Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category

The Q´ero Nation, a community of people who live in the remote Andes of Peru, are currently facing large problems as they are lacking basic services like like clean drinking water, electricity, education, sanitary facilities and access to health care. Infant mortality between the ages of 0 and 5 is high at 47 percent and easily treatable respitory illnesses can quickly become fatal during the winter months when the area experiences below-freezing temperatures.

Green Empowerment has partnered with The Q’ero Development Assistance on a project to bring education and electrity to the Q’ero Nation. To learn more about the project and the community that it will serve please visit the Q’ero Development Assistance.


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The Sacred Valley is full of paradoxes. Stunning vertical landscapes. Tourism and a hippy mecca. Andean Waldorf schools. And grinding poverty…

I first meet up with Sandra and Sandy: two good natured, down-to-earth Canadians who are volunteering in Peru. Sandra with Kuasay Wasi Clinic (http://kausaywasi.org/) and Sandy with DESEA, Desarrollo en Accion (www.deseaperu.org), Green Empowerment’s new partner in implementing a project to improve health through household water filters. With the exciting news from the Metabolic Studios of Annenberg Foundation, the project finally has the resources to really get off the ground. I am in the Sacred Valley to see the team of DESEA, meet the communities and work out the logistics of the new grant.

Ricardinia, the newly-hired field manager, took us out to the communities: Totora, Accha Pampa and Chaipa. While at about 4000 meters (13,000 feet) themselves, they were nestled in valleys with the surrounding peaks towering at the aching heights of 5000 meters (16,400ft). Ricardinia grew up a day’s walk from the closest road, in some hidden village in these sacred hills. She left for high school and trained to be a teacher. She heard the radio ad for the DESEA field manager and was hired on. She is a huge asset as she is the main cultural and linguistic bridge to the poor communities.
In Totora we met Gregorio, the filter workshop manager, who was the young mayor of this adobe village. He was dressed in western clothes and spoke in fluent Spanish with a Quechua accent that made round words sound like triangles. He had attended the CAWST (www.cawst.org) training as is a devotee of the biosand filters that he builds everyday. We caught him with a bundle of wire mess as he was heading to Pampallacta to repair the school’s filter.

When they saw Sandra arrive in Totora, a group of women gathered for a “clinic” (not a building, but an event). They squatted on the ground and unwrapped their bundles of brightly woven cloth to reveal children that needed a nurse’s eye.
We met a woman and her baby that had lost a dangerous amount of weight from diarrhea. She had taken her to the Kuasay Wasi clinic where she was given a dehydration solution. By the time I met the baby, she had gained back some weight and looked like she would survive, but it drove home the point that simple hygiene and clean water are the most important things we can do to save children’s lives.

These communities speak almost no Spanish. They maintain the poetic Quechua language and traditions alive. Everyday clothes look like a celebration, with dozens of buttons on the wrists arranged like pearls on an evening gown, and big flat round hats covered with ornate red cloth that dangled over the edge.

And yet, illiteracy, isolation, discrimination and malnutrition have taken their toll. Sandra describes meeting a woman who could not remember how many of her children had died; was it 5 or 6? I hear stories of a toddler eating paint, excessive alcohol and spouse abuse. I don’t see this kind of malnutrition where I live in Cajamarca, where rural people have few resources, but plenty of food, although both areas show signs of protein deficiency, with a diet based on rice and potatoes.

In Totora and Accha Pampa, we walk into the tiny dark kitchens, covered in soot, to see the filters. Ricardinia translates from Quechua. The people we met said they used the filters daily and even said that they had noticed an improvement in health of the children. They understand that the filters clean. The filters are made in one of the project communities out of local materials. The concrete structure is filled with sand and gravel which effectively remove pathogens.
biosand filter

