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Archive for the ‘Kristi’s Work’ Category

A couple weeks before Kristi and I head home for Christmas we traveled once again to the department of Copán.  Generally, our trips to Copán combine a few work meetings with a bit of relaxation.  This trip would prove to be much more than we usually get ourselves into.

Through one of our work counterparts, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC), we were summoned to be a part of a large topographic survey effort in various small communities in the mountains surrounding the town of Copán Ruinas.  ADEC has partnered with the Florida Water Alliance which includes the Florida Rural Water Association and several Rotary Clubs to complete an ambitious potable water project that includes seven different communities.  Our Peace Corps friend, Kyla, who lives and works in Copán, invited us as well as three other PC volunteers to help collect the necessary survey data to complete a study, design, and budget.

Although the effort was well coordinated, the weather did not cooperate.  The most difficult section of the survey included a roughly seven kilometer proposed conduction line.  My team (Kristi, PC buddy – Zach, and Mario from ADEC) tackled this section of the survey as the more experienced group.  Due to the rainy weather the week prior the roads leading out to the remote site were horrid.  We were forced to abandon the truck and haul our equipment (with help from community members, of course) 2 ½ hours to the water source.  The hike in was one of the worst we’ve endured here; it was very steep and included ankle deep mud.

Helpers resting among coffee plants

Trying to look amused

Still headed to our starting point

The water source... FINALLY!

Steep terrain

After completing only four hours of work and roughly 0.7 kilometers, we headed back to meet our truck (another 2 ½ hours of very steep hiking).  Fortunately that 0.7 km is the worst section of the proposed line mainly because of dense forest and extremely steep and slick terrain.

Taking a break on the hike out - we still have to hike down to that town and then up the other mountain

With that section behind us, we set out on Day 2 of the study only to find worse road conditions and more rain.  Another five hours of hiking yielded only about an hour of work before we were entirely rained out.

Cold, tired, and wet but still smiling

With the weather being so uncooperative, Kyla decided we should refocus our efforts to more accessible portions of the project.  On Day 3 of the study our two teams collected data for over five kilometers of proposed water line.

Showing the ADEC staff how to level the instrument

Bad weather, gorgeous views

Extremely exhausted and with more bad weather forecasted, Day 4 was utilized to process the data we collected and create a game plan moving forward.  The rest of the 7 km water line will have to wait until the dry season when the access roads are actually accessible.  With help from my PC volunteer coworkers I will attempt to mesh our survey data with existing GPS and GIS data to do a preliminary design and budget so that funding activities may proceed.

To reward ourselves after several days of intense hiking and work, Zach, Kristi, and I caught a ride to the Luna Jaguar thermal hot springs about an hour outside of Copán Ruinas.  Our bodies and our feet especially were very happy to get some therapy in the form of volcanic mud baths and steaming hot natural spring water.

Jaguar Luna hot springs (channeling the Jaguar)

There were many pools of varying temperatures

Not an original Mayan stella but definitely adds to the atmosphere

A sulfur-scented steam bath

All in all, the trip was a success even though we will likely be returning in February or March to finish up the remaining surveying.  It was great to see our PC friends and be a part of such a great project effort.

Copan's park decorated for Christmas

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This year for Thanksgiving we had two great friends as guests, Paul and Clare!  David and Paul have been friends since high school and we became couple friends around the time of Paul and Clare’s wedding in 2007.   Unlike our first visitors (read about David’s parents visit here, here, here, and here) we had a more “authentic” trip planned for P & C, meaning budget hotels, “chicken buses”, and more time spent in our site, Trinidad.

Chicken buses are the old yellow school buses that are no longer fit for US school children and eventually find their way down here.  They are called chicken buses because it is very likely you will see a local transporting a chicken (or duck, dog, goat, etc) in hand.  Very authentic indeed!

Our old dog friend from a previous trip, Bombero, somehow found us while we were breakfasting in the local market.

No trip to Honduras would be complete without a visit to Copan, home of the Mayan ruins, so that’s where we started.  Although we’ve been to Copan several times we still found new places to eat and enjoy an afternoon latte.  Other Copan must sees include Macaw Mountain bird sanctuary and of course the ruins.

No birds on the head this time

After a few days of “Honduran Disney Land” we headed back to reality – our house in Trinidad.  Our house is rather small (less than 400 sq. ft.) so it was a sharing experience for all of us!  David had a work day planned to head up to a small community and check on their progress with the new chlorination project.  It was fun to show P & C what a workday looks like here and I think it gave them a new understanding of the challenges we face.

