Thursday, January 21, 2016

The end of the trip at Lake Atitlan.

The weekend around Atitlan was beautiful. Travel team enjoyed showers, beautiful weather, and delicious food around the lake, along with some great souvenir shopping. However, on Saturday, the team met with the NGO (non-governmental organization) that initially started the water project in NSCI, Appropriate Technology Collaborative.

We met up with Monika Goforth, the ATC Guatemalan director. Monika told us about different projects that ATC currently works on, including finding new, cheaper methods of construction, bicycle powered corn shucking, and plastic shredding to help re-purpose the garbage found all around Guatemala. Monika took the team up a short hike to a school near San Marcos in which solar panels were put in to help power the only school for indigenous children in mostly unelectrified communities around the mountain. The team had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and looks forward to partnering more with ATC in the future through new types of projects along with further support for the water project in NSCI.

The team with Monika next to solar panels installed at a local school. 

On Sunday, the travel team sat down for dinner in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan and discussed their favorite and least favorite aspects of the trip, along with the different tasks moving forward. We are all excited for the project in NSCI to be a success and plan to keep working hard this semester toward that goal. The team said goodbye to Guatemala the following day, and we're now all back in New Jersey with thoughts of all that happened fresh in our minds.


Finishing the week in NSCI

Dave, Austin, and Ericka drew the short sticks for the Head Tank test the following morning, and met Manuel, the fontanero, up at the tank at 5:30 AM. In a similar fashion to the previous day, Neha, Sandy, and Sam headed up to the tank at around 8 AM to relieve the first team and let them eat some breakfast. While at the tank, Sandy and Dave used Ericka to pick Manual's brains and try to map out where he thought each valve provided water. Before this trip, the team was under the impression that there was one valve per neighborhood in the community, but it was soon discovered that the distribution system piping was much more complicated. The Water Committee is still working to try to give us a map that shows where water flows from each valve at a per house level. This will really impact our analysis of the system.

Picking the brains of Manuel to figure out where each valve is serving.

At around 2 PM that day, the team had a summary of findings meeting with the Water Committee. The team addressed the expectations that the Water Committee provided at the beginning of the week. The Water Committee seemed amazed at the cost of galvanized iron, and also mentioned that in order to install water meters at every house in the community, a popular vote of 80% favor would have to be reached in the general public. Overall, the Water Committee was thankful for the information provided, and EWB-USA Rutgers Guatemala Team left with the promise of a follow-up letter with recommendations. 

Travel Team's final meeting with the Water Committee.

After the meeting, the team went around to the different installed water meters with the Water Committee to label each with a number and ensure the committee could read the meter. This is essential as the Water Committee will be providing the Rutgers team with meter readings every week via email.

Later that day on Thursday, the team got a treat and was able to play some games with host family member Lucas, his friends, the Peace Corps volunteer staying with the same host family, and his sister.

Martin, Sam, and Neha playing marbles with Lucas and his friend Ricky.

Friday was a treat for the team as no one had to wake up before sunrise to head up to the Head Tank. Instead, all that was scheduled for the day was to pick up surveys and take water meter readings. I decided to jump on the opportunity of living with a Peace Corps volunteer who worked at the Health Clinic to see what local health looked like in NSCI. The Health Clinic was small, but clean. Paul, the Peace Corps volunteer, introduced me to the different staff at the clinic and told me about how the sinks in the clinic were brand new, as it previously did not have water access. Paul pointed out the clear lack of supplies in the clinic. He said two years ago, the clinic had managed to achieve 80% of vaccinations for children in the community. Unfortunately, the previous year, only 40% of the children were vaccinated because of the ex-director of the clinic pocketing the money for supplies. He said the nurses often go on strike from not being paid, and that although healthcare should be free, there is no medicine to give out to those who need it, so families often have to go to pharmacies to try to purchase the medicine which is costly.

The "emergency rooom" of the clinic had only one bed and one stretcher. The clinic had two other beds in total, both reserved for childbirth. Unfortunately 1 in 1000 women in the community die during childbirth.

After water meter readings, packing, and cleaning the house as a thank you to Martina, our host family mother, the team headed to Lake Atitlan for the weekend, where the rest of the trip was spent.


Wednesday in NSCI!

The Guatemala Travel Team arrived back to their homes at around midnight on Monday and prepared for the semester to start the very next day. Now that we're back in the secure internet of New Jersey, I want to quickly summarize the rest of the trip in a couple of posts.

