aventurero

this is a collection of images and stories from my school year abroad in nicaragua. I am interning with AsoFenix, a Nicaraguan NGO, and Green Empowerment, a partnering NGO based in Portland, Oregon. My internship is through IE3 global Internships and the University of Washington. It was made possible in part by the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, the GO! Global Scholarship, and the IE3-OUS Chancellor Scholarship. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about these progams or scholarship opportunities.

El Jocote

This week I traveled to the village of El Jocote to meet several farmers I will be working with. This is where AsoFenix and Green Empowerment have installed several solar powered irrigation systems for small farmers.

Solar panels power a water pump, which pumps water from a well to a holding tank at the highest point on the farm. When farmers need to water their crops, they simply turn a valve. Gravity takes the water through PVC pipes, which connect to soaker hoses that run along their growing beds.

This same model (at a larger scale) has been implemented in the community of El Jocote to bring running water to the families there. El Jocote is a small community of roughly 40 houses situated on a hillside.

This solar powered water pump is pumping water to two large holding tanks at the top of the hill.

This solar powered water pump (above) is pumping water to two large holding tanks at the top of the hill.

Gravity feeds the water from this holding tank (one of two) to faucets installed in every household, making water available at the turn of a valve. This is how AsoFenix and Green Empowerment have brought running water to communities that lack the basic infrastructure of plumbing.

Cambiar

I spent five days in El Jocote, assisting with projects and getting to know the community. The breadth of AsoFenix and Green Empowerment’s work here is ubiquitous. Practically every household has a solar panel. At night, I would walk out to the “road” to gaze at the incredibly bright stars, and I was almost just as memorized by the grey-blue glow of DC light bulbs that dotted the hillside.

Just over two years ago, life was very different in El Jocote. There was no running water. For washing and drinking, water was gathered by the women from the river at the bottom of the hill. Carrying buckets of water on their heads, the women would return back up the steep hill to their homes. A small damn was constructed to gather water and wash clothes.

Farmers had challenges too. There was no access to water during the dry season. Farmers that are lacking solar powered irrigation systems are still suffering crop loses from the inability to water.

Electricity is Changing Everything

Many farmers that have purchased solar powered irrigation systems are expanding their systems and purchasing a second water storage tank. Last week, my main task was assisting with the expansion of one of these systems.

Before

before

Laying the main line

Both tanks feed water to the main line via gravity

Soaker hoses are fed water from the main line via gravity

Connecting the two tanks

pump on!

The afternoon we finished installing the irrigation system, twenty of the farmer’s family members living in the village came to help transplant peppers. Come March, they will all be helping him sell the peppers in nearby markets.

A Better Battery

Many people don’t understand electricity. I’m definitely one of those people.  The theory is rooted in electron movement and imaginary numbers… it’s complicated.

Electricity in homes and gadgets is often simplified by comparing volts, currents and watts to water flowing through a pipe. Volts are similar to the water pressure, you can think of current as the rate at which water can move through the pipe, and watts are the amount of water leaving the pipe at any given moment (Watts = Volts X Current). A battery is like a storage tank that holds the water for later use.

At the end of a previous post, I briefly mentioned some environmental deterrents for using batteries, and AsoFenix and Green Empowerment’s desire to avoid using them. One way to do this is to take the above water analogy literally.

In using solar panels to make water available for farmers and families, the energy stored from the solar panels is no longer electricity- it’s water. And the batteries used to store this energy are water tanks. This is one way to create a photovoltaic system without the environmental impacts of lead-acid batteries.

I think that alone is pretty amazing, but considering how functional and significant these systems are in the community of El Jocote…that’s what really blows my mind.