Archive for the ‘volunteer’ Category

‘Meet a Green Empowerment Volunteer’ is a new installment on the Green Empowerment blog that highlights past and current Green Empowerment volunteers. Green Empowerment is very lucky to have various committed volunteers and this blog segment will allow the Green Empowerment community to get to know these fantastic individuals.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.  – Oscar Wilde

Dave Lindoo is the first volunteer to be featured.  Well done Dave and best of wishes on your journey to Peru!

Dave Lindoo

Hi, I am Dave Lindoo and I have chosen to volunteer six months of my time to travel to Cajamarca, Peru with Green Empowerment and help create, develop, and maintain renewable energy projects starting July of this year. I feel very lucky for having the opportunity to volunteer with Green Empowerment and I look forward to helping people in developing countries create and maintain sustainable projects that improve their lives. Ever since I’ve graduated with my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology I’ve only wanted to put that degree and knowledge towards the renewable energy industry. I believe it is a very promising field and it is our future. I also believe it the best choice for rural areas in developing countries because it is far more economical than extending the grid (which usually isn’t an option anyway) and each project can be specifically catered to the village’s needs.

To learn more about Dave or donate to the project in Cajamarca please visit his blog!


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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 shares his thoughts about the work that he has completed, the challenges he has faced and the success that he has experienced.

As I write this blog I find myself in the middle of my 13th month in Nicaragua, ”un año y pico” as they would say here.  Looking back over the past year it seems like a monumental task to attempt summarize, synthesize and adequately convey both the breadth and depth of my experiences, the perspectives I’ve gained and most relevantly, the knowledge I have learned.

Because I have learned such a great deal this past year.  I’ve learned that development work is hard, really hard.  It is a work of ambiguous and ever-changing situations backed up against rock hard deadlines, expectations and international money.  Of uneducated labor and beneficiaries matched up with highly engineered projects.  It is a work without glory, unrewarded in terms of the material gains of wealth and recognition.  It is a work of independence, self-motivation and integrity, where very often your direction is your own, shaped by the goals you set for yourself and the sacrifices you alone are willing to make.

Development work is also a job never finished, a task never completed.  No matter how much help you give, how many lives you improve, maybe save, there’s another child suffering, probably just a mile down the road, begging your “pesito” and your “corazón.”  It is a world that can sometimes seem so bleak and hopeless it can knock you down, regardless of your strength of character or depth of commitment.  It is a very special person who finds the strength to get back up, time after time.

And that’s another thing I’ve learned, this work is not for everyone.  I stand before you today, a humbled man of 25 who is in the prime of his youth and full of energy and hope, to tell you that I don’t know if I could do this work 5 more years, much less the rest of my life.  My heart is full of passion and desire to help.  In my dreams I see myself working hand in hand with the poorest and marginalized, helping to provide a little justice in their lives.  But the truth of the work is no dream, it is very much a reality in which only the strongest and most passionate can live.  That is why I am in such awe of the people who dedicate their lives to this calling.  Those who can get up every morning, knowing that their work never ends, that the need is always there, yet tell themselves “I’m going to do my part today, I’m going to try.”

Jaime Muñoz

Jaime Muñoz

I’m talking about Jaime Muñoz, a man who has no more than a Third World “high school” education, yet whose passion and hard work have led him to educate himself and personally found and direct a Nicaraguan NGO with connections all over the world, an NGO whose only goal is to help, and who has helped thousands of people, in its own country, receive the basic services (water, energy) that for us are so natural and necessary most of us probably can’t fathom life without.

I’m taking about Jason Selwitz, Michel Maupoux, Anna Garwood, Gordy Molitor and all the Green Empowerment staff whose passion and enthusiasm are oftentimes so intense that it can be unnerving.  People who’s education, intelligence and creativity could see them earning more than twice as much income in the for profit world, but have instead chosen to work twice as many hours.  They are the small percentile driven, not by their daily desires, but instead by a greater passion to actually see done what they feel is right.  These people are rare, they’re rare, special and very necessary.  Development work is not for everybody, in my mind very few can do it.  We should appreciate those that actually do.