On Wednesday, Martin, Sam, Sandy and I went up to the Head Tank at 6 AM to perform a similar tank study to the previous day, but with different valves. Dave, Austin, and Ericka relieved us a couple hours later so that we could head back for some warmth and breakfast. The day also involved two meetings, one with the Municipality and one with the community. Ericka took lead on presenting to the Municipality, and described the history of the project, the main needs for the system now, and the agenda for our week in NSCI. The current mayor thanked us for our time but then pointed out that he would soon be leaving office and that there was nothing he could do anymore to help the office. We were not expecting much more from him, as we were aware that his last day in office was the Friday of that same week.

Ericka presenting to the old Municipality of NSCI.

After the meeting, the team headed back to Angel's house to regroup and prepare for the Town Hall meeting. Unfortunately, I got sick and was not able to attend the Town Hall meeting, but the rest of the team did a great job. Over a hundred people from all of the neighborhoods in the community attended the meeting in which Martin and Ericka presented about the history of the project and necessity of water conservation and water meters. A previous Water Committee head named Angel helped the team translate from Spanish to Quiche, the local Mayan dialect, so everyone in attendance would understand. Many people in the community spoke up about protecting the water they had and treating it as a special resource. People at the Town Hall meeting also seemed much more open to the idea of water meters than previous years responses, a key for the sustainability of the system.

The team handed out surveys and pamphlets before the meeting started. Thankfully there was plenty of time for this because the meeting started right on Guatemala time, aka an hour late.

Project lead and translator, Martin Liza, presenting to the Town Hall.

After the meeting, the team headed back to Angel's house for dinner and to discuss reactions from the meeting. It was discovered that a majority of surveys collected at the Town Hall showed favor for water meters, an unprecedented notion in the project. The team then prepped for the following morning, which would start at 5 AM with the final Head Tank tests.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tuesday from Neha's Perspective!

Jaslin talked about her day Tuesday, but my day started a little differently. Rather than meeting up to visit the pumps at 8 AM, my team, consisting of me, Sandy, and Martin headed up to the Head Tank to start a study. Sam wanted to come too, but didn’t feel too good, so we sent her back to sleep. The team was supposed to meet the fontañero (water system technician), Manual, at 7 AM but was running a little late. At about 7:20 AM, the fontañero came and grabbed us from Angel’s house to point out that the tank was overflowing and the water was flowing all the way down to Angel’s street. We ran up to the Head Tank and immediately started our study.

The point of the study was to try to calculate flow and demand usage of each major pipeline in the community. We could then compare these calculations to the population of the sector to try to figure out if one sector was using an abnormally large amount of water. This would indicate the leak we were trying to find. To simplify flow rate data calculations, we asked Manual if we could open one valve at a time. The valves control which section of pipeline the water of the Head Tank flows through. When we first asked Manual to open Valve 4, the amount of water started decreasing. However, Manual then asked us if he should turn on the pump from the Intermediate Tank. We said yes, thinking it would give us a greater potential flow into the tank, but soon discovered that the out-flow from Valve 4 was too low compared to in-flow from all the combined sources. Basically, the water level started increasing and flooding where we were standing; we had to jump off the Head Tank with laptops in our hands to prevent anything from getting damaged.

The head tank tests involve using a tape measure to measure the level of water from the top of the tank. A measurement is taken every minute and entered into an excel file until the flow rate of the particular test appears linear, or steady. 

We called Manual back and asked him to please open a different valve and close the Intermediate Tank Pump. He came back and opened valve 6 and then closed the pump, but no longer seemed too willing to go with our idea of opening one valve at our time. Thus, valve 6 and 4 were now open. After about an hour of taking measurements, we had Manual open Valve 2. Thus our day continued until about 12 PM when all of Manual’s valves for the day were tested. We took a break for lunch and agreed to meet the water committee at 1 PM to do water meter readings of the ten water meters installed the day before.

At about 1:30 PM the Water Committee took us from house to house where the ten water meters were installed to do readings. Martin and I had a lot of fun teaching the Water Committee members and fontañero how to read the water meters. The team from the pump stations met up with us at the last water meter reading.

After finishing the water meter readings, we headed back to the Head Tank, which was now empty, to measure flow rates of each of the incoming sources. To measure flow rate of the incoming sources, we bought a red  “5-gallon” bucket from a local store in NSCI. We then used an empty gallon water jug to measure where five gallons of water actually hit, and marked the line with sharpie and white-out. Then, one pipe-source at a time, we time how long it takes the bucket to fill up to the line. Thus, we have five gallons per a measured time, or volume per time = flow rate!

A picture of the flow rate bucket test with Martin pictured next to our red bucket and a Water Committee member helping. Also notice vials full of water testing samples in Sam's hands on the left. 

