Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thur. June 30, 2016 - Visiting ATC Projects

While the Girl Scouts enjoyed a day of play with hiking, swimming, and playing with Guatemalan children, Tina Watson (Vice-Chair, ATC) and I (Chair, ATC) visited three significant ATC projects.  We embarked quickly on a public lancha to meet Rubin, our trusted driver and cultural translator.  But in our eagerness we took the boat to Panajchel which was in the opposite direction than planned.  We quickly doubled back going past Santa Cruz and onto San Marcos where Rubin picked us up at by the basketball court.  John Barrie, Executive Director of ATC, worked at lightening speed to create a feasible itinerary for us with three major stops - 
1) solar power installation at a pre-school in Panyebar;
2) water distribution system at Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan;
3) SEA solar business in Xela.

Project #1:  Solar Power at Saludosninos School and Community
Rubin drove us along bumpy rugged mountain roads with beautiful tropical scenery.  We wound back and forth, up and down mountain roads for about 45 minutes. The lush green tropical landscape always gave way to narrow path that seem to part way with each hair pin turn.  As we rose up in altitude, cloudy mists hovered gently over the landscape until we arrived at a large school structure.  The staff informed us the Saludosninos School we were in search of was around the back.  
Around the back corner of the road from the large two story building, we found the cheery robin egg blue building.  It was almost inconsequential if not for the happy chatter of little pre-schoolers who popped in and out of the doorways to peek out at the us. Brian Swan and Sheila Silver are two key members of the NGO that supports the school. Dolores, School Director and her staff came out to greet us. The school served 55 pre-schoolers in three classroom spaces; 1 classroom was separated by a small kitchen (rocket stove) and a larger classroom housed two classes separated by bookcases to demarcate the two spaces.  The walls of the classrooms were filled with colorful artwork and numerous age appropriate vocabulary in both Spanish and English.

 ATC's project was installing solar power to provide lighting for the two classrooms.  An important benefit of light for the children was transforming the space into a community craft work space for women to produce handicrafts such as earrings, beaded bracelets, woven crafts, and other goods for sale. This helped to create an additional source of income for the families. A Canadian woman ordered 200 beaded Christmas balls for sale and succeeded in selling their beautifully beaded ball designs.The women brought out samples of their products to show us and then began bestowing us with gifts of earrings and bracelets of their work.  Tina bought a beautiful bright purple stripped woven tapestry that was about 30" x 30".  


With such a spontaneously planned trip, we did not prepare to bring contributions to the school.  As a result, Tina and I left a small donation with Dolores to use at her discretion.  I was very touched and thrilled with this project as was Tina.  We can see the tangible benefits of providing the solar installation which was also protected from children who wanted to throw rocks onto the panels to test the resilience.  The solar system was well maintained and the community benefits was tangible.  When the power goes out in the village, Saludosninos is the ONLY spot with electricity and light.

Our visit was brief and sweet but we learned quite a bit about the solar project in the Saludosninos School and can see the broader tangible impact on the community. Our journey continued onward to mountain roads that led to a main artery to our next stop.

Project #2:  Water Distribution in Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan

Rubin traverse through the town and continued to the Pan American Highway that connects Alaska to Argentina.  We chatted about the growth of traffic, life in Guatemala, and his love of driving with different adventures.  Traffic was light on the main road to Nueva Santa Catarina which was a small town of about 3000 people and 800 households.  Our host was Manuel Angel Guachiac and his father also came to greet us.  He was a village elder and a Mayan Priest.  We were invited into a modern home foyer with marble floors.  Chairs were set out for us and about 9-10 men joined in the meeting.

With Rubin translating, Tina and I learnt about the current water-related issues.  ATC and Rutgers University, along with Engineers Without Borders, worked to supply water to the village.  The system improved from about 30 minutes per day of water to water most of the time.  In the dry season, the villagers had to purchase water whereas now they have access to water in each household on a regular basis most of the time.  Since the recent election with the new political leaders, the water pumps have not been maintained as needed and one of the six pumps no longer operates.  The water committee we were sitting down with was very concerned about national funds allocated for public use but the local decision making has not prioritized maintaining the water distribution system.

Project #3:  SEA Solar Business in Xela

 Our next stop was the SEA Solar store in Xela, the second largest city in Guatemala.  Jose Ordonez (picture to the right) and his team members showed us different solar energy systems and products being sold.  They demonstrated the different energy consumption of four different light bulbs.  Rubin was impressed enough to purchase three energy saving light bulbs.  The business struggled for about two years and in the last six months, the business began to stabilize.  In addition to the three team members in the store, there were six other sales people in the northern part of Guatemala where energy costs are higher relative to the cheaper energy costs of Xela.

The store front was located between law offices and other professional services retail operations.  The solar energy systems with installation would costs about $220US.  The high costs compared to the relatively cheap price for energy in Xela present poor market conditions for demand in alternative energy.  By having a sales team in the northern regions where energy costs are higher, the business has more opportunities to grow.
The clean store front presented a very professional business operation for the SEA solar business.  Future targets will go beyond residential customers to schools and faith-based organizations.

