Thursday, August 21, 2014

First few days at NSCI

Hola amigos! It has been a long few days in Guatemala. On our second day in Antigua, we spent some time exploring the area and hiked up to the "Cerro de la Cruz" (basically a hill that has a large and prominent cross on the top of it) that had a beautiful view of Antigua and one of the volcanoes in the area. 
Sandy, Jeff, Shivangi, Shaili, Martin, Neha, and Nicole at the top of the "Cristo" in Antigua, Guatemala.
It was actually a very short hike up, but since it was pretty steep and we were about 5,000 feet above sea level, it was much tougher to get up there than it normally would’ve been in the states. We were all pretty out of breath by the time we got to the top. Most of us realized that this was only going to get worse with all the hiking we were going to do in NSCI, which is 10,000 feet above sea level. Later, we visited a few markets and gathered groceries and supplies for Angel’s family and our stay in NSCI. We ended our day with a really nice dinner at La Pena, a place that past travel teams have visited. During dinner, we discussed what everyone’s expectations are for the trip once we got into NSCI, and the responses were very interesting to listen to, especially since I now know a few things that we expected have been completely different from what’s happened.

On Sunday, before leaving Antigua for NSCI, we met with Phillip Wilson (CEO of EcoFiltro) again, along with the rest of his family, and Chris Schultz from CDM Smith for a really awesome breakfast at a cute Bistro. I really love some of the food we’ve had in Antigua – especially the fruit! The fruit has never tasted so sweet.  Afterwards we said goodbye to our quaint little hostel and to Leopoldo, and made a 4 hour drive to NSCI. Once we arrived in NSCI, we were greeted by Angel and his family (our host family) and they so generously offered us to stay in their main house, while they took the guest house for the week. We were all so thrown by their generosity – I mean, they gave up their whole home for us! They are very honestly some of the kindest people I have ever met, and I am so grateful for everything they’re doing and have done for us in the past. After showing us around their home, we cleaned up and prepared for the meeting with the Water Committee. 

Municipal Building in NSCI

We had a lot of expectations for this meeting going in – we thought that we would be following an agenda we made with discussion points to the T but once we got there and everyone got talking, we totally forgot about our agenda and the Water Committee spent a lot of time explaining to us what they believed the problem was with the water system. They cited a few things, but focused particularly on a poorly built distribution system into each individual home and breaks and leaks in the gravity pipeline due to high pressures. The meeting was very interactive and I was surprised by how much interest these folks had in their water system! I did not expect that level of interest, but it was so great to see them taking ownership of the project and really giving their ideas for fixes and working with us to try and come up with a game plan for the next week. 

Members of the Water Committee pointing out areas of NSCI with water problems on the map.
On Monday, we all got up really early in the morning to begin walking as much of the gravity pipeline as possible with the members of the Water Committee. Let me tell you: this was TOUGH. First of all, NSCI is at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. Walking a normal distance here sometimes feels like you’ve RAN it because you’re so out of breath by the end. Second of all, the hike was a lot of steep uphills and downhills and NO trails.  Combine the two, and you’ll realize that climbing up those steep hills really took a monumental effort since the air was just so thin and we had a hard time taking in enough oxygen. I can’t say I’ve ever had to exert such mental and physical endurance in my life up until this point. However, the hike was BEAUTIFUL and we also learned a lot about the pipeline which definitely made it worth it.

The view while hiking through cornfields along the gravity pipeline.
We took GPS coordinates at any areas where the Water Committee indicated there had been a previous break, leak, or where we saw there was a new break or leak. We ended the hike after walking the length of about half of the gravity pipeline. Later that day, we had a town hall meeting in which the head of the water committee, Angel, addressed everyone on the issues with the distribution system, and set up an interesting test for Wednesday. People here usually hoard and store their water instead of using the taps only when needed, which may have been contributing to the issue of the community not getting enough water, so we decided to run a test one day to see if the head tank still runs dry when people only use water as needed – it was a little tough to get people on board, but they agreed in the end. I'll let everyone know how it went in the next post!

Attendees of the Town Hall Meeting in NSCI
Yesterday, the team split up, and half of the team went to finish walking the remaining half of the gravity pipeline and collecting data points on that. Our half of the team went to the school first thing in the morning and presented to kids aged 9-13 on the water cycle. The kids were a little rowdy, and the presentations went a little more roughly than we'd have liked, but we learned a lot and in the end I think they did too! The kids were really cute too. 

Education presentations to schoolchildren in NSCI
Later in the day, we went around to some shops and distributed surveys about the residents' opinions of the water system. We found that a lot of times the survey was too difficult for the residents to answer, since they primarily speak Quiche and generally only know conversational Spanish - this is something we definitely need to remember in the future when we make any material for them in Spanish! In the evening, we had Rosa, a representative from EcoFiltro, who handles the programs in the nearby communities, come and make a presentation to the Water Committee about the filters and we were happy to see that the WC seemed intrigued by the concept and exchanged contact information with her. Overall, a really eye-opening and successful few days! We're pretty tired, but still excited for our last two days in the community. I think Jeff is doing a blog post that has more about what we did today (8/20) so I'll let him get to that :) Adios and buenas noches!


  1. Super exciting to hear that there may be a NSCI/EcoFiltro partnership in the works :) can't wait to hear how the test on the Head Tank went.

  2. Angel's the head of the Water Committee?

    Yeah the EcoFiltro partnership seems to be taking shape easily & swiftly enough, hopefully the response is consistent.