One of the most common questions I heard before leaving for the Peace Corps was how I came to the decision to join. For me, there are numerous reasons as to why I chose to consider volunteering in the Peace Corps for two years. Reasons included travel possibilities, learning a new language, and the exciting idea of life in a new country. It was because of those reasons I applied. But I didn’t come all the way to Honduras because it seemed like something exciting to do. The overriding reason I am in Honduras now was the idea that I would have the opportunity to volunteer and work abroad. I would have the opportunity to help even if ever so slightly. The past few weeks here in Honduras I really started working. Unlike the previous weeks of observing events, I am now starting to make initiatives and assist in the difficult process of improving the water and sanitation conditions in the aldeas of Ilama. I’m finally starting to do what I came here for.
We would be doing diagnostics of 14 aldeas existing water systems. This would be done by splitting the work up between Sandra an employee for Water for People, Tony the water technico of Ilama, and I. Since arriving in Ilama, these have been the three people that I have worked with almost daily. Water for People is a large nonprofit organization based out of the United States. They work all over the world in all aspects of water and sanitation. They have their Honduras headquarters in San Pedro and are currently working with 4 municipalities within Honduras that I know of. Ilama happens to be one. For this, I am pretty thrilled. I have come to a municipality that has an organized work plan. Water for People will be working with the municipality for at least the next two years. Other than having an organized work schedule, which is more to say than the majority of volunteers when arriving in their sites, I also have a source of funding. I know when I complete a topographic study for them it should be completed. This is pretty sweet, because most communities have the topo studies done and then have to go look for an organization to sponsor it. So overall the work situation appears to be perfect for me.
After dividing up the aldeas, it was determined that I would be going to La Mica. La Mica is about an hour and a half from the town of Ilama. Despite being so far, La Mica still fell within the municipalidad of Ilama. At the time I visited they didn’t have water. It had been 2 days since they last had water. This really isn’t that long of a time to be without water for an aldea in Honduras. The day before La Mica, I visited San Juan. It has over a thousand people living there, with a new water system, and a water tank of 30,000 gallons. Despite this the overwhelming majority of the town has gone without water for the past four weeks. Four weeks without water due to poor management and allowing people to tap into the conduction line. So two days wasn’t that big of a deal, and we would find out the problem with my visit. When first arriving I would have guessed the aldea had about 10 houses and maybe 100 people living there. I soon discovered that La Mica is similar to the municipalidad Ilama in that it has a small center with those 10 houses that I first observed, but it encompasses a large portion of land with the majority of houses spread throughout. In reality it has a total of 70 houses with a population around 420 people
Doing a diagnostic of a simple gravity water system is actually quite simple in theory. First thing to do is to make sure that you have the people that have the most knowledge of the water system with you for the diagnostic. This usually includes members of the Junta (community group that works to maintain the system) and the fontonero (plumber or guy that does the actual repairs). With them and a 5 gallon bucket you go visit the water source. We got a ride as the source was 40 minutes away in car. The truck can only go so far though, and this is where it starts getting difficult. All of the water sources are a good ways up in the mountains, which means a quite a bit of hiking. At the source you take note what type of source it is. Most common that I have run into is simply a stream with a dam. That’s what La Mica had as you can kind of see below.
Next you look to see if they have a filter of some form such as a sedimentation box. La Mica did not. They had a natural filter above the dam, but only a simple desarenador. So after noticing the obvious stuff, I have to grill them with questions. Questions about repairs, valves, microcuenca management and more. I had a 12 page packet that I would be full with info once I finished the diagnostic. This questioning process was entertaining as well as frustrating because of the little quarrels that would break out with each question. It took me till I had scribbled out several answers to realize that after they gave me an answer I still needed to give them a few minutes to think and debate, leading to a new and final answer. Once finished with that we would take and aforo. This is where the bucket comes into play. Basically, someone holds the bucket under the water flow while I record the time. This is done to calculate the flow of the source in gal/min in order to see if the source is strong enough to support the community’s population. By the time we completed all of this it was around noon so we ended up eating lunch there at the source. I only brought a few bags of chips, but as many Hondurans are they were super generous and specifically packed me a lunch of fried chicken.
After lunch I continued with the question bombing, but now on the subject of the conduction line to the tank. The question I was most interested in hearing the answer for was how many meters of piping does your conduction line have. That would answer how far I would have to walk to get back. Unlike the trip there, we would have no truck for the journey back. Needless to say I was interested in how many kilometers I would be walking, but of course they didn’t know the answer to that question. So I would just have to wait and see. After the questions we set off walking the line to check the information that they gave me. Below is a pick of the first rompecarga, a box that breaks the pressure, which has been broken into.
We took another aforo here and it was only about a half a second slower here then the source, which is especially good considering this section of the line was built in the 70’s. However, only a few hundred meters further down we encountered their problem.Basically, it’s a creek that their conduction line had to cross. The problem is that they are using exposed pvc to cross it. This leads to problems such as this….
In reality the original design probably specified the use of iron pipes, but to cut costs in either the original construction or reparation they used pvc. From here we trekked on to the next rompecarga, where we found evidence of more tampering, and obviously no water. Here is a pic of the view.
A view back to where we walked from. The water source is not in the pic, but it’s up and to the right of the top corner. We had been walking for over 4 hours at this point at a brisk pace and I was told that the tank and town were still a good hour walk ahead of us. The second photo below is of where we were walking towards.
We did finally make it to the tank, but there wasn’t much to do as they didn’t have water. So I finished up with the questions I had and walked to the road, glad to see that Eric and Tony were there waiting with a car. It turned out that the system that Tony went to inspect has a 24 km conduction line from source to tan. He couldn’t possibly walk that in an afternoon so he asked his questions and visited the tank, but didn’t come close to the amount of walking that I was put through. I’m fully confident he knew the information about the communities when we were dividing them up. We picked up Sandra and started to make our way back to Ilama at around 5 in the afternoon. After my first real day of work I was thoroughly exhausted. Since then I have done several other diagnostics, I’ve visited San Pedro for a meeting with Water for People, and tomorrow I am to do my first topographic study. The work has definitely begun.