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Archive for February, 2009

Jaime Lehner, a Master’s student at the Presidio School of Management, a business school in San Francisco that focuses on sustainability, shares her thoughts on her trip with fellow Presidio students to Managua Nicaragua.

We began our adventure on the morning of December 30 in Managua, Nicaragua. Our transportation for the upcoming week arrived and we were a little apprehensive of the tiny 15-seater (2 seats were malfunctioning jumper seats!). But all of us jumped in, eager for the journey ahead. Our first stop was a little community in the municipality of Tola, which was around 2 hours south of Managua. Our destination was an organic farming community and resource center called CIVITE (Centro Integral de Vida y Tecnología). We met with Agustin and Orlando, the leaders of CIVITE and SEFCA (Servicios Ecuménicos de Formación Cristiana en Centro América). They explained to us that they focus on providing training encompassing organic farming, herbal medicine and finance. They originally provided training especially for single women whose husbands left for the war, with a goal of helping these women become self-sufficient. We toured the grounds of CIVITE, and saw fields of beans, hibiscus and plantains. They also had a solar drying oven used to dry fruit that was then sold in local markets. We had the chance to purchase some the next day (the star fruit was delicious). We spent the night at CIVITE and had the some of the most delicious vegetarian meals, complete with fried plantains, squash, and pasta as well as tamarind and coconut juices.

In the morning, we traveled to Orlando’s farm, where 2 of us students presented a financial model for the installation of solar-powered water pumps for irrigation to a group of farmers. They were interested in solar power instead of using their gasoline-powered generators to pump irrigation water during the dry season.  It is common for local farmers to migrate to Costa Rica in the dry season to work in the fields there, since not many crops can be profitably grown in this region of Nicaragua during the dry season without irrigation. With the cost of fuel rising, the farmers wanted a more sustainable source of energy. Our model relied on grant money for the initial costs of the pumping systems and then required farmers to pay back a portion of these costs to a community fund that could in turn be loaned out to other farmers or communities for other projects.

Several students asked why they weren’t interested in becoming certified organic which would allow them to charge more and sell to international markets. The certification process costs too much ($250-500 per acre) and they were interested in providing for their local community.  They wanted the community to have access to affordable, fresh, local produce grown without the use of chemicals. They aren’t looking to make money, but rather preserve their environment and raise the standard of life in their community. Agustin emphasized the importance of solidarity, which is something that many of us “up north” often forget.

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This time of year the mornings are clear bright blue, with almost cartoon-like exaggerations of puffy clouds, but by midday the clouds gather in dark masses and dissolve into an all-pervasive mist and then rain that soaks everything.

After over 2 hours driving with a reluctant taxi driver nervous of the muddy roads, we arrived at Suro Antivo. We found the bend in the road closest to the house of the Teniente Gobernador. In the campo, you have to meet first with the autoridades. “Homero!” we shouted from the hill before descending to his house. A boy echoed back that he was not there, but we could talk to the boy’s mother. As we entered into the field in front of the 2-storey rammed earth house, a straggly dog came to greet us, wagging his tail and bearing his white fangs. We stayed still, backing up, until the boy came to call his dog away. Country dogs are the one thing I fear…and with reason; I was bitten a few weeks ago, but that is another story.

A jovial woman, Gladis, in a straw hat and apron came out, told us that Homero had gone to Cajamarca to collect the money from the bank for their milk sales. He’d taken the lechero (the milk truck) into town, as it is the only form of transportation to the community. Our taxi rental was an extravagance, and perhaps in the eyes of some, excessively expensive. She told us to come in, sit down, and spread a knit fabric down on the wooden bench under the balcony of their home. We took in the scene. Miguel, the sociologist who Daniel and I were with explained that the metal bowl on the ground was used for cleaning the intestines of pigs, to eat them. We guessed that the garden plot was a program of Programa Juntos (a state welfare program). A rabbit hopped across the grass and a tiny kitten curled around the corner. A small girl darted in and out, smiling with her surprisingly light brown eyes.

