Archive for November, 2008

Sam Schlesinger, University of Virginia engineering student, was an Intern with AsoFenix in Nicaragua in 2008 through the Engineer’s for a Sustainable World’s Summer Engineering Experience in Development (SEED) program. This post is from late August during the community development phase of a solar water delivery project in Sonzapote.  The water pump was installed in December.

Having left Managua at 10 in the morning, two hours travel on some of Nicaragua´s finer highways brought us to Teustepe, the sleepy municipal capital and gateway to the dry central region of Boaco where AsoFenix has concentrated its efforts for the last several years.

After a quick lunch at a comedor set up on the front porch of a family home, we set off into the country, five of us crammed somewhat uncomfortably into the cab of the AsoFenix pickup, with several new riders from the outlying villages standing in the bed (much to the chagrin of the 2 bus drivers who provide the only regular daily transport along the road). A bouncing 45 minute ride along the deeply rutted dirt road brought us to the town of Candelaria, a former AsoFenix project site where I and several other volunteers have been staying over the past few months. After dropping off my bags with my host family (and catching it for having come back two days late and missing my special welcome-back dinner), it´s back into the pickup for the last 30 minutes of driving to the even more isolated community of Sonzapote. We´ve got a full load in the truck now, between (AsoFenix director) Jaime Muñoz, myself, six other “gringo” volunteers stationed in surrounding communities, and several folks from Candelaria using the truck to make social visits.

Arriving in the shady clearing that marks the end of the road and the approximate center of Sonzapote´s 75 houses, we were greeted by Feliciano, the town´s alcaldito and our go-to contact for the village. Jaime has been working with the residents of Sonzapote for the last four years, helping them in find funding sources and appeal to government agencies in an effort to improve their standard of living. Asofenix´s efforts led to the drilling and installation of a new well by FISE, a Nicaraguan governmental organization this past June.  The hand-crank well provides a consistent, year-round source of potable water for villagers, a major improvement over their former reliance on surface water sources which vanish during Nicaragua´s long dry season, leaving less than 5 gallons of water per day for each family.  However, this new well was drilled with an even greater purpose in mind, a soon-to-be-installed solar powered water pumping system. This project has only recently been made possible by the Green Empowerment´s support of AsoFenix, and today´s community meeting is a vital step in the process of training and capacitation.

As the group walked uphill to the town´s primary school (our meeting location), we had to watch our every step on a road turned to mud by the past few days´ rain. Arriving at the school, we stood outside the gate, chatting with Feliciano and other villagers and watching students sweep and mop the school´s floors, a Sisyphean task considering the mud which caked our shoes today and which would surely coat theirs tomorrow. As more community members filed up the hill, we moved into one of the school´s two classrooms, stepping gingerly until we found seats in the wooden desks which had been left out for the meeting. Another half hour passed as the room gradually filled, each household had been asked to send a representative, and the crowd of men and women packing the desks and looking in through the windows indicated the eagerness of the community to move forward with the project.

Finally, having reached a quorum (not to mention capacity), the meeting began with Jaime serving as the moderator/presenter. Although the past success of AsoFenix/Green Empowerment water projects in neighboring towns has convinced the community of the promise of solar pumping, the idea of signing a covenant and agreeing to pay for water access (US $1-3 per month) is still somewhat foreign. Water meters will ensure fair pricing and encourage water conservation, and all money collected thru the water tariff goes into a community fund to provide for system maintenance. Predictably, the measurement of water usage in cubic meters caused some contention, but some quick math, done out on the school´s chalkboard, turned the arbitrary unit into something everyone in Sonzapote understands: 5 gallon buckets. Women and girls in the village typically haul several of these 40 pound buckets each day, balancing them on their heads as they make the tortuous 75m climb from the well to their houses. By bringing clean, running water to every house, the solar pump will save hours of difficult labor each day and allow  more time for study, leisure activities, and cottage industry. This concrete, visible improvement appeared to be the project´s greatest selling point, at least from the villagers´ perspective, and after a few minutes of questions to Jaime the room quieted, content on the payment structure.

Next on the agenda was defining and scheduling the sweat equity work the community will perform.  However, mere moments into Jaime´s description of the schedule, an older gentleman sitting in the corner shot up his hand to speak (this being a classroom and all). Antonio had been part of the group who had originally contacted AsoFenix and was concerned that the community´s water project committee meets infrequently.  Jaime proposed new elections to pick more willing and responsive committee members, and in the resulting storm of voices, I lost my tenuous grip on the Spanish language.  Once the excitement died down a bit, Jaime laid down some ground rules to ensure community ownership and involvement in the project, and we started in on the process of choosing a new water committee. Three men received nominations to be the committee leader, and after a round of ¨raise your hand for your candidate, choose only one¨ voting that mostly followed its own rules, a new chair was elected. However, in order to avoid pena (embarrassment), one of the most crucial aspects of any process in Nicaragua, the second and third place finishers were given other positions on the committee. Next, in order to keep gender balance on the committee (and because women tend to be the ones who attend regularly), Jaime pleaded for volunteers from those in attendance to fill the positions of treasurer and accountant. Eventually, Isabel and Carla stepped forward, Isabel grudgingly, only agreeing after being assured, to much laughter, that this would be her final term in office (having served in the same post for the last 4+ years).