I suppose you are depressed now right?  What I’ve managed to say up to this point is that the work is almost impossible and the people who can do it almost don’t exist.  Well let me try to cheer you up with something else I’ve learned, or maybe more appropriately, seen.  That is that it works.  Call it a miracle, call it unbelievable, call it whatever you want.  I’m going to call it a fact.  A fact that in the face of scarce resources, education, time and money it almost always works.

Where does it work?  It worked in El Roblar, a community so isolated it can only be reached by walking over 2 hours….up.  Where just recently was finished a 17 kW micro-hydro system that will provide clean and cheap energy (each family pays a small, flat monthly fee for maintenance) to over 30 homes.  Energy that will provide refrigeration, lighting to replace cancer causing kerosene lamps, TV for education via national and international news and, if we can find the funds, energy for a computer in the school so that their kids, their future, aren’t trapped in the archaic past.

El Roblar

El Roblar

It worked in El Roblar not only because of the end result, but perhaps more importantly because of the process.  A process that involved bringing the community together, the discovery of leadership, the learning of new skills and the realization of self worth.  A process that involved Gustavo and I, two trained engineers, standing for 3 days with our hands in our pockets watching Marco, Juan Antonio and the rest of the recently trained community hang over 3 kilometers of overhead power lines.  Watching them do it right.  This of course after they had hauled several tones of cement up the mountain, built a damn, dug 500 meters of trench through the woods, laid the penstock and built the turbine house.



It’s also working in the community of Cuajiniquil, which will reap the benefits of the first partnership, created and fostered by Green Empowerment, between Asofenix and blueEnergy, a Nicaraguan NGO specializing in wind energy.  Benefits that will include, through a hybrid solar-wind energy project, a potable water pumping system and micro-grid to provide energy to the isolated community of 15 families.  This partnership between two of the largest and most effective renewable energy NGO’s in the country will facilitate an exchange of knowledge and expertise and only strengthen each organization’s ability to affect meaningful changes in future.

Where else does it work?  It works at home as well.  It works through the involvement of local communities and universities that want to help.  Involvement that benefits both sides through the exchange of experiences, cultures and friendships.  Organizations such as the Havurah Shalom Congregation from Portland, Oregon that sent representatives down in December of 2008 and are currently raising funds for a solar water pumping project in the community of Jocote.  Or the students from Northwestern University who came down during their spring break this year and kick started a large scale biogas digestor project and  have been raising funds to come down in 2010 to install 3 battery-charging wind turbines in communities without electricity.  This long term commitment in funds, resources and energy provides an enormous amount of support to Green Empowerment and Asofenix and is necessary for the continued success of both.

I could go on forever about the change I’ve seen and the progress made.  But the important thing is that, regardless of the obstacles and overwhelming need, progress is being made and positive change can be seen, both in Nicaragua and at home.  And that is the most important thing I’ve learned, that despite the hardship, lack of resources and people progress is being made one village, community and person at a time. Progress that I’ve been lucky to be a part of.

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Mary Solecki, a graduate of the Presidio School of Management’s Sustainable MBA program, spent two months with AsoFénix in Nicaragua working both in the field in Bramadero and re-developing the AsoFénix website in Managua. From the field to the office Mary shares her experience with the Green Empowerment community.

The end of my internship with AsoFénix is quickly coming to a close.  I can´t believe how fast these two months have flown by, but when I consider everything I have learned and accomplished in just two months, I understand why the time felt short.