After a while the woman came out of the kitchen, a small building adjacent to the house and beckoned us in. We walked into the dark space and saw three bowls on the table, heaped high with potatoes and chicken. 9am and I tried to do my best to eat as much as possible, making sure to thank her profusely to make up for my physical inability of eating 10 boiled potatoes in one sitting. We washed it down with a steaming cup of fresh chamomile tea. While we ate, I asked Gladis about her new improved stove. She seemed genuinely excited about it. They’d built it themselves after doing a Juntos workshop. She touted the benefits of the new stove: almost no smoke so her eyes don’t hurt, it uses a fraction of the firewood, it even cooks faster…About half of the women in the community are part of Programa Juntos, which is a government program that gives families with children 100soles a month, but it requires them to have their kids in school and vaccinated, and participate in a range of “self-improvement” programs like the gardens, the improved stoves, sanitation workshops, etc.

We also asked Gladis about the water. She is one of the few people who get water in a pipe from the spring by the cemetery. She said that it comes and goes. When the water doesn’t come they have to literally suck on the end of the pipe to get it flowing again, or conversely blow so hard that they remove the blockage. She said that the water was good, pure, which I found really interesting because we just got the lab results back and there are some 900 coliform per 100ml. Is she just used to bad water? Used to children getting sick, or do they have a resistance to it?

After thanking her profusely, we walked to the source at the cemetery, I showed Miguel around and I expressed my concern. There is a gully in between the hill with the cemetery, and the adjacent hill with the sping, so it appears that the infiltration to the spring would not be contaminated by the water that flows past the cemetery. We will have to hire a hydraulogist to evaluate it. And the water will be treated and tested to make sure it is not contaminated.

We made it up to the hill, where the foreman was instructing community members how to dig the pit for the new tank. Buenos dias ingeniera, they greeted (in the country, just about anyone from outside is thought to be an engineer). The workers are paid by the municipality, despite the fact that the project is to benefit themselves. On the one hand I scoff at the idea, and yet realize that if I was asked to work digging trenches to lay the water lines to my house in Portland I would want to be paid too. Prior to GE/ITDG joining up with the water project, the municipality already had made the agreement for paid labor with the community (and other communities in the area), so while our support is not going toward the labor costs, the municipal support is. We shook hands all around, met the Agente municipal, the other authority in the village. And since it was starting to rain, we scurried down the hill to start our way to the 3rd spring, so we could collect another water sample.

I was in the village last week, where I filled the sterilized bottle with the water gushing from the rocks. But the test came out that the water has “more than 1600 fecal coliform per 100ml”—simply beyond the range of acceptable for consumption. It turns out that the rock wall, from where the water flows, had been constructed that day, so I think the water that was gathered included surface water that washed over the rocks and into the bottle. This time we brought a 1meter piece of hose and pushed it into the rock wall and into the spring itself. We let it wash out, and then took the sample. I dropped it off at the lab that same day and the results show that there are zero fecal coliform. Hurrah, it’s a great source for drinking water.

As we walked back from the spring, the maestro invited us for “a cup of hot water” at the house of his mother-in-law. Wanting to build the relationships, I said sure. The hot water ended up being another heaping meal. We waited on the bench under the awning of the house, watching water stream from the tin roof, while his wife cooked up potatoes, rice and fried egg. While we sat I asked where that house got its water from currently. Turns out the small pond full of water plants and 2 small trout is their drinking water source. I asked some off-color question about the water tasting like trout. The maestro said, no, it’s good water because it’s not stagnant, the water runs in and out of the pond…Then we were served a drink made with that very water. It was hot chicha morada. It tasted fine although I didn’t want to look too closely at the bits of things floating in the purple corn drink…

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Daniel, a volunteer from Oregon Direct Action took some pictures and video from this and other projects. Check it out…
http://vimeo.com/tag:greenempowerment
http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielbachhuber/tags/greenempowerment/

current drinking water source

current drinking water source

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Gerson, a Portland resident, shares two excerpts from his journal about his trip with Green Empowerment to Nicaragua with PSU students and faculty from Dec. 26, 2008 to Jan. 6, 2009.