With the new committee selected, we tried to set a schedule for the community labor, but after seemingly simple question of when the August harvest would be completed turned into a lively forum on whether to sow corn before or after the first rain of the season, it was decided to set only a general start date of early September, and to leave the details for a future meeting.

Having more or less completed our agenda, the meeting adjourned and folks began to file out of the classroom. Having been introduced by Jaime as the “project engineer”, I got a chance to field questions from some members of the community who noted with a mixture of pride and apprehension that their hill was significantly higher than those of previous project villages. While my assurances of the capability of solar pumps probably did little to allay their fears, seeing is believing, and as we hopped into the pickup for the ride back, the shouted ¿Cuándo Regresa? (When will you be back?) reflected the village´s hopes for a brighter, healthier mañana.


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Margie Reuss

Margie Reuss

On behalf of everyone at Green Empowerment, we would like to honor a woman who has supported social justice throughout her life; who instilled a passion for advocacy in her son and our founder, Michael Royce; and who has supported Green Empowerment’s work since its creation in 1997.  Margaret Reuss passed on Sept. 30, 2008 in Chicago at the age of 88.  We hope you will take just a few moments of your day to read about the life and times of this exemplary lady.

Margaret M. Reuss; Political Activist, Professor (Washington Post, 10/7/2008)

Margie Reuss was activist, economist (JS Online, 10/5/2008)

Thanks to all who have sent notes, remembrances and donations in her memory.  Her family is grateful for your thoughts.

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Give!Guide 2008

Give!Guide 2008

Coming soon to an internet or newsstand near you, it’s the Willamette Week Give!Guide 2008.  And guess who is in it for the first time among 55 select organizations?  I’ll give a hint:  G–en  E-power—t.

What does that mean?

It means you can donate online to Green Empowerment via the Give!Guide website from Wednesday, November 12 through December 31st.

Why donate through the Give!Guide?

In a word: schwag.

In recognition of your donation, the Willamette Week will send you a little something special for your gift.  What special something, you might well ask?  How about a couple of TriMet bus tickets, a coupon for a loaf of Dave’s Killer Bread, a coffee drink at Peet’s, two scoops from Staccato Gelato, a Stash tea bag, and a coupon good for a discount at Trebol restaurant?  That’s for a $25 donation to Green Empowerment through the Give!Guide!  Gifts get more decadent and delicious from there (if you can imagine that) for $100, $400, or over $1,000.

But that’s not all!  Nossa Familia Coffee will match the first $2,500 you donate to Green Empowerment through the Give!Guide  For four generations and over 100 harvests, Nossa Familia coffee has been developed, from the planting to the roasting, by the caring hands of the Carvalho Dias family in Brazil.

Stay tuned for the Give!Guide online.  We know it’s hard to wait.  We’re on pins and needles in anticipation ourselves.  And thank you.  Thank you for your support, through times thick and thin.

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Language: English
Dates: November 13 – December 8 (10 2hr Sessions)
Registration Deadline: November 12, 21:00 GMT (13:00 PST)
Cost: $285 general

The purpose of this course is to develop the skills of professionals, students, and engineers in the evaluation, design, installation and management of isolated power generation systems (such as
micro-hydroelectric projects).

The course is an extension of the renewable energy training courses that Green Empowerment has been co-hosting with Soluciones Practicas-ITDG at the Center for Training and Demonstration of Appropriate Technologies in Peru, for the last 4 years. The courses, which draw people from around the world, have focused on the technical and social aspects of small-scale micro-hydro, wind, and solar projects for rural development.

This year, we are joining forces with the Latin American Organization of Energy (OLADE) which coordinates Ministries of Energy from 26 countries to provide secure, integrated and sustainable energy to the countries of Latin America. During October 2008, 125 participants from 26 Ministries of Energy participated in this year’s online class on micro-hydropower.

In November, we are extending this course on-line to the English speaking world. While participants from 6 Ministries of Energy from African countries are already signed up to participate, we’d like to invite anyone interested to join the online course in English.

The course will be taught online, with live lectures and opportunities to ask questions and interact with other students. For more information and for registration, click here for the .PDF (if you don’t have Acrobat Reader, download it here).

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