Archive for the ‘Nicaragua’ Category

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.

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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.

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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

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Caitlyn Peake, a PSU environmental science graduate and current AsoFenix intern speaks about making charcoal briquettes in El Roblar Nicaragua.

Ironically this is the youth’s mother in her kitchen

The other day, a youth from my community, El Roblar, asked me how I could stand all the dirty air in Managua.  He then continued, informing me how pure and clean the air is in the campo by comparison.  I laughed and asked if he had ever stepped foot in a kitchen in the campo.  Kitchens in El Roblar, and in the campo in general, can be unbearably smoky as families use wood as the primary fuel source to cook with.  He paused for a minute and admitted that the air in the campo is not as pure and clean as it appeared and that is the women of the community that are exposed to smoke day and night for the benefit of the men.

Unfortunately, this is the reality of life in the developing world where the burning of biomass accounts for 80% of household fuel consumption.  The burning of unprocessed biomass, like wood, leads to deforestation and emits smoke and particulate that cause respiratory illness.  Burning carbonized biomass like charcoal reduces particulate emissions and respiratory illness.  Fuels from the Field, a project from the D-Lab at MIT, developed a cheap and simple way to turn agricultural waste into charcoal. In March of 2010, four students from D-Lab visited El Roblar and taught the community how to make charcoal out of corn stalks and other readily available agricultural waste.

Here is an overview of the process:

We started by gathering dried corn stalks, husks, and sugar cane leaves as the source of biomass to carbonize.

Gathering sugar cane leaves

Materials are then loaded into a 55 gallon drum to be burned.

Loading the drum with the raw biomass

The materials are lit on fire and then sealed to create anaerobic conditions (it must burn with oxygen present) in order to carbonize the materials.

Starting the burn

Once the drum is sealed, it is left to burn for at least 2 hours.  Afterward, the drum is opened and the carbonized material is taken out to turn into charcoal briquettes.

Unloading the drum and sorting out the fully carbonized materials

The carbonized material is then broken up into fine pieces, a binder (made from cassava, green plantains or any other starchy material) is added, and then loaded into a press to compress into briquettes.

Pressing the mixture into briquettes

Finally, the briquettes are dried in the sun for a couple of days. Then they are ready for use.

The final product: charcoal briquettes

For more information about the technical details about making charcoal from agricultural waste check out this technical brief from Practical Action and Fuel from the Fields.

I also want to give thanks and photo credit to the students from MIT for allowing me to use their photos for this blog.

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Green Living Project, a leading media production and marketing company, headed down to Central America in the spring of 2010 to document leading sustainablity-related initiatives that use best practices in various fields (sustainable tourism, community development, etc.).

Green Empowerment was one of the featured partners and the Green Living Project focused on highlighting the work that the organization has been doing in Nicaragua with Asofenix.

To view the Green Living Project expedition and learn more about the project’s that were featured please visit www.greenlivingproject.com. In addition, keep your eyes open for the Green Living Project video to soon be featured on the Green Empowerment website.

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Katelyn Zollos is a recent graduate of Purdue University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering program and is serving as an Intern with AsoFenix and Green Empowerment in Nicaragua for six months.  Katelyn will return to the US in June 2010.

It’s the week after Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the three month mark for me here in Nicaragua.  Time has really flown by.  Most of my days have been spent in a small community called La Laguna.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better location or family to live with.  They’re an active group, and some of the hardest workers on the micro hydropower system that is being installed on the nearby river.  La Laguna is lucky to have plenty of water, in an especially dry, dry season this year.  In it, the community swims, bathes, washes their clothes, and night fishes with home-made harpoon guns.  The night fishing has been one of my favorite experiences here.  I didn’t fish; I just walked along on the shore and put the fish on a stick as they threw them at me.