We stayed mostly in the village of Bramadero, which is so tiny that it does not show up on Google Earth. We slept in the school in Bramadero, and ate in people’s homes.  These excerpts involve excursions to nearby, equally small villages, to do solar and wind energy projects.

December 28 – A day trip out of Bramadero to Sanzapote to install a small-scale wind turbine to provide electricity for the village.

The wind turbine was designed by a newly graduated aerospace engineer named Dave, based on a design by a guy famous in wind power circles named Hugh Piggott.  The night before, Jay, Jason, Greg, and I were sitting out in front of the school in Bramadero, using our LED headlamps to study the instructions for assembling the turbine (Bramadero has electricity but the school doesn’t).  I was told that Dave’s design is untested – the first of its kind.  As a former software engineer, I declared that an untested design can not possibly work, but we’ll find out how it doesn’t work so it can be fixed.  Dave himself is supposed to arrive in Nicaragua shortly.

So we walked to Sanzapote from Bramadero (maybe an hour and a half on a terrible road, with horses carrying equipment, bottled water, and a couple of people).   The site for the turbine is at the top of a hill, very windy.  When we got there, some local guys did the heavy work of digging a hole for the footing in soil that’s mostly rock, and then mixing concrete for the footing.  We got the tower erected, held up by guy wires, with the turbine blades and generator mounted on the tower, having worked around various problems, and true to my prediction it didn’t work (long story), but the engineer, when he gets here, can fix it.  A large number of people in the community turned out to help and watch.

A young girl stands at her doorway

A young girl stands at her doorway

Our meals are mostly rice, beans, and corn tortillas, with some squash and usually some cheese and/or egg. I’m finding it more satisfying and less boring than I expected and feeling like I’ve gotten used to eating more protein and fat than necessary at home. Today for lunch the people of Sanzapote served us chicken stew, our first meat since we left Managua.   I wish I could have gotten a photo of one of the people who brought us our food, a beautiful young woman in a dress-for-success business suit – a short skirt and jacket-like top; flip flops on her feet, a big plastic tub full of food balanced on her head, and a grin on her face that said she felt very pretty in this outfit.  Her husband, the chair of the local energy committee, was a pretty snappy dresser himself, wearing a perfectly pressed lemon yellow dress shirt (in a village without electricity!), and I think apparently he felt she was flaunting herself  too much, because he was mean to her.  Their clothes, and the chicken stew, indicate what a special occasion it was for a bunch of gringos to come and install a windmill.

January 3 –  Corozo

Corozo is a village of 30 households sparsely scattered over a large area, with no road access, the only place we had to actually backpack to.  We hiked up a trail for 45 minutes to get there, and spent one night on the school floor.  They have no electricity and they carry their water from a creek.  All but two of the 30 households are getting solar panels on their roofs, in a micro-credit deal with Asofenix.  They will pay the loans back over 3 years.  The biggest system is 125 watts, costing $1000+ and the smallest is 50 watts, costing $600, with $100 down at the time of installation.  We broke into four groups and installed four houses.  The house I was in got one of the smallest systems, 50 watts. Two teenage girls are the village technicians, trained by Asofenix.  They will maintain the systems in all the houses.  They were in our house and we involved them in the installation.  A solar panel on the roof is wired to a controller box on an interior wall.  The electricity is stored in a battery the size and shape of a car battery.  The battery will last about 4 years and costs about $100. There is one 11-watt mini-fluorescent bulb on the ceiling with a switch near the door, and there is a little AC converter  box with two outlets.  You can plug in any two things you want, as long as they don’t use over 50 watts total, or 39 if the light is turned on.

When we got it all wired up, the man in the house (who is not married to the woman who owns the house, but seems to live there) went over and flipped the switch and there was light.  The woman’s first words after that were, “¿Puedo cargar mi teléfono ahora?” (Can I charge my telephone now?)

The kitchen remains dark, although it is possible to wire in another light bulb in that room.  It is a typical kitchen of that area: a windowless room with an open wood fire.  There is no chimney and the smoke goes out through the porous tile roof.

