Saturday, June 23, 2007

The EXTREMELY holy trinity

In late April we took a welcome break from the frustrations of trying to coordinate with the town authorities to do a little bit of travelling. We were to use the may day long weekend to take a long-awaited trip to the city of Trinidad (whose full name is La Santisma Trinidad, which literally means the very holy trinity).

We were a little nervous about the voyage, having heard that trinidad isn't the most pleasant part of Bolivia, especially given its reputation for open sewers on the sides of its streets. It also almost 300 km north of Ascension, making it quite close to the equator, rather deep in the amazon basin , and giving it a very humid, muggy climate. On the other hand we were excited at the chance to see another part of the country, and to visit Fanny (the mother-in-law of a local pastor who had befriended Janaki and I).

As it turned out, the city was quite pleasant and laid back, the open sewers (just storm sewers, thankfully) didn't smell too bad, and the weather was refreshingly cool. We had a great time with Fanny and she gave us a tour of some of the interesting sites around the city. One of the highlights was seeing the Rio Mamore, one of the major tributaries of the amazon. It was 800 m wide, and in it we saw a river dolphin.

The river was higher than usual, thanks to some serious flooding that occurred in the region earlier this year. As a result of the flooding many people lost their homes, and the road between Trinidad and the rio mamore was lined with refugee camps of people whose homes were still under-water even though the rains that had caused the flooding had stopped a couple of months before.

At times it felt like our trip was one disaster after another, or at least one very stressful situation after another. The weekend in Trinidad was no exception. In this case it was me getting a throat infection. It started as a sore throat, then quickly became a spiking fever. We ended up going the the Trinidad hospital at about 1am because we didn't know what was causing me to have such a high fever... luckily I was feeling better within a couple of days with the help of some antibiotics. In spite of the unplanned visit to another bolivian hospital, the trip to trinidad was a refreshing rest from the pressures of the project.
Photo: Some folks near Trinidad Paddling across what was formally a farmer's field. Note flooded home in background.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Expanding the project

After our initial rush of the first 9 installations, our priority became expanding the project to include the rest of the Ascension de Guarayos in the most efficient way possible.

We faced 2 major challenges in reaching the rest of the town:
1) Prioritizing which members of the community needed the filters the most - The town has about 2400 families without running water. All of them are at risk to an extent, but some have relatively well-protected wells (more secure, while still under the threat of contamination), while others are drinking water from shallow springs, or streams running through the middle of town (probably much more contaminated).

2) Coordinating a work schedule with the members of the community - With the original pilot project with the old organization, we worked under the philosophy that people needed to contribute their labour to receive a filter, in the hopes that they would value it more, and therefore take better care of it. This wasn't too complicated in the church community where we worked, because there were only 30 families and they all knew our employees. Working with the entire town is, however, another story.

Ascension is divided into 16 neighbourhoods, each with a president in charge of representing its people. We decided that while we got the organization better organized and searched for dependable funding, we should try to install 20 filters in each neighbourhood as a sort of large pilot project. The neighbourhood presidents appeared to be the key to both prioritizing the 20 families with the most urgent need (since they should know the people of their neighbourhood, and therefore, which families need the filters first) and coordinating with the people (since they should know where the citizens of the neighbourhood live and be able to get them to come to meetings).

We decided to have a meeting with the neighbourhood presidents to discuss our strategy for reaching the most needy of Ascension and ask if they'd be willing to help us. Unfortunately, the results of the meeting were not what he had hoped for... a total lack of participation... and no questions. We called a second meeting to discuss a strategy with the presidents of the 6 poorest neighbourhoods of the town, but this time, no one even showed up. Finally we managed to meet with 3 of the neighbourhood presidents. They agreed to cooperate, making these the first three neighbourhoods in which we would work.

As I write this, the Bolivian employees have begun in the to work in the 2nd neighbourhood.

Our experience taught us that we cannot rely soley on neighbourhood presidents... our search for an improved work-plan in the neighbourhoods is ongoing, but we have made progress in the area.

Photo: Trevor with 2 of our Bolivian team members (Ángel and Roberto), waiting outside the El Comité de Vigilancia to have what turned out to be a very unproductive meeting with local authorities.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Back home

Janaki and I arrived safely in Calgary on May 28th.

The project continues marching on without us... there are now 27 installed filters.

The last month in Bolivia was quite a whirlwind. We actually had far more to write about in the past month than we had in most other months on the trip, but couldn't do so because we were far too busy and, at times, exhausted. However, now that we're back, there should be some posts upcoming... also, when I find the energy I am planning to add a ton of pictures.

Even though we are back in Canada, the work of our organization is set to continue, so we'll probably continue posting project updates once in a while.