Friday, July 29, 2011

Site visit to La Rinconada, Achuapa

It's been on the busy side here in Nicaragua at El Porvenir, but I had a wonderful visit to the community of La Rinconada, Achuapa this week; I thought it was worth sharing. Our valued partner Global Water was here to visit the communities and schools they have been supporting.

We drove up from visits to schools in Cuidad Darío and Terrabona the day before and stayed in the new hotel in El Sauce. The following morning, Kathleen and I had an early breakfast then joined Erick for our trip. We took the "highway" to Estelí about an hour drive up - literally - for the most part uphill. We left the vehicle in Campamento and met Chepe from the community of La Rinconada, who had brought down 3 horses for us to ride up on.

Chepe leads the way as Erick, Kathleen and I follow on horseback.
We rode for about an hour, across a river and through very muddy tracks - the horses were fantastic, although there were a couple of spots they had trouble getting through. We were pleased to arrive though to a very welcoming community. We saw the well, but also where these families previously collected water. 

This is where Chepe and the nearby families got their drinking water previously.
The above natural spring was unfortunately open and unprotected and not a good, healthy source of drinking water. The community members told us of the problems they faced with diarrhea and parasites in previous years. Since there was a stream right beside it, any rain overflowed it into the spring; also the animals often bathed in the spring as well, contaminating it. However, what choice did the people have, but to drink the water there?

The community members proudly show their latrines, nicely decorated with flowers.
With help from our partner Global Water and others, we were able to provide some of the materials for the project for the community members to build. The community members contributed the labor, sand and rocks for the construction. The community members dug the latrine pits and the well. Then they did all the masonry involved. The well took 18 months (140 person days) to dig and complete.

The families kindly humored us in holding the banner for the photo.
Hearing the stories of how the community was before and how they felt now, it reminded me why our work is so important. There is still more to be done, for example, they are requesting 2 more wells in the area and a washing station, but they have made an excellent start. If you can help, please consider it through our web page or mailing a check. The future is a little brighter for these families and we hope it will continue to get brighter.

Of course, we are in the rainy season, so we got very wet on our way back to the vehicle. It was still worth it though.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Truck Cab Donation

Just for fun, we had a very generous donation of a truck cab to El Porvenir from Johan from Canada. It was a bit of work for Gabriel (shown below) to get it through customs though. Although we cannot use it, we will be selling it and putting the money in our fund for a much needed new pick-up truck. We are very grateful to Johan and Gerdy who brought it down.

Rob pretending he knows how to drive the cab. (photo as per request)
The truck parked outside our office.

Rob and Gabriel - Gabriel did all the work to get it into our parking lot.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Water is Life. Passing it on.

We had a pair of fun visitors here at El Porvenir last month: Canyon and Forest Woodward. Excellent people and excellent photographers.

Check out Canyon's photos and thoughts on his experience here:

One of many photos from Canyon's blog

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Double Pit Latrines? Continual Improvement

Sneak preview of an article from our next newsletter:

Our philosophy has always been one of continual improvement. If we can do it better, then that's what we try to do. Since I started at El Porvenir, there has been a problem with our sanitation program, but we didn’t have a clear solution until now. The official latrine choice for the government and most groups working in Nicaragua has been the single pit VIP (ventilated improved pit) latrine.

Single pit latrines work well. They eliminate open defecation, contamination of water sources, smells and fly proliferation; they improve the community’s health. However, the problem is that they have a finite capacity. The usual depth of our latrines and the government latrines was about 3 meters or 10 feet deep. These usually filled up in 5-7 years with a typical family. After that, if the family didn’t take the initiative to build another, then they often returned to open defecation. Or, another organization came along and built another latrine, contributing to what we call “latrine cemeteries”. Resources were being wasted and trash created.  

Latrine cemetery: This photo shows 3 different sets of
new and abandoned latrines at a school in Terrabona.

So, we did some research and discovered another option from Africa, the double pit VIP latrine. We have been piloting double pit latrines in a few communities since 2007, building 200 to date. A double pit latrine is the same as the single, but has two pits. The beneficiary can use one pit until it fills, then can move the superstructure to the second pit. Once the second pit fills, then the first pit can be emptied as the bacteria will be dead by that time (likely 2-3 years for the pit to fill, although at least a year is needed for it to be safe). Then the superstructure can be moved back and forth between the pits, with luck endlessly.

Note the second pit on the left. Latrine from El Sauce.

So far, the results from the pilots are promising: 2 families have switched to their second pit. Seeing that the families are accepting the technology so far, we decided to eliminate single pit VIP latrines from our project portfolio in 2011. We’ll keep you up to date on how it is working with the double pits and other technologies but we are excited about this new, more sustainable initiative.   

p.s. Here is the technical design of this latrine, if you are interested, although it is a little faint (if you are having trouble seeing it, email us at and we can email this to you): 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World Water Day activities in Nicaragua

Yesterday, El Porvenir celebrated World Water Day both in the US and Nicaragua. All 6 of our regional offices had activities. There were radio programs with hygiene messages, piñatas and celebrations in several communities. We happen to have a group visiting from Bellingham, WA and they were present at the celebration in San Lorenzo and witnessed the water drop piñata as shown here:

Small boy dances as he attempts to hit the water drop piñata

Monday, February 14, 2011

Don Álvaro's story - watershed recovery

Hurricane Mitch, back in 1998, caused a landslide and destroyed many of the trees in the area of Palo de Agua, where Don Álvaro lives. There was a small spring that provided water to the community; unfortunately, after Mitch, the spring dried up. By 2002, when reforestation was first contemplated, Don Álvaro's lands and the surrounding area were still treeless and without much vegetation. From the first trees planted back in 2002 from a small El Porvenir-led nursery, Don Álvaro started working on his dream of the reforesting the area. Those first trees were planted in the area surrounding where the spring had been. 

Don Álvaro is now 63 years old and has 6 children. He received literacy training back in the campaigns in the 1980s, but can only write his name. He is proud that all his 6 children finished primary school.

Don Álvaro showing off one of his many trees.

Don Álvaro is dedicated to his trees and farm. Over the years he has planted more than 2,500 trees. He also has planted pineapple, grafted fruit trees, banana trees and built living fences and barriers to protect the area. He makes a living selling corn and beans—and extra income from selling fruit in town. His land has regained fertility, and most importantly, the spring that dried up has begun to flow again! The spring even has more water than they remember.

Don Álvaro, proudly showing the preliminary structure he has built around the recovered water source.

Thanks to your support, we will continue to help more people like Don Álvaro return a vegetation-less field to productive land with a gushing spring.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy New Year - new educational materials

It's a new year, and a good time to look at renewals... So late last year, we at El Porvenir looked over some of our educational materials and especially at our "10 commandments" of latrine use. We have renamed it in recent years to the 10 norms of latrine use, but it still has the same basic concepts. The main focus this year was to add an equivalent set of norms for well use, double pit latrines, pour flush latrines, washing and bathing stations and improved stoves. Here are a couple of them, so you can practice your Spanish...

The suggestions try to go from most important to less important, so the local Water Committee was given importance in this case (#1).

Hand washing is #2, right after, always use the latrine!

We are glad to see stoves included in these now, and keeping it clean and hygienic is important!
We are optimistic that 2011 will be even more successful than 2010, so keep tuned for more news... Thanks for your support!