$600 is not cheap for a single 11-watt light bulb, but they can also charge their cell phone and flashlights, and they can have a small TV or radio.  It’s a big difference from nothing.  The larger systems (over 100 watts) may be able to run a blender or sewing machine, but no irons or cooking appliances.

In the evening, several families brought us food at the school.  At least one family had to walk 45 minutes in the dark carrying food from their house, and later walked back home, but they seemed to be in a festive mood and having a good time.

Aside from the good our projects do for people, they are a demonstration of small-scale, appropriate technology.  In the US, we expect big corporations to somehow solve the problem of renewable energy (with subsidies from big government for R&D).  Small scale projects are another way to do it.  For example, Bramadero is on the Nicaragua national power grid, but their water is pumped by solar energy.  It’s also redundant.  The grid burns fossil fuel and goes down often.  Individual town systems also go down, but not all at the same time.  A lot of people in the U. S. seem to assume that we’ll be able to go on using energy the way we are, and a solution will be found to make it renewable, or to make coal “clean” or something.  I believe that we’re going to have to end up using a whole lot less energy than we’ve become accustomed to, and we’re going to have to generate a lot of it on a small scale, at the level of individual towns and individual households, such as rooftop solar panels and wind turbines.

A girl holding a water bottle

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Greetings! My name is Jake Clemens, and I was part of the fall internship program at Green Empowerment and am currently interning with their partner organization AsoFenix (office located in Managua, Nicaragua).

David Hauth an Aerospace engineer, Seth Hays a specialist in application of agroforestry, Sara Hays a nurse specializing in public health, Jamie an engineer and founder of AsoFenix and myself.

The current AsoFenix field staff (right to left): David Hauth an Aerospace engineer, Seth Hays a specialist in application of agroforestry, Sara Hays a nurse specializing in public health, Jamie an engineer and founder of AsoFenix and myself.

My experience has been in the reforestation sector and I have completed the NGO skills training and renewable energy technical training at Green Empowerment.

Jason Selwitz - the director of service learning

Jason Selwitz - the director of service learning with some local helpers.

At the end of December, Jason Selwitz  and Ian Petrich from Green Empowerment came to Nicaragua to lead university groups on trips, highlighting the work Green Empowerment and AsoFenix have been involved with in the country. Jason led a group of students from Portland State University and members of Havurah Shalom and Ian led a group of students from the Presidio School of Management located in San Francisco, California.

Ian Petrich - the service learning specialist

Ian Petrich - the service learning specialist

Throughout the duration of the trip, we spent time in communities learning about past projects and the immense impact they have had on their standard of life. Solar and micro-hydro projects have not only provided lights and electricity, but also opportunities for small businesses to exist and the ability to diversify a family’s income. Solar water pumping projects also provided safe drinking water to communities that would otherwise be carrying unsafe drinking water from other sources.

Along with learning and observing past projects, the groups also participated in the installation of new projects. Included in these were a solar irrigation project (pictures of the system during installation and results seen below), solar home installations, a small wind turbine and a reforestation project.

Solar Irrigation Project - Dec. 29 '08

Solar Irrigation Project - Dec. 29 '08

Solar Irrigation Project - Feb. 3 '09

Solar Irrigation Project - Feb. 3 '09

Fruit Produced by the Solar Irrigation Project

Fruit Produced by the Solar Irrigation Project

For me, installing the solar home system was the highlight of the trip. Seeing the looks on the faces of the families when the lights come on for the first time was incredible. Acquiring the skills to install one of these systems was also a great addition to the trip.

Finished AsoFenix Project

Finished AsoFenix Project

In the meantime, we are working on many other exciting projects in rural Nicaragua, however I will save these stories for another blog entry. If anyone has questions about the trip, or the internships at Green Empowerment or AsoFenix, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at jakeclemens101@gmail.com. Or, if you are in Managua, just look for the big awkward Canadian wearing shorts and hiking boots, speaking spanglish to some unsuspecting citizen trying to give him directions.

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The blog below is written by Christina Liebner who was recently a 3-month Fellow with the Border Green Energy Team in Thailand.