Katelyn after a successful night of fishing

The most disheartening experience here has been going back to the community after spending Semana Santa with my parents, and seeing the banks of the local swimming hole with a blanket of food wrappers and other colorful scraps.  The river was full for the holiday and people from the nearby city came in truckloads, bringing with them picnics with plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups, and metal sardine cans.  Then they went home after a great holiday swimming under the waterfalls and all of their trash is right where they left it.  Hopefully, little by little we’ll be able to clean up the swimming hole and return it to its original state.  The littering problem is something that bothers all of the interns here.  Sometimes it seems like a lost cause, but hopefully, we’ll be able to set an example and get them to think about the consequences the next time they want to toss aside their coke bottle.

The 30 kW micro hydropower system in La Laguna is the largest AsoFenix has installed in Nicaragua.  The system will easily serve over 40 houses in La Laguna.  Right now the tubing is being stabilized, and the electrical lines will be installed soon after.  The area in which the system is being built provides many challenges. The white PVC pipe seems to stretch out forever along the cliff-side.

The white PVC disappears into the distance and Katelyn hikes along

It takes about an hour to hike from the turbine house to the dam (at least for me, Nicaraguans are a bit more sure footed).  The slopes are steep making it difficult to haul water, sand, and rocks from the river.  I give the guys credit; the work they are doing is in no way easy. They work hard, and do it for their families and the betterment of the community.

The men of La Laguna stabilizing the PVC pipe over a ravine

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Erin Carroll is a Hydrogeologist at GSI Water Solutions in Portland, OR. Given her technical background and experience in Nicaragua, Erin and her boyfriend Patrick Hughes were invited to accompany and be mentors to a team of students from Portland State University’s Environmental and Business programs while conducting a site assessment trip in El Jacote and Bramadero, Nicaragua.

Erin, Patrick and children in Bramadero

Traveling to Nicaragua with Green Empowerment was a breath of fresh air. Having completed my M.S. thesis project, A Water Quality Assessment of the Upper Rio Fonseca Drainage Basin, in 2006, it was great to return to the Department of Boaco, Nicaragua, and immerse myself in the local culture while contributing to projects with tangible results.

In the past I spent most of my time in Nicaragua conversing with and rummaging through the offices of people in regulatory and academic organizations in Managua searching for background information about ‘my study area.’ It was always a welcome reprieve when I went to conduct field work in the Central Highlands, but even then I was ‘on-guard’ as I was coordinating sampling activities with my driver and field staff to make sure that we met the objectives of the study. Although I learned a lot and was happy with the outcome of my project, I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with the rural Nicaraguans themselves.

The two years that I spent working on my thesis project combined with subsequent volunteer and travel experiences, where I felt the responsibility of ‘leading the pack,’ made this trip with Green Empowerment and their partner organization, Asociación Fénix, unique. I feel that their ability to not only plan for but also implement the logistics of our trip and meet the needs of everyone in our group was unprecedented.

This logistical freedom combined with the PSU students self motivation, gave me the liberty to soak up my surroundings and immerse myself in the moment. Rather than always using my Spanish skills for translating and seeking technical project details, I was able to have conversations with people and learn about their lives. From Juan Jose’s insights on El Jacote’s past, to the children’s knowledge of the current landscape, I was impressed by the inherent self reliance of the old and young alike.

Juan Jose in El Jacote

To a large degree I feel like the people of El Jacote and Bramadero realize the influence their actions make on their current environment. They realize, for example, that deforestation contributes to the degradation of their watershed yet they continue to cut down trees because they need fuel for cooking. While they know that they are outgrowing their resources they also feel like they should take their share while they still can. What they seem to not fully comprehend (or maybe have yet to embrace), is that there are things that they can do to mend some of nature’s wounds. That together they can plant trees, grow nutritious crops and start to revitalize and protect their natural resources.

Fortunately, the communities of El Jacote and Bramadero have formed a strong relationship with the staff at Asociación Fénix and Green Empowerment (both of whom have pledged to retain a long-term presence in the region). With assistance from these knowledgeable NGO’s, these communities will be enabled to work together toward a sustainable future for their children.

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