When asked about installing a solar system in their own retail store, Jose explained that the landlord does not want the system.  As tenants, they bore the energy utility costs and the landlord does not want the changes to the building.

 After visiting the SEA Solar business, Tina and I departed for Panajchel where Rubin dropped us off to catch the last lancha back to Santa Cruz in time for dinner back at La Iguana.

I am very proud of our collaborative work in locally sustainable technology that addresses basic needs of people in different types of Guatemalan communities.  There is much more to do. . .  check back to our website at www.apptechdesign.org for more information!

This Girl Scouts trip is a  great example of learning by doing and helping!!  

Diana J. Wong, PhD
Memories and reflections from Ann Arbor, MI  July 5, 2016


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Day #6, Thurs. June 30, 2016 - Play Time!

   Today was an unusual day.  Instead of our boat leaving at 8:45am, it left at 9:45am, so we spent our extra hour making a list of movies, TV shows, and books we promised Lucas the day before. Before that though (since dinner was at the same time 8:00), we had breakfast which was the same as yesterday; Mexican scrambled eggs, black beans, and, fruit salad.
   We arrived at San Marcos as usual. But instead of going to the workshop, we took a couple detours so Nate could show us some common building techniques used for walls (some consisting of horse poop) and roofs.  After picking up Fatima and Clara, we finally got to the workshop. We didn’t build but we took a backway which led to a very windy, hilly, and rocky, and LONG pathway on the mountain.  Along the way, we got to stop in a mini cave where we were able to cool off. We then continued and walked a very short distance to where a cement monstrosity was being built.  Even though it may not seem like that much it was pretty cool because we got to climb ladders and see the inside of it while it was under construction.

   Next, we went to Konojel to eat lunch.  In my opinion, this was the best lunch that we have had at Konojel because we had basil pesto pasta, salad, tortillas, and pineapple water with chia seeds; we also had one of Maria’s chocolate chip cookies. After eating, we got to browse and buy some of the clothing and bags the women there sewed from recycled material (they were beautiful).
   After lunch we got to swim in Lake Atitlan and apparently here, that includes epically jumping off a cliff into the lake.  So, for a while we got to rest in the water and just talk. At 3:00pm we had to arrive back at the workshop so we could play with about 40 kids.  Since there was so many, we had to split them into two groups. Morgan, Ellen, Lucas and I played red light/green light which was a lot of fun. We even made it work with the language barrier (AKA Lucas).  After a while it started to get slow though so we added in blue and pink light which meant jumping on two feet and jumping on one foot.  Meanwhile… Kennedi, Claire (who used her Spanish speaking skills to communicate), Maya, and Fatima were playing tape ball and froggy murder. After a while we switched kid groups. We continued the games but then after a while we started statues. But it failed so we switched to game of sardines. When it was time to leave we gave each kid a starburst. Overall, the kids had a lot of fun and ultimately we did to.

   When we came back to La Iguana Perdida, we stared the movie “She’s all that” and when dinner came we had black bean soup, chicken satay, and banana bread. In the moment, the others went to finish the movie while I am finishing up the last words of this post.
                                                                                          -P. Johnson

Day #5, Wed. June 29, 2016 - Last Day of Carpentry

Day 5, Wed. June 29, 2016 – Last Day of Carpentry

Breakfast this morning was Mexican scrambled eggs (eggs with peppers and onions and black beans inside tortillas) and again, fruit salad. Delicious as usual. I’m getting used to the boat ride over to San Marcos. It’ll be weird not to take a scenic cruise to work when I get home… The existing benches were all fixed up, and pairs of us took them back down from the workshop to the school. I’d like to note that the dogs at the compound where the workshop is have been a critical part of the construction process, providing both stress relief and motivation to watch where you step. With Lucas, Clara, and Fatima, our new benches and table were in the last stages of construction, and we were busy sanding and varnishing the last pieces just before leaving for lunch.

Lunch at Konojel of stuffed peppers and rice was followed by some of Maria’s chocolate chip cookies, made from native ingredients. They weren’t Tollhouse, but they were still delicious. After lunch we returned to the workshop to put together our furniture. We used the craig jig to drill pilot holes into the aprons and then screwed everything together, the legs, the aprons, and the top. By 5 o’clock, it had started raining, but we had finished one bench and the table! We ran out of time to finish the last bench before we had to go meet Miguel to head back to Santa Cruz and La Iguana.

Dinner was squash soup, which there was not enough croutons for, chili, mashed potatoes, and salad, with chocolate cake for dessert. From the patio at La Iguana we can see all three of the volcanoes out over the lake, lights from towns on the far side, and lightning from a storm that only may or may not rain on us. Now we’re wrapping up the evening with Nate and Corinne, talking and playing cards.