“To date, I have not experienced a happier birthday than my most recent, which I celebrated in the hills of Karen country in Thailand.” – Christina

Karen Hills

Karen Country

Towards the end of my three month fellowship with Green Empowerment’s partner organization the Border Green Energy Team (BGET), we packed the beds of two pickup trucks with food, construction materials, and team members, and drove three hours from town to start work on a 12 kW microhydro village electrification project in Ta Poh Pu village.

Ta Poh Pu Village

Ta Poh Pu Village

Installing the 12 kW Microhydro Generator

Working on Microhydro Controls System in the Powerhouse at Mae Wei

We expected to put in about three weeks of work before the holidays, and, despite some setbacks due to the manufacturing schedule of our system controls supplier, we hoped to build a dam, lay penstock pipe, construct a powerhouse, erect transmission lines, and wire villagers’ homes.  It was to be the first project of its size for BGET (previous microhydro projects were smaller in scope, at 2-5 kW), providing electricity not just for the school or medical clinic, but for all the families in the village.

We had a good amount of hydro design and construction know-how on our side, plus the strong backs and eager hands

BGET Team and Friends

BGET Team and Friends

of many village citizens, but we were all excited about the prospect of launching into a new experience.  About 45 minutes outside of town, we stopped at a Burmese refugee camp to pick up six high school-aged students from the camp’s engineering studies program whom we invited to help us on the project.  Once everyone had found a tolerably comfortable spot among the PVC pipe and sacks of eggplant, we hit the road again.

Fast-forward to the end of week two and my birthday: the dam-building team was giving the concrete a chance to cure in the wooden forms and so had redistributed itself among the teams staying in the village to put up transmission poles and wires.  My legs and back had quickly developed muscles to help me carry rice sacks full of sand, rocks, and cement to the dam site, and I was enjoying the lighter labor and the opportunity to meet more families as we worked to set up transmission and distribution lines to their homes.  After two weeks of hard work chased by sunset games of soccer at the local schoolyard and easy conversation on front porches, our BGET team had developed close friendships with the locals and with the six engineering students.  We all knew each other’s capacities for teamwork, manual labor, and practical jokes, so the day passed easily.

Ta Poh Pu Children

Ta Poh Pu Children

Sometime before lunch, we had to fell a coconut tree that, should a storm blow it over, would paralyze the transmission line.  A lithe young boy shimmied up the fibrous trunk, machete in hand, and whacked off the tops parts of the tree so it would cause less damage as it came down.  Huge, smooth, bright green coconuts rained down to earth, bounced wildly, and drunkenly rolled in all directions.  Kids ran screaming after the fruits, eager to slurp the water from cracks in the hull, while piglets and chickens took off to find cover under the houses.   I had never been a coconut lover—something about the cloying sweetness and sandpaper texture of the dried versions in Mounds bars and macaroons—but as I watched everyone from toddlers to old men drink deeply from the fresh nuts and savor the smooth pieces of meat pried from the shell, I knew I had to try again.  Unsurprisingly, as any proponent of eating local will tell you, the coconut I ate on my birthday was utterly incomparable to what had passed for coconut that I had eaten in America.  There was absolutely none of the cloying sweetness, just a green, buttery flavor.  The silken strips of young coconut meat I spooned from the shell slithered on my tongue and subdued memories of the sandpapery coconut I thought I knew.  As I sat on my haunches and enjoyed my first real coconut, I watched the friends, families, and coworkers around me doing the same, and I knew that this would be the best birthday for a while to come.

Coconut!

A Local Man Enjoying Some of Christina's Favorite New Fruit: Coconut!

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Monique Leslie is a member of one of Portland State University‘s Senior Capstone Projects. This particular PSU Senior Capstone group went to Bramadero Nicaragua to learn about renewable energy and how it can help overcome the challenges that the citizens in Bramadero face by living in the rural countryside. Below are her reflections on the experience…

Nicaraguan Landscape

Nicaraguan Landscape

Starting our trip in Managua, students and faculty from Portland State University spent nine days in the rural countryside of central western Nicaragua. After only a few minutes drive from the capital, one could see that Nicaragua, for now, is a country blessed with a low population density. The nation has a high potential for renewable energy, but unfortunately, it lacks the government infrastructure and support to engage in a large scale power grid system. Instead, many people living in isolated parts of the country live without electricity and access to potable water. The government, as well as international and local NGOs are striving to change that, and our trip was a part of that movement.