Hiking up to the tank in the town of San Francisco

To give our guests a further taste of mountain life here we took them up to a nearby lodge called Estancia El Pedregal.  It is both a lodge with cabins, rooms, and a restaurant, and also a working farm with coffee, beans, and cattle.  The accommodations have a certain attention to detail that is often overlooked in Honduras and it is a totally relaxing country escape.

Exploring the property

Visiting the cows and this funny guy

This little cutie and his brother had fun splashing in the creek with the Gringos

It was rather fitting waking up at the lodge on Thanksgiving morning and seeing these two fellows hanging around our rooms.

Gobble, gobble

After a relaxing night up on the mountain we headed back to Trinidad to make a mini Thanksgiving feast.  Since we’d be leaving the next day for the coast I decided to skip the bird (it would’ve been chicken anyway) and just go for the side items.  I used every measly inch of counter space in our tiny kitchen to produce deviled eggs, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, and of course, gravy!  Everything turned out delicious, thank goodness!

David and I spent one last night sharing a thin mattress on the floor and the next morning it was off to Tela.  More pictures coming soon!

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This past week David and I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Cortes (on the North coast) to translate for a medical brigade.  This brigade of doctors, nurses, a pharmacist, and other helpers is mainly from Arizona but also included members from Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska, and Alaska.  We translated for this same group in October of last year (read about that here) only difference being last year they were based out of our town, Trinidad.

Shipwreck off the shore

The Episcopal bishop of Honduras decides where the brigades are most needed and this year that happened to be Corinto which is a small town right on the Honduras/Guatemala border.  Interesting fact: according to our driver, Henry, there are over 100 Episcopal brigade groups in Honduras each year.

Because Corinto is a small town we actually stayed in a hotel in Puerto Cortes and commuted about 45 minutes every day.  Several things we enjoyed about the hotel were: cable TV, air conditioning, a pool, catered breakfast and dinner, and laundry service!  The hotel is technically ocean front which made for some nice sunset shots however the beach was not all that appealing.

Boys acting tough (complete with temporary tattoos)

Can't seem to find a place to lay out my beach towel...

Hondurans, and their Central American neighbors, are notorious for littering; however, most of this trash was washed up (after being deposited into the ocean by rivers).  It’s really sad that there was so much pollution because of all of the Honduran beaches we have been to this one was actually the most utilized by people – we saw many runners, beach volleyball players, and dog walkers.  Later in the week we did see clean-up crews preparing for weekend visitors.

Volleyball at sunset

As described in our post from last year, there are several common medical complaints that we see during the brigades including headache, body/bone pain, cough/cold, stomachache, diarrhea, foot fungus, and skin spots.  This year was unique because we held clinic in the same town for 5 days straight allowing for patient follow-up.

Crowd waiting to check-in

One particular case was an 84 year old woman with a broken hip whose family could not afford surgery.  The woman was being cared for at home by several of her daughters (she had given birth to 15 children).  I went with a couple of the doctors and nurses to translate as they explained some basic care to the family.  Although the woman was in a lot of pain (and with no pain medication!) the doctors were very impressed by the level of care her family had given her and had hope for her recovery (and we left her some Tylenol).

Cuties! I wanted to take little Andrea home with me

Overall we had a great week and really enjoyed having some new folks to socialize with.  The boys also enjoyed being able to watch the World Series and discuss whether game six was the best baseball game of all time (the jury is still out).

This man was on crutches and traveled to the clinic with the help of his 4 year old grandson

The pharmacy

Filtering water for the crowd. The doctors brought 60 water filters, 15 of which David and I will distribute.

Brothers in their new shades.

Cutest little kitty, Micho.

Adios

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Our biggest accomplishment of September involved a second ceramic drinking water filter project in an isolated community in the mountains near Trinidad.  This project followed the same model as a similar project in La Fragosa only the new community, Tascalapa, is a shade more populous.

Kristi and I and our chauffer/friend, Juan, delivered 41 ceramic filters to Tascalapa.

Juan showed up just in time to watch me finish loading the truck! Notice my sweet tie-down job and my sweaty shirt.

Kristi crammed in the back with all the buckets

Kristi gave a great presentation to the community members present about the proper use and maintenance of the filters.

Kristi helping with the distribution of the filter systems. Check out her pretty charla papers posted on the chalkboard.

Before our arrival the community had already collected L.100 from each interested family.  The current retail price for the filter system is L.400; however, the NGOs Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario and International Rural Water Association subsidized L.300 of the cost of each filter so that the filters were more affordable to the members of this small community.

Selling like hot cakes!

