In the village of El Bálsamo, Nicaragua, in December, community members held a celebration to inaugurate their new solar-powered clean water pump and distribution system. Villagers invited local government representatives, peers from neighboring villages and staff from Vibrant Village partner nonprofits, Green Empowerment and Asofenix.
The project is the culmination of two years of work, planning, training and then conducting community-led groups to complete the formidable task of bringing clean water to the 56 households in the small mountain village.
The venture is part of a three-year partnership between El Bálsamo, Nicaraguan nonprofit, Asofenix, and Portland-based Green Empowerment. Vibrant Village Foundation finances the program with a $95,000 grant, which, in addition to the clean-water system, includes fuel-efficient cook-stoves, reforestation actions, latrine construction and home garden trainings.
Completed with community-donated labor from all 56 families, the water project includes the pump, storage tower, pipes, taps and meters to each household in the community. Families pay about forty cents a month to go towards maintenance and a small stipend for the professionally trained mechanic.
“This project has been a great benefit to the community, especially women,” Eusebia Campos, a local leader, at a recent community assembly. “Before we were the ones hauling water and firewood, and how we don’t have to. Now we have patio gardens to grow onions, tomatoes, peppers. We eat better and save money. Hygiene and health has improved for our families. As a woman in this community, I feel very blessed by this project.”
Vibrant Village Foundation supports Surfaid with a $31,345 one-year grant to facilitate construction of a solar-powered water pump and complementary sanitation and hygiene projects for nearly 300 people in the village of Eruparaboat, Indonesia.
The villagers of Eruparaboat have struggled to rebuild their community since they were displaced by a tsunami in October 2010. Located in the remote Mentawai Island chain of northwestern Indonesia, they already had limited access to resources, government support and health services. In their relocated area, away from the coast, up the hill in the middle of the jungle, those resources are non-existent. Vibrant Village Foundation and SurfAid are working closely with local village leadership to improve health and nutrition. A new drinking water system constructed by community labor is nearing completion.
It was cloudy in Kinumbuk, at SurfAid’s basecamp in South Pagai. We were getting ready to go to the Eruparaboat hamlet. Our agriculture officer, Nando, had scheduled an activity with Eruparaboat’s women who are interested in starting a vegetable garden.
The meeting and other activities are part of SurfAid’s Long-Term Post Tsunami Recovery Program. The vegetable garden aims to support mothers with children under five, in particular, with a source of nutritious food to reduce the number malnourished children and pregnant mothers.
Nutrition is a big concern in the area. The relocated communities have no farming activities, are very far from a local market and have not yet found new sources of income. With nutrition gardens, families do not need to spend money on vegetables and can sell the surplus. The community is keen to participate, but has to balance the tasks of reconstructing their homes with participating in activities to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. To address these competing priorities, the residents decided that the men would focus on the house construction, while the women participated in setting up the gardens.
So, there we were, ready to go. Friska, our nutrition advisor, Gonggom, our health promotion officer, and I joined Nando for the activity. We planned to work together with the community to clear the land so they could start the vegetable demonstration plot on land next to their church.
We first stopped at the house of Ibu Susan, a community health volunteer. Susan is one of the natural leaders in the hamlet, and an active health volunteer for the community health post. When we arrived, the rain was pouring down, so we chatted for a few minutes hoping for the rain to go down. Before long Ibu Susan turned to us matter-of-factly and said, “Shall we go”? We were surprised, since it was still raining so hard. “I know it is raining,” she explained, “But I have go because some of the mothers might be waiting at the arranged place. I have to keep my promise whatever the situation is, whether the mothers are there or not. If any mothers are there, we can decide together what’s best. If it’s canceled, that is fine, but at least I showed up as I promised.”
We walked for two kilometers from Ibu Susan’s house to the plot next to the church. Along the way, the mothers from houses we passed shouted out to Ibu Susan to ask if the activity was still happening. To each person, Ibu Susan replied, “Just meet in the church, and see if the rain will stop!”
With this reassurance, the mothers got ready and caught up with us at the church.
While waiting for other mothers at the site, I asked Ibu Susan how many women had joined. She said, “In the beginning, it was only 5 to 10 women, but then more and more wanted to join. At first, they thought the demonstration nutrition garden was only for a few families. But then I explained that it is for the whole community, so whoever wants to join, we are happy to work with and learn together.”
Ibu Susan recalled how Gonggom and Nando described the demonstration garden as a ‘school’ for the community to learn how to have a good productive vegetable garden. “We do know how to plant,” she explained, “But most of the time we find pests in the vegetables or have some other planting issue. We don't know whether we did wrong or right.”
Susan continued, “With this demonstration garden, we want to improve our knowledge, so that later we can practice it in our homes. Some mothers also asked about the harvest from the demonstration garden. We will use the harvest from the demonstration garden as the source of supplementary food in the community health post or for the cooking nutritious food class activity.”
By that time, other women had arrived and the rain stopped. There were about 30 women who happily joined to clear the land. They brought their own machetes and gloves. Some women also carried their children with them. After a short briefing from Ibu Susan and Nando, all of us jumped up and start clearing the bushes, stones and tree trunks!
It took less than one hour to clear the 400 square meter piece of land set aside for the demonstration garden activity. After the work, we sat together for a coffee before wrapping up to go back home. The women agreed to finalize clearing the land the next week, and to start preparing the soil the week after. “Together with SurfAid, we are sure that we can practice our vegetable garden at home, harvest good results and feed our families with nutritious food. Plus, we also can save some money,” said Ibu Susan laughing.
Jon Schafer, a student of Geographic Information Systems at Portland State University, visited Ghana's Upper West Region to support our Vibrant Village team there to develop maps of boreholes and water access and distribution in the isolated area. Read his first blog entry here.
August 2, 2013
The mapping project is really starting to take form, and it’s rewarding to see such noticeable progression with the map after each intense day of fieldwork. To create a detailed and informative living map depicting water access and borehole distribution in the region requires an extensive amount of data collection. So far, we have finished mapping the precise locations of more than 100 boreholes, local schools (kindergarten, primary and junior high), as well as identifying the most deprived and isolated sections far from borehole access within each of the 32 communities comprising the Fielmuo region.
Before mapping an underserved area we must first meet with the village chief, who explains to us which sections of the community have the most difficulty accessing water. He appoints someone from the village to lead me around the perimeter of these isolated areas, which I then map with my Trimble GPS unit. The total size, resident population, and degree of isolation in an area can vary greatly from one village to the next. It is always exciting to interact with the residents of the local villages while collecting this location data, and often turns humorous attempting to explain (through the use of my incredibly limited Dagaare language skills) why I am randomly wandering around the perimeter of their homes carrying a strange looking electronic device. This has definitely been the most demanding portion of the project, but one of the most rewarding and eye opening; realistically, the trouble it took for me to locate, travel to, and map the locations is nothing compared to the challenges faced daily by the individuals living within these isolated areas.
The Chief of Gaaper presented me with a traditional smock for mapping his community.
I often saw these incredible "cactus trees" while mapping the perimeter of a village.
While mapping a village, I often encountered traditional-style homes like this one.
A local Ghanaian villager wears a Portland Trailblazers hat — it truly is a small world after all.