We also took the opportunity of the isolated input sources to grab some water samples in vials for bacteria testing.

After finishing the flow rate testing, the team headed back to Angel’s house, and Sam and Austin prepared the gels for the water samples we took. After finishing, the students split into two teams, divied up the map of NSCI, and went out to try to collect surveys. Team Ericka, consisting of me, Jaslin, and Ericka, headed out to Chuicho, and Team Martin, consisting of Austin, Sam, and Martin, headed out to Paxocol and Chuacruz. Giving out surveys was difficult, as many shop owners said they did not live in NSCI, many families would not open their doors, and some members of the community were not very good at Spanish. We found it much more effective to offer to leave the survey with the family and to come back to the following day to pick it up. Team Ericka also accidentally stumbled upon Wendy’s house! Wendy is Angel’s oldest daughter and got married and moved out last year.

The team headed back to Angel’s house only to notice that a huge crowd and a lot of loud music was coming from the Municipality. The community was celebrating its 15th anniversary of being in their new location of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan! At first, the team decided to try to get some work done, but when actual fireworks started hitting the sky, Martin called all the students out. Why are actual fireworks so amazing? Most of the time in Guatemala the fireworks, or “bombs”, as they are literally translated to, are kind of just rockets that go up into the air, make a gunshot noises, and leave a cloud of smoke. To see colored flashes in the sky was amazing. The fireworks drew us out of the house and toward the town center, where a band consisting of 6 brothers and 6 cousins was playing. The band was not local, and the locals did not seem to know how to react. Most of the town just stood there staring, eating the free bread and coffee provided by the municipality. However, our team found the music and the dancing to be fun and enjoyable, and we had a good time that night, even if our grooving to the music attracted some sideways glances from the locals.

Sandy and Dave found us at the concert, and after the band finished we headed back to Angel’s for dinner. The team worked on calculations and report work that night, before heading to sleep, with half the team promised to meet Manual at the Head Tank at 5:30 AM the following morning.


First Few Days in NSCI

It's been a while since you were last updated on our escapades in Guatemala, for which you can thank a lack of internet access and many hours of hard work. After arriving to NSCI on Sunday evening and unloading at Angel's house, we went straight to the Municipality for a meeting with the new water committee. There we asked the new water committee of their expectations of us and we also had an interactive meeting where the water committee showed us the different locations in the neighborhoods where the water meters would be installed on a map thanks to Sandy's colorful erasable pens. Although we were unable to determine which valves go to which neighborhood in the community we were still able to determine where exactly to install the water meters. The next day, we woke up to a man yelling "queso, queso" out on the streets of NSCI. Once we reached the head tank after getting ready, we finally got to see water meters, which we have been trying to get the community to install for 5 years. When we first opened the pipes at the valves at the head tank, Martin noticed that there was water spurting out from the air valve I was surprised to see how fontaneros of NSCI fix leaks in the pipelines: by putting a stick in the hole.

See the stick in the white tube? That's blocking a hole!

Also, unfortunately, when we opened the pipes from the valves at the head tank, we noticed that those pipes were 3-inch in diameter, and we only had 10 0.5-inch diameter water meters! This completely changed our leak study test since we no longer had a way to determine the flow out from the different valves at the head tank so while half of the travel team went around with the fontaneros to install water meters at different households in the neighborhoods, the other half of the travel team went on a bumpy and twisty drive to Xela to try to find water meters that were 3-inch in diameter. Although this wasn't what we were expecting, we turned a negative into a positive because we now got 10 households in the community to install water meters instead of just 5. Also, although the travel team that went to Xela couldn't find 3-inch water meters, we still found a quote for the galvanized iron pipes that the water committee wanted in order to figure out how much money it would cost them to replace the entire gravity pipeline! Check out the pictures below of some of the highlights at the head tank, and of the installation of the water meters in the households in the community which took up most of Monday.

The whole travel team pictured up at the head tank. Left to right: David Tanzi, Ericka Paredes, Sandra Kutzing, Jaslin Singh, Neha Sikka, Martin Liza, Samantha Hansen, and Austin Hall

The valve boxes next to the head tank.

The surface of the head tank was wet due to overflow of the water.

The first step to install a water meter: identify the pipe. The second step: cut the pipe.