Ricardina, Gregorio and the team say that everyone wants a filter. But once they have it, there are some (perhaps 15%) who don’t use it. Do they want it just because it’s a new thing to have in their home? It’s modern and different? Daily habits run deep too, thousands of years deep. And introducing some new-fangled things into those daily patterns is a hard thing to do. Even when you know it’s good for you. I know I should floss every day, but I don’t. It seems that here, the filter use and health education is not a secondary complement of filter installation, but needs to be at the core of the program.

school water

This pipe, from a dirty open sink hole, delivers water to schoolchildren

We surveyed the existing water sources. In Totora, there is “agua entubada” (piped, but not potable, water) that just comes from an open river, above which the animals graze… Kids drink from water that comes from an open sink hole near the school. Other communities have gravity-fed water systems that deliver spring water to some of the houses, but not to others.

Sandy has a kit to test for total coliforms and fecal coliforms, which are indicators of unsafe drinking water. The streams have lots of fecal coliforms, the sealed water spring water distribution systems are clean and the filtered water is clean. However, this has shown several of the systems are not working properly and need to be fixed (the sand was not fine enough and the water passes too quickly). This monitoring tool helps them adjust the filter fabrication.
lab test
The complex social and cultural environment will pose plenty of challenges, but also makes the need for the health and water program all the more evident. With the support of Metabolic Studios of Annenberg Foundation, 150 filters will be built and installed. Most importantly, workshops on health and hygiene will be integrated into the program and health promoters trained from the communities. Something so simple can save a life. After spending time with the DESEA team and going to the communities, I am optimistic that this partnership has what it takes.

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Anna Garwood, Green Empowerment’s Latin American Program Manager, was recently interviewed about a Green Empowerment Project in Peru.

If you aren’t in the Peruvian Amazon, and thus are out of the listening area of my recent interview on “Radio Marañon,” I’ll give you the translated upshot. Juan Santos Chavez, the president of the 10 family agricultural association in the village of La Libertad (i.e. Freedom) held the little black tape recorder up:

“Today we are honored to have the presence of a Señorita from the USA here in our town. She will introduce herself and tell you what she’s doing here”

“Good morning, my name is Anna Garwood. I work for Green Empowerment, a US NGO, in partnership with Soluciones Practicas-ITDG and I’m here in La Libertad on a follow up visit to a micro-hydro plant installed several years ago.  It is working well; the 5kw system is powering lights, cell phones, TVs, a machete grinder and even 26 laptops for all the kids in high school…I want to congratulate the community of La Libertad for organizing, building and operating the electrical plant…”

I also had a chance to interview Juan as we walked over the lush fields to the power plant. I asked about his observations of any changes in the community since electricity arrived; “What has impressed me most is the kids. They beat us at learning how to use and program the TV and DVD, and even the remote control.” In anthropology circles there is a debate about what, if any, things are universal across human cultures. I think Juan’s comment gives one more point to the universal side of the debate.

As for the adults, he mentions lighting and improving the means of work, such as the new machete grinder. He also says that electricity is cheaper than going through a packet of candles every week.

A peddler came around to La Libertad, hawking goods for sale. This time it was TVs, radios and blenders. Some people purchased their new electronic goodies in cash, but others paid the traders in sacks of coffee, chickens or guinea pigs.

After organizing to build the micro-hydro, they also got together to lobby the municipality for a road to the village, they improved the school building and since they have electricity, they were selected by the Ministry of Education, to receive a donation of laptops for each high school student which will revolutionize the access to information in this village off the beaten path.

Juan says about 5 people a week come to his house from other villages to charge their cell phones. Many people in surrounding villages use car batteries for household electricity, which they charge in the city a few hours away. Now, La Libertad wants a battery charger so that they can start a small business charging batteries off the micro-hydro system. They want to buy the charger on credit, and, when they get the legal title documents of the micro-hydro system, they can use that as collateral.

Juan had heard about ITDG on the radio, years ago, and walked an hour from his village to the closest road, and from there got a ride 2 hours to the regional city of Jaen, where he knocked on the doors of ITDG for assistance in building a micro-hydro project for electricity in his community. A few years later, the tables have turned, and now Juan is broadcasting the success story.

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