The filter system comes complete with a plastic bucket, top, spigot, and ceramic filter.  The ceramic filters are manufactured in Honduras and treat water by two processes: filtration and disinfection.  Disinfection is achieved by colloidal silver which is baked into the ceramic.

Soon we will also deliver a small water treatment system for use in the community school.  This system is capable of treating 450 liters of water per day.  It will be used by the school children during the school year and by the coffee workers that come to the area to work during coffee season (November to March).

In addition to the 41 filters delivered to Tascalapa, we delivered an additional 13 filters to La Fragosa to the families that did not order a filter when we did a similar project there several months ago.

As in La Fragosa, we will return several times to Tascalapa over the next few months to monitor the use of the filters and the school water treatment system.  We’ll also go back to give presentations to the school kids about potable water, hygiene, hand washing, and brushing their teeth.

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Based on our blog it would appear that we’ve adopted the “Cuerpo de Pasear” lifestyle.  In Spanish, Peace Corps is translated to Cuerpo de Paz.  A common saying among some PCVs is Cuerpo de Pasear which basically means the Backpacker Corps.  This would be a dig at volunteers that are routinely traveling, rarely in their site, and doing little work.

 

While it is true that Kristi and I have been on the move a lot lately (USA in June, Honduran vacation with the Lees in August, and two PC meetings in September) we are still plugging away at our community development work.  In this post I’d like to update those of you that are interested on what we’ve been working on lately.

 

Recently, Kristi wrapped up a water filter project with her counterpart, Red Cross Honduras and a medical brigade out of Arizona.  In all, about 12 micro-pore water filters (similar to the filters used in kidney dialysis procedures) were distributed to schools in surrounding communities.  Mostly Kristi, and a little I, trained Red Cross health promoters in the operation and maintenance of these filters who, in turn, distributed them to community schools and trained the teachers and other adults in their use and maintenance.

 

With another counterpart, the Honduran NGO, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC), we are installing more than 50 ceramic water filters in the mountain communities around Trinidad.  The filters will be delivered this week.  In addition, a Combined Treatment Unit (a mini drinking water treatment plant) will be installed in a community school as part of this project the following week.

 

We are still pushing forward on a permanent water system project in the community of La Fragosa where we achieved much success with an earlier ceramic water filter project last year.  The Engineers without Borders (EWB) Lehigh University chapter has taken on the design, financing and implementation of the project.  They are in the design and fund-raising phase of the project currently and will be visiting Honduras in January 2012 (and several other times next year) to begin implementation.  Kristi and I would like to facilitate the construction of latrines in La Fragosa before or during the construction of the water system to create a full water and sanitation project in the community.  We are currently looking for ways to fund the construction of about 35 pour-flush style latrines.

 

Three new water and sanitation volunteers arrived in the department of Santa Bárbara in May.  Since their arrival we have been working together on several water system designs.  Each new volunteer has little technical experience with respect to hydraulic design so I’ve been helping out.  One of the three is an environmental engineering graduate.  I hope to train her very well in the proper design of water systems before the end of my service.  Since their arrival we’ve been working to improve their topographic surveying, design, and technical reporting skills.

 

Since concluding a water system study for the community of Tulito in the municipality of Chinda, Santa Bárbara, Kristi and I have been searching for means to fund the construction of several much needed improvements to their existing system.  We started the project working together with the NGO Water for People (WFP).  WFP has since been forced to withdraw from that municipality due to budget cuts leaving the community to find funding for the project on its own.  This should prove difficult since their municipal government has shown very little interest in supporting the small, isolated community.  We hope to help them along in the process of soliciting funds to complete their water system improvements.

 

This is the majority of what we have completed (or nearly completed) recently.  We’ve got several great projects in the works involving various governmental and non-governmental agencies that we will be developing over the next few months.  Check in later for more details!

 

Sorry for the lack of photos!  We’ll get some pictures up from recent adventures next week!

 

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While David was off playing in the woods with Glen, Patricia and I were busy in the campo kitchen.  (Please excuse the terribly antiquated gender role stereotypes).  To refresh your memory, Glen and Patricia were PCVs in Honduras in the 70s and are back for a few weeks to work with a local NGO.  Unlike our time spent with medical brigades and other gringo groups, there was no translating involved as Glen & Patricia have both maintained an excellent level of Spanish.  (Don’t tell but in some cases their vocabulary was better than ours, que pena!)

Anyways, it was a bit unclear what Patricia and I would actually be doing with the campo ladies.  Patricia had heard that she was supposed to be giving nutrition workshops and helping the ladies create a healthy recipes book.  As always, things didn’t quite turn out that way but we did have a great time and learned a lot.  This cooking experience coincides with a new book that I am reading, “A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances”.  What is so interesting to me is that many of the cooking methods described in the book as being used by women in the early colonial times are quite similar to method used by campo ladies!