When I arrived in Managua, I thought I wanted to spend most of my time in the campo (rural countryside) of Nicaragua.  AsoFénix was accommodating, and found me a project up in Bramadero, where I spent a few weeks living, learning and working.  AsoFénix works with many different communities, and I was continually impressed by the quality AND quantity of AsoFénix´s work.  Seems that every rural inhabitant in this area of Nicaragua knows Jaime (AsoFénix´s director), and can name at least two projects that have directly benefitted their lives. AsoFénix has certainly been busy this summer.  Currently, there are two major electrification projects using both wind and hydro power, bringing electricity to about 500 people.  On an ongoing basis, more biodigestors being built, studied and improved, impacting three different communities. These projects don´t include AsoFénix´s support and education to past projects, community organization for future projects, partnership projects, fundraising or day-to-day necessary office work.

I was happy to be able to see many of these projects in action, and assist where possible.  As a business student, I realized that my skills might best be utilized in the office, so I ended up moving back down to Managua to re-develop AsoFénix´s website, and write a business plan to help them approach new funding sources.  These projects have been very rewarding for me.  Not only am I flexing my Spanish muscle in a new way, but also getting a unique perspective on the entire organization as I record all their past projects, beneficiaries and impacts. (If you are curious to learn more, head on over to our new and improved site, http://asofenix.org)

What I´ve learned in my time here at AsoFénix has been invaluable.  As I move forward in my career in International Development and renewable energy, both the practical applications and strategic vision of AsoFénix will help me build and support similar enterprises.

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Jocelyn Maxine Kluger, a current intern with AsoFénix in Nicaragua, through the ESW Summer Engineering Experience in Development (SEED) Volunteer Program, writes about biodigestor installations & farming practices in Bramadero as well as cultural experiences she has encountered while in Nicaragua.

Since begining its involvment with the Bramadero community three years ago, AsoFénix has installed biodigestors behind three different houses. The biodigestor at the Gonzalez family´s house is a thick green plastic bag commercially produced in Mexico. AsoFénix installed this biodigestor in March of 2009, and the family has built a fence around it that prevents the community´s many free-roaming farm animals from puncturing the plastic. During my first week in Bramadero, AsoFénix spent a couple days doubling the capacity of the concrete cylindrical biodigestor behind Pedro´s house. Working alongside community members Tilo and Pedrito, Pedro´s son, we constructed a second concrete cylinder beside the first one. Later, the two cylinders were turned on their sides and sealed together. Additionally, a new biodigestor was constructed by Chica´s house. This new biodigestor is a concrete rectangular prism with a plastic top. The new biodigestors must receive the cow-manure-and-water mixture for two weeks before they will begin producing fuel for cooking.

During the next week, Karina and I introduced ourselves to the three families with biodigestors and began to learn about the community´s farming practices. One day, I accompanied my host father, Feliciano, to a corn field to remove weeds with machetes. Then, we began testing soil samples from land used to grow beans and corn. Many of the farmers in the community exhaust their land by growing the same crops year after year. Now, they have become very reliant on comercial chemical fertilizers. Working with Feliciano during my second week in Bramadero, I planted several hundred corn and bean plants. Once they grew to be about six inches tall, I applied chemical fertilizer to one-third of the plants, organic fertilizer from the biodigestors to another third, and left the remaining plants untreated. AsoFénix hopes that the results of this experiment will prove that the biodigestor fertilizer works well and encourage the local farmers to use it.

When not working on the projects, I spend a lot of time with my host family. Often, I chat with the adults on the porch and help the kids learn to solve a Rubik´s Cube I gave them. On some mornings, I help one of the daughters pound out dough into a circle and cook it over the open fire to make a tortilla. Once, I accompanied several women on the mile-long trek through the fields and up the steep hills to collect firewood for cooking. Last week, I went with a few family members on a two hour horse ride through the hills to a birthday party. It has been an excellent experience getting to know them.

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Brett Boissevain, a current intern with AsoFénix in Nicaragua through the ESW Summer Engineering Experience in Development (SEED) Volunteer Program, shares his first experiences of living in Nicaragua.

 Brett Boissevain in Nicaragua

Brett Boissevain in Nicaragua

I´m back in civilization again, but ever so briefly. I´ve spent the last week in the middle of a nicaraguan forest, living with a family (in a home that has electricity and a shower – more or less) and completely out of my element. The only way to get in touch with the rest of thew world is to hike for 45 minutes to the top of a peak to capture a glimmer of cell service (even then it costs an arm and a leg because I´m so far out).