Bramadero Home

Bramadero Home

The town where we spent most of our time, Bramadero, was located on a steep stretch of winding road that dipped and climbed through the hills. Littered with potholes, large boulders, blind corners and dried up streams and rivers, the drive up to the town was an adventure in itself. As passengers, we couldn’t help but bust into cheer when our driver, Franklin overcame what seemed like an impassable section of the road. Luckily, the local bus came through only once a day, and most of the traffic (if that’s what you can call it) was by foot or horseback. The landscape reminded me of the dry foothills along the California coast, rolling slopes and gentle canyons covered in fluffy, soft brush. The climate was very dry and hot during December, and dust caked the roadside vegetation, and penetrated through every crack in our van. As we later discovered firsthand, the soil is difficult to work with this time of year, and seems like a logical contribution to the mass exodus of Nicaraguans that head to Costa Rica for seasonal employment.

Local Children

Bramadero Children

Because children were on summer vacation during December, we slept in the local elementary school. A long narrow building flanked on both sides with shuttered windows and surrounded by a 10 foot wire fence, this structure became our sanctuary. We slept on foam pads on the floor, and sheltered our beds with mosquito nets, mostly for peace of mind against the few cockroaches and tarantulas that we spotted outside.

Across the street from the school, a family had turned their living room into a local grocery, complete with shoes,

Bramadero Town Store

A Bramadero Town Store

cleaning supplies, and cold drinks chilled with ice in a cooler. When we weren’t helping to prepare meals with the local families, working on projects in the fields, or visiting neighboring villages, we would relax in the courtyard, and watch the sleepy town roll through the motions. Stray dogs would sneak through the holes in the fence to see if a careless gringo had dropped crumbs.

Piglets

Piglets

Big families of pigs wandered through the streets in search of dropped produce or leftovers from lunch. Large herds of elegant Brahma cows would strut through town, urged on by a young man on horseback. In the evenings, groups of kids would come by the school to play ball or read books with us. Once dark hit, everyone would gather around the few T.V.’s in the village and watch the favored telenovela (soap opera) before heading to bed. As midnight hit, the crowds of roosters would begin to make their frequent, loud and obnoxious raucous that would continue throughout the night, until sunrise, when families and animals would wake and begin the day.

Group Lecture

PSU Captstone Group Meeting

During the time we spent in Bramadero, we were enlightened with the lifestyle that many humans are faced with, dictated by the seasons, and largely sheltered from troubles and successes that exist outside their immediate surroundings. We made friends with the locals, and by the time we left, we had grown attached to the sleepy community that had welcomed us into their lives and homes. Although we went there with the mission to learn about renewable energy in Nicaragua, we left with lasting memories of life that is too different from our own to be justly described. As with every foreign country that I have visited, I wish I’d stayed longer, and I hope to go back.

Brama Cattle

Brahma Cattle

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David Hauth, an intern for Green Empowerment, is working in Nicaragua with AsoFenix on a number of renewable energy projects. He reflects on his time in Nicaragua as well as some exciting new projects he has seen installed, including a biodigestor.

Community Members from Sonzapote

Community Members from Sonzapote

It’s almost been 6 months since I left my comfortable Midwestern home for a year long internship/volunteer placement in Nicaragua. And as I sit here in the nearly roadless, lightless heart of Boaco, without electricity, running water (much less hot) or many of the comforts I did, and most likely will again in the future, take for granted I can’t help but reflect on my time here and the experiences I’ve had. I arrived as a very excited and, for the most part, clueless gringo from the US, who had dreams and fantasies about the grandeur and importance and rewards of volunteer work. Time has stoked those dreams with the stark need I’ve seen, shaped them with a education only achievable by experience and tempered them with a cold dose of patience and reality, of what can be accomplished, what doesn’t work and what just needs time. In the end a more resourceful person writes this blog. A person more prepared for the ambiguity and difficulty of work in the developing world. A difficulty that stems from general inaccessibility of resources, illiteracy of communities and, at times, indifference of leaders. Yet also I’m more prepared for the difficulties because I know, I’ve seen first hand, that communities do come together, the uneducated can and want to learn, and when, not if, this happens great things are accomplished.

