org or Donate Online.

little cow, big mine

little cow, big mine

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