View from House

View from House

The family I´m living with is incredible, but the adjustment has been a little tough for me. They talk a mile a minute, with a very different accent than my americanized spanish education (which was in high school, mind you) prepared me for. To the majority of questions, I can only respond “¿que?” (what?). After asking that two or three times, I usually just surrender and say “si” (yes), not knowing if it´s an appropriate answer or not.

The head of the household is named Pablo. He´s fairly young (I would guess in his mid 30´s) and really friendly. His wife is Irma and his oldest son is named Juan Pablo, or Pablito, and is 14 years old. He´s seems more mature than a lot of friends I had at GU, but then again most college kids are pretty immature anyways. The next oldest is Marlon, who is 7. He and I have been attached at the hip for the last week, romping through the hills and forest together every day. He´s old enough to know more spanish than me, but young enough to have the patience to help me learn what he´s saying. The youngest is Lionel, and is only 2. He´s extremely boisterous and rarely listens to his mother or brothers (maybe thats why I like him so much).

The part of the country I´m in is incredible. I´m in central Boaco (a state in Nicaragua) in the mountains and forests of central Nicaragua. It rains almost everyday, which means most of my days are speant sloshing along muddy trails wearing my newly acquired rubber boots (which cost me about $7). There are several streams through the area, and one is big enough to have a few swimming holes. I haven´t seen them all yet, but the most recent one I´ve been shown is 10-15 feet deep (I´ll save the stupidity of cliff jumping for when I´m closer to my departure). Fruit trees are everywhere, and sugar cane is easy to come by. The machete that I carry with me everywhere comes in pretty handy for a simple snack on the go! Every meal I have consist of rice, beans and tortillas. Luckily I´m not sick of it yet. Actually, it´s a nice change of pace from the college life style of waking up and asking myself “what did I eat yesterday?”

Brett's New Friend - the Machete

Brett's New Acquaintance - the Machete

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About This Internship
Support Green Empowerment’s communications and fundraising efforts while gaining organizational experience with an international development nonprofit.  Develop skills in web-based applications, public relations, fundraising, events coordination and database maintenance while increasing Green Empowerment’s capacity to bring renewable energy and water to rural villages internationally.

Time Commitment: 3 months, 10+ hours/wk
Remuneration: Unpaid (but infinite coffee and abundant praise!)

Responsibilities and Tasks

Provide website maintenance using Joomla, an open-source content management system
Assist with development of GE literature, including annual report
Help prepare monthly e-announcements
Draft and/or proofread press releases from project reports
Facilitate contact with local media, etc.

Keep our contact database up to date
Help with thank you letters
Create mailing lists and assist in targeted marketing efforts via mailings, special events and publications

Work with Resource Development Coord to organize event logistics, such as venue, procurement assistance, and ticketing
Ensure organizational presence at larger events

Help coordinate volunteers
Perform general office tasks as needed (answer phones, order supplies, etc.)

EDUCATION: BA or equivalent preferred

Required:  Excellent written and oral communication skills
Desired: Volunteer coordination, contact database maintenance, event coordination

Required: Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
Desired: Adobe Creative Suite (PhotoShop, GoLive, InDesign), FileMaker or commensurate donor database, basic IT abilities, basic knowledge of HTML  and content management systems a big plus

To Apply:
Kindly send resume and cover letter to steph routh (stephanie@greenempowerment.org) by April 15th, 2009.

Thank you very much for your interest!

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Calvin Helfenstine, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan in Mechanical Engineering, was an Intern with AsoFenix in Nicaragua in 2008 through the Engineers for a Sustainable World’s Summer Engineering Experience in Development (SEED) program. Calvin built on the work of SEED Intern, Samuel Schlesinger, who contributed an earlier blog posting.