The next day, half of the travel team (Dave, Ericka, Austin, and I) went off to hike to the upper pump station and the lower pump station. It was a very bumpy ride to the top of the hill of where the pumps were located. After we reached the top of the hill, we slipped and slid down the steep and twisty hill to get to the upper pump station. Thankfully it wasn't wet, otherwise it would've became a muddy mess! We even saw a horse tied to a tree on our way down and were debating if we should have it take some of us down the hill. When we finally reached the upper pump station we found out from the fontanero that the kids nearby would throw rocks and such into where the three pumps were located. Therefore, the fontaneros wanted to replace the concrete lid with a metal lid so that they could lock it and easily open it as well. We suggested that the water committee should take out rocks from inside where the pumps are located, and they should also operate the valves that are connected to the pumps so that if in the future they need to replace the pumps with new ones, they won't have trouble turning the valves. The air vents should've also been covered with screens so that bugs don't crawl into the water system.

The concrete lids were huge, and heavy!

We then continued on our hike down to the lower pump station. Here, we encountered crossing a stream of water and luckily no one slipped into the water here. Once we reached the lower pump station we gave similar advice to the water committee and also told them to contact Hidasa for the electricity maintenance as a part of it that was not working was concerning the fontanero. Although we got to the lower pump station safe and sound, the hike back up to the upper pump station and then to the car was very difficult as we couldn't breathe due to the high altitude. Once we reached the upper pump station again, we took a lunch break to catch our breath and recover from the hike up, but we still had a long way to go to get back to the cars. After stopping numerous times on the way and hydrating ourselves with water we finally all made it to the top of the pumps, even if it was to a locked car! Check out some pictures below of our once-in-a-lifetime experience, as stated by Ericka, one of our travel team members.

Part of the travel team (Jaslin, Ericka, Austin, and Dave) pictured with a portion of the Water Committee at the pumps.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

¡Adios Antigua!

Buenos Dias a todos!

It is now the third day of our trip and we are preparing to leave Antigua and head to NSCI. Yesterday was an eventful but relaxing day. During breakfast at Patricia's, the travel team started to discuss each member's expectations for the trip - a discussion that continued through lunch and dinner.

Our ride to Antigua from Guatemala City ended up a little delayed, but at about 9:30 AM we were on our way to Antigua. Once we arrived at Antigua, we got dropped off at the hotel and went to check into our reservations. Unfortunately, the hostel lost our reservations, but after reading over our printed confirmations, admitted it was their fault and gave us 8 beds across three different rooms at a discounted rate. Next we went to pay the fee for our private van service, but when we arrived to the office, the employee told us that his keyboard was broken so it would take him a while to use just the mouse to find our reservation and create a receipt. The group decided to use the time to take a quick hike up to Cristo, a cliff above Antigua that overlooks the whole town and Fuego.

The team hiked up to Cristo, a cliff above Antigua, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Pictured, left to right: Austin Hall (freshman, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Samantha Hansen (junior, Mechanical Engineering), Ericka Paredes (sophomore, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Jaslin Singh (junior, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Neha Sikka (senior, Biomedical Engineering), Martin Liza (senior, Mechanical Engineering and Physics), Sandra Kutzing (professional engineer, CDM Smith), and David Tanzi (professional engineer, CDM Smith). 

The rest of the day was spent struggling with ATMs, visiting the chocolate museum, eating, and buying a ton of groceries to assist our host family with the cost of feeding us in NSCI. 

Dave asked each member during breakfast and lunch what their roles in the project have been and about their major and future life plans. During dinner he forced each member to name their short-term and long-term goals/expectations for the trip. It's clear that each travel team member is interested in learning about the community, helping them as much as possible, and making sure that EWB-USA Rutgers and the community are on the same page when we leave this trip.

We may not have wifi in NSCI, so good-bye until Wednesday, January 13th when we make a quick stop in Xela.

Adios until then. 


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Buenos Dias de la Ciudad de Guatemala!

Good morning everyone!

It's currently 6:48 AM here in Guatemala City and about half of our travel team is up after arriving at Patricia's Bed and Breakfast past midnight last night. The plane ride was quite turbulent, and our lift-off was delayed due to the plane being "too heavy". Fortunately, none of our checked bags were taken off the plane to lighten the load, and we landed in Guatemala City with applause.

Now that the sun is up, it is clear that Patricia's has quite a pretty garden outside of the guest house where our three rooms are. Unfortunately, it's been a noisy night. The birds here like playing in the garden, and some of their calls sound quite like humans screaming. Also, Patricia's bragged about its proximity to the airport, which is clear with the very loud sounds of planes lifting off every twenty minutes or so.

Patricia's Pretty Garden

The birds playing above us.

Breakfast starts at 7 AM, so I'm going to head there soon. Today's schedule is relatively relaxing before the real work begins. We'll head to Antigua at 9 AM and then spend the day exploring the city and buying the groceries we'll need for NSCI. 

Until next time, from a different city, adios!