Let’s start at the beginning, what is the campo?  The campo is the equivalent of what we call the “boondocks” or “the sticks” in NC.  Over time these clusters of houses in remote areas have become small communities with the addition of public services like schools, electricity, and in some cases, water systems.  The traditional campo house is a small square structure using sticks as framing with mud/adobe walls, dirt floors, and usually a tin roof.  The inside of the house is then divided in half with the front half being the kitchen and the back half being a shared sleeping space for all family members.  Some houses have a wall separating the two areas or some have curtains.  In one of the houses we were cooking in the mother used feed sacks to create a cloth wall.  The kitchen half of the house is equipped with a traditional woodstove or fogón.

Making tortillas on the fogón

The house may or may not have windows but will have a couple of doors to allow for air circulation.  These doors are usually left open all day which means the animals of the property, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, and even pigs, have access to the house.  This is one of the hygiene issues we try to address in communities but it can be very difficult!

Candida cleaning local greens for a blended green lemonade, tasty!

Back to the cooking experience: the first day we went to Candida’s house loaded down with produce and soy beans bought in Santa Bárbara.  Note: I did not necessarily agree with bringing in these products, I thought it would be more interesting to cook with what was available in the community.  However, this would have seriously hampered the nutrition aspect as I suspect we would’ve just been eating beans, eggs, and tortillas.  There is a truck that sells fresh produce but it only comes by once a month!  So in the interest of promoting a balanced diet with more vegetables, we brought them with us.

Sorting the vegetables before washing

Candida has received several trainings from the FUCOHSO team and is now an expert in making various products from soy beans including, milk, chorizo (sausage), cheese, and tortas (patties).  Part of the reason we cooked with Candida was so that Patricia and I could learn the soy recipes so that they could be taught to women of another community that we would be visiting the following days.  In the end we did mostly assisting and observing but I did make my first corn tortillas, which turned out rather well!  When the men folk returned from the fields we all enjoyed the super tasty soy recipes!  My favorite was the chorizo which was a mix of ground soy, chopped onion, tomato, green pepper, cumin, and salt which was then cooked and eaten with rice.  David’s favorite was the tortas which was the same mixture as the chorizo with added flour as a binder then shaped into patties and pan fried.  Yum!

Lil cuties, Andrea and Nicole

A few days later we went to a different community and women from the first community taught other women the soy recipes they had learned.  On the first day Candida had already ground the soy in her tabletop corn mill but on this day we had to do that ourselves.  In bigger towns ladies often carry their corn to an electric mill but in the campo everything is done by hand.

Little girls learn lifeskills early in the campo; milling corn for tortillas

By the time this lady and I finished milling the soy we were both dripping sweat!  Campo ladies make tortillas for every meal and therefore must mill corn three times a day!  (The masa will dry out too much if you do it all at one time).

My turn - cranking out ground soy beans

On top of milling multiple times a day the ladies must also go out and cut wood for their stoves.  In some cases the stoves are outside but they are often indoors and create a very smoky environment which is a leading cause of upper respiratory infections and pneumonia in these populations.  Many PCVs in Honduras have been involved in improved stoves projects that use a better design to reduce smoke.

Making soy milk and soaking vegetables in chlorinated water

Another aspect of the cooking demonstrations was to reinforce kitchen hygiene practices.  Since treated water is nearly nonexistent in Honduras, the ladies are taught to treat the water themselves with chlorine.  They are also taught to soak vegetables and produce in a chlorinated water to disinfect and kill harmful bacteria.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to monitor this practice because many families are very tight on money and see buying chlorine (even though it is cheap) as an unnecessary expense.  But it was great to see the ladies being so vigilant while we were there and hopefully enough repetition will help them adopt the practice in their own homes.

The ladies put out all the food and said "dig in!", notice who raced to the table

I love cooking so this was a really fun experience for me!  I also came to appreciate even more the luxuries we have in our home here such as a sink in the kitchen with running water, a gas stove, and a refrigerator!  Even though there is a rather limited amount of fresh produce in our town, I do feel lucky that we are almost always able to buy some type of vegetable.  Can you imagine only having fresh vegetables once a month?  (And forget about canned or frozen, those are even less available than fresh).

And lastly, here is the adorable kitten we almost took home.  The sweet doña of the house offered her to us but we let reason and responsibility win out.

Why didn't we take her?!