Calvin Helfenstine

Calvin Helfenstine


Surveying for Solar Water Pumping Station

Surveying for Solar Water Pumping Station

The solar water pumping station in Sonzapote was the most important and largest budgeted project from the position of Asofenix. Initially, a topographical study was performed to determine the elevation of various elements of the community. Working with Nicaraguan surveyors, we spent a day in the village collecting data. Upon review of the topographic study, we were able to accurately size the pump and solar panel system for the community’s needs. A community census and survey was also conducted to accurately determine the water usage needs of the village throughout the year, and attempt to document the state of the village to determine what changes occur with this project. While administering this survey, we explained the necessity of having a latrine before receiving water to the house. In addition we documented the level of education of each community member. The results showed that less than half of the community was able to read.  With the winter harvest underway, we were unable to begin installation of the system before the end of our program. The equipment was ordered and the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of November of this year. [*ed note – the community water delivery system was installed in December 2008 and the distribution network was completed by the community and AsoFenix in Feb. 2009.]

Examining Data for Solar Water Pumping Station

Examining Data for Solar Water Pumping Station

Collaborating with students from the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria (UNI), we worked on a project to construct a wind generator made of recycled materials to be used for charging batteries in the village of Bromadero. Based on a variety of existing generator designs found via the internet and a site visit to an existing wind turbine in Matagalpa, an overall design was developed.

One week was spent with the students at the UNI workshop to fabricate the design. Although well equipped for working with metal, there were insufficient resources to fabricate the wooden blades. Having trouble locating the necessary materials, we were only able to fabricate a tail and make preliminary cuts for the blades. The project was put on hold until we could locate a new location with proper machines for woodworking.

Calvin Holds Up the Wind Generator

Calvin Holds Up the Wind Generator

When we convened on the project, we again encountered more problems. Without prior notice, the school had closed for a week and all the previous supplies were locked in the workshop. With limited time to complete the project, we decided to take on a new design using blades made of PVC tubing. The design would allow us to complete most of the work in the office of Asofenix with minimal equipment required.

The blade design was modified from existing designs on the internet using 6 inch diameter tubing with a blade length of three feet. The tubing was cut to length and quartered lengthwise. A small taper was cut into the blade to serve as the leading edge. Once cut, the blades were sanded to form rounded corners and leading and trailing edges.  The components of the design were made of recycled and cheap materials. A used saw blade was purchased to serve as the central hub to mount the blades to the generator. The tail was fabricated from sheet metal and scrap tubing purchased from a junkyard. The wood for the main body was donated from a local construction site. A motor was purchased from the Mercado Oriental, Central America’s largest market, with the help of “runners” and a fellow Nicaraguan Asofenix worker. We were unable to successfully describe the type of motor needed and the motor purchased was unsuitable for use as a generator.

Further research showed that the types of motors best suited for wind generators (permanent magnet DC motors) could be easily found used in the U.S. from items such as old tape drives, treadmills, or washing machines. None of these items, however, are prevalent in Nicaragua. In addition, due to the culture of re-use until broken, it is difficult to locate a used motor for sale that is still serviceable.

We met with a professor of wind energy at another UNI campus who had tried to make wind generators for years without success. Many student-made models were scattered around his trailer-based office but the only wind generator in service was a purchased unit from the U.S., which was spinning above his office. Reassured that it was indeed difficult to produce such wind generators in a country with the necessary resources, we decided to find a suitable motor to serve as a proof-of-concept. A 12-volt fan from a bus was located and used for preliminary testing.

Testing the Wind Generator

Testing the Wind Generator

The “testing” involved holding the assembled unit above our heads in the back of a pickup truck while driving down the road. The voltage was read with a multimeter while driving at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. With the small motor we were only able to achieve just over one volt but the blades did prove to spin rapidly and serve well. When a proper motor can be located (it will possibly be imported with a future volunteer) the design can be implemented to serve to charge batteries as desired.


We also installed a biodigestor in Candelaria to provide biogas for cooking for one household. The current cooking practices involve carrying large limbs miles to the home and cutting them into smaller pieces to be used as firewood. This system results in additional physical labor, deforestation, and indoor air pollution.