Cleaning Newly Installed Solar Panels

Cleaning Solar Panels

Like a solar water pumping system in a community called Sonzapote. A community of over 300 people where the women and girls of over half the families had to carry water from the public well up a 60 meter (200 ft) “hill” in 5 gallon buckets 5 or more times a day. I saw the leaders of this community, men from fiercely rival political parties, Feliciano a Sandinista and Juan Pablo a Liberale, work together at a time when the country is cursed by broken elections, an untrusted government and very uncertain political future. But instead of letting this environment break them apart they came together, for their family, for their community and for their friendship. They came together to organize their community to take ownership of their project by digging the ditches, carrying the 100 bags of cement up the “hill,” building their water tank and installing their solar panels . They continue to show ownership by offering community technicians who want to be trained in how to maintenance and care for their systems. And finally we know they will always have ownership because, with the help of Asofenix, they have formed a committee to oversee the operation of the system, collect monthly fees for future maintenance needs that are sure to come and address community conflicts or problems as they arise.

Other great things are happening too.  Like the development of Asofenix’s own biodigestor projects.

Biodigestor Installation

Biodigestor Installation

These projects, of which two are now installed and operating, capture animal waste (cow, pig, human, goat, etc) and through an anerobic process can produce enough cooking gas to completely offset the cooking traditionally done by using firewood harvested from already deforested areas.  This saves hundreds of trees a year as well as the lungs of the women cooking the meals.  In addition the waste product happens to be enriched organic fertilizer.  All this for an average cost of $300. Many times the problem is getting families to believe it’s possible.  For example, talking with La Chica in Bramadero after the installation of her system:

Cooking with the newly installed biodigestor

Cooking with the newly installed biodigestor

“They all thought I was crazy for doing it.  ‘You can’t cook with shit’ they told me.  But I didn’t listen.  I believed Jaime.” Luckily for her neighbors they’ll have a chance to change their minds, as a group of engineers from Northwestern College’s branch of “Engineers for a Sustainable World,” led by Green Empowerment will be coming down in March to help install 10 more systems.

And there are also solar irrigation projects, like the one in the house of Jose Felix, which allows farmers to grow crops in the hot, dry summers when the land rarely sees rain.  Jose was born in Boaco, a poor agricultural department of Nicaragua.  He never went to school, being that there were only 3 in the entire department.  Instead he started working at the age of 12, leaving for a textile job in Managua.  His hard work allowed him to buy his first “manzana” of land (100 ft x 100 ft) at the age of 14. It wasn’t to last though as the war forced him to flee back to his home, hiding from Sandinistas and Somozas both.  After the war he settled down on his land and began his life as a farmer.  But still he made time for his education, teaching himself how to read through adult literacy classes located over an hour from his community and the help of an US volunteer.  Now his son is the local elementary teacher and attending classes at the university.  Jose never asked for help from Asofenix but saw a solar irrigation project as a great opportunity, to make money yes, but also as an opportunity to bring his family together. Now many of his children depart during the summer to cut coffee in Costa Rica.  This could change if they had their own crops to harvest.

Installing a Wind Turbine

Installing a Wind Turbine

These are just a few examples of the work being done and the progress I’ve seen.  There are many others that Asofenix is currently working on, including small wind energy, improved efficiency cooking stoves and 2 micro-hydro projects which will provide over 75 kW of renewable electricity to the communities of La Laguna  and El Roblar.  These projects are to start in February and I hope to provide ongoing coverage as the work progresses and the results become clear.  Work that is usually challenging but with results that are always inspiring.

An Excited Young Boy

An Excited Young Boy

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