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The Engineers without Borders – Lehigh University chapter made its first official visit to La Fragosa on their most recent trip this month.  This group last visited in March to finish up another engineering project in the town of Pueblo Nuevo and made an unofficial trip up to Fragosa where they completed some preliminary social studies in the community.  Based on the results of their March trip they decided that Fragosa is a good candidate for their next EWB project.  The project is to include a permanent drinking water system (intake, storage tank with chlorinator, and distribution system) as well as latrines and pilas (for home water storage) at every home.

The group had much to accomplish during this trip including a topographic survey, a more extensive social survey, water quantity and quality studies, and community meetings to talk about the future project.

EWB split its members into two groups: one for topographic surveying, the other to do the social surveying.  Naturally, with my grammatically-challenged Spanish and technical background, I accompanied the topo-group, while Kristi worked with the social surveyors.  Each group was also assisted by one or two community members as guides.

The topographic survey was completed using a GPS (with an onboard barometric altimeter) and an auto-level (with tripod and level rod).  The GPS provides relatively accurate x and y-coordinates, the altimeter gives a decently accurate z-coordinate while the auto-level gives a more precise z-coordinate.  The auto-level measured the elevation along all the community roads relative to the elevation of the water source (a small spring) and proposed storage tank sites.  Each elevation was accompanied by a GPS point.  The GPS and altimeter were also used to record coordinates (x, y, and z) at each home in the community.  This data will be used during the fall college semester to complete a water system design.

EWB surveying with the auto-level

The social survey group visited every house in the community to compile data about each family (number of members), their houses and properties, their perceived health, and their views about water and sanitation.  They also visited the closest health center in the nearby town of Quebraditas to get data recorded by the local health care provider.  This health center is the closest medical facility to Fragosa and is where community members go when they are ill.

EWB interviewing community members

Potential community water sources were also analyzed by the group.  At four sources they measured the flowrate and several water quality indicators such as turbidity, alkalinity, temperature, pH, and collected samples for a coliform presence/absence test.  Based on these tests it is clear that there is only one feasible source based on elevation and flow rate.

Water quality sampling

Checking turbidity levels

Measuring alkalinity

Unfortunately this source has proven difficult to secure due to contentious relations between the local government and the owners of the land where the source is located.  Because of this, Kristi and I, with support from our friends Juan (from the mancomunidad) and Jorge (a local business man and general do-gooder) will be working hard to mediate a deal so that the community can have access to the water source.  It is imperative that an agreement is reached this summer so that EWB can begin the water system design in their fall semester.  We’ll keep the blog updated on our progress in the coming weeks.

During two community meetings the group explained their project goals and conversed with the community members and leaders about the community’s goals.  The format of the meetings was informal and encouraged community participation.  The roles of both EWB and the community were discussed as well as any questions and/or doubts the community members had.  Using the information gathered during these meetings, EWB will draft a sort of contract that will be reviewed and signed by the community leaders outlining what shall be expected from both parties as the project moves forwards.

After all the work in the community was completed EWB met with the NGO Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC).  The two organizations are looking to work together on this project.  ADEC will provide support managing project logistics on-the-ground when EWB is not in Honduras.  Of course, Kristi and I will do all that we can as well to make the project a reality including training the Junta de Agua (community water and sanitation committee) and technical assistance during design and implementation phases of the project.  The tentative project timeline laid out during this trip is as follows:

§ June to August 2011 – secure rights to the water source and tank site

§ August to November 2011 – design water system and gain EWB board approval for latrine and pila designs

§ November 2011 to January 2012 – gain EWB board approval for the water system design

§ January 2012 – EWB comes to Fragosa to begin construction of latrines and pilas

§ January to April 2012 – completion of latrines and pilas construction, community education on proper latrine/pila maintenance, and excavation for water pipe installation

§ May 2012 – EWB comes to Fragosa to begin construction of intake at the water source and the storage tank

§ After May 2012 – periodic EWB visits, completion of the water system, project monitoring, and ongoing community education

Until Kristi and I finish our service as PCVs we will be actively educating the community members and leaders on the management and maintenance of water systems, latrines, and pilas.

The timeline will surely be modified as the project develops but hopefully, Kristi and I will see latrines and pilas as well as ground-breaking on the water system before our departure from Honduras in the spring of 2012.

EWB – Lehigh University worked very hard on this trip and we are very glad to have them working to improve the quality of life in La Fragosa.  The technical and social challenges and the grateful members of the community should make this a fulfilling experience for the group.

Check back later for a blog on our visit to Pulhapanzak Falls with EWB.  A few more pics from Fragosa:

Crab found at the highest water source (950 meters). I thought you lived in the ocean!?

Kristi loves cows

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