With a biogas digester, animal manure is processed through anaerobic digestion by bacteria into biogas composed of 70% methane. This gas is then piped into the home for use with a gas stove. The waste matter from the system is a sterile liquid, which can be used as an organic fertilizer.  The particular design we used is called the “salchicha,” or sausage, in Central America as it involves a large sausage-like plastic bag open on both ends.

Working with the family, we first laid out the footprint for the biodigester basin. We then excavated the hole and shaped the walls as desired. A reservoir was created to serve as the entrance for the slurry as well as an exit reservoir to contain the fertilizer. The walls were then lined with rocks and cement to form a barrier with the soil.

The plastic bag measured 4 meters long with a width of 2.5 meters (doubled over). A small hole was cut in the top of the bag to serve as the outlet for the biogas. A hollow plastic male fitting on the outside of the bag was screwed into a female connection on the inside with a set of washers and rubber squares between to serve as a sandwich connection to the bag. The bag was connected to the inlet and outlet tubes, which were four inch diameter PVC tubing. Semi-truck inner tubes were cut into strips and wrapped around the bag, which was pleated to fit snugly around the tubing. The completed setup was placed in the hole and outlet tube covered with dirt.

Building the Biodigestor

Building the Biodigestor

Before leaving the village upon completion, instructions were given to fill the bag with manure and water with a ratio of two to one. Approximately two cubic meters of slurry were needed to fill the bag. Upon returning to the village we discovered that one of the valves had been left open and all gas that had been produced had escaped the chamber leaving a deflated bag. Upon reassuring the villagers that the design did work, they continued to fill the bag daily. Although we did see much activity such as bubbles seeping through the mixture, the bag did not fill in my two days that I had left in the village. The design takes approximately one week to produce enough gas to fill the bag but provides enough gas to cook daily once it is operating.


My experience was some of the most interesting and personally gratifying time I have ever spent. During my eleven weeks in Nicaragua, I got a glimpse of what it is like to live in a third-world country, a life that closely resembles most of the world. Although the lives of the people of Nicaragua may not be glamorous by U.S. standards, I believe they live a satisfying life on a personal level. The pace of life is less stressful, family ties are stronger, and the people are generally grateful for what they do have.

During my first three or so visits to the village I did experience a bit of culture shock. Each time I went back to the village, I would be more used to the lifestyle but new things would keep coming up that were extremely different than the life we are used to. With time however, bucket showers, latrines, animals in the house, wood-fire kitchens, and beds made of plastic fabric seemed normal and somewhat comforting with each visit.

My Spanish skills were poor at best when I arrived in Nicaragua. Over my time in the country I was forced to improve my skills just to communicate with my host family. Although somewhat frustrating at times, like a game of charades, my Spanish skills developed extremely. Although not always perfect, I was able to successfully participate in meetings, conduct surveys, and work alongside native Nicaraguans with little or no problems communicating whatever desired. As these skills developed, I was also able to form a relationship with my host-family and fellow workers.

I developed a strong understanding of the Nicaraguan way of life, values, and culture. I became deeply immersed in their lifestyle, sometimes shedding my American idea of things. At one point, a fellow volunteer and I refused to rent bicycles for U.S. $2.50 because they were charging us too much. In hindsight, $2.50 is nothing with U.S. spending habits, but for the lifestyle we were used to it seemed ridiculous. When we did happen to see tourists from other parts of the world, they seemed to stick out much more than us.

Seeing the excitement of the villagers with our projects was very encouraging and rewarding. During our survey of Sunzapote we discovered that only women and girls carried the water to the homes by buckets weighing forty pounds. When asked why they wanted this project in their village, we got a variety of responses but nearly all were with a smile. Women were excited to be able to spend more time with the children, taking care of the house, or taking a minute to relax from their hard-working days. I am positive that this project will improve the lives of everyone in the village and is one large step towards improving their living conditions.

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