Day 11: Buenos Porvenir!

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 16, 2012 | No Comments

Back to the daily grind in Porvenir! We were up early for a seven a.m. departure. Not a big deal considering that most days a few of us are often up before the roosters and the stray dogs that populate SJV. Sunday seems to be the day of music. From sunrise until after sunset, the music that plays in the local church never ends. The morning flutes serenade us during breakfast. They make a slow transition to soft Christian rock in the afternoon. By night time our ears are no longer sensitive to the howling and crooning of the lead vocalists of the band.

In Porvenir we permanently installed a staff gauge into the spring box so that we can consistently measure the water height in the existing spring box in the future. The community emptied the spring box completely, which enabled us to measure and estimate the flow rate of the spring. We noticed that when the spring box was completely empty, the water stopped flowing from cracks in the river bank near the existing spring box. We understand from this observation that the water that normally flows out of those cracks in the river bank are connected to the source of the existing spring box. When the water  level in the existing spring box reaches a certain height, the hydraulic pressure works in a way that causes the spring to eventually stop and water finds other underground paths to flow through. We think that collecting water from these other points of escape might be one way to collect more water from the source.

Jake installing the staff gauge

Men by the spring box

We shared our observations and ideas with many of the leaders in El Porvenir and started to discuss our next steps for the future of our project. We are looking forward to sharing all of this newly gathered information with the group.

Until next time, hasta luego!

Travel Team

Day 10: A Day at the Beach

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 16, 2012 | No Comments

Today we took a break from the project to explore the coast of El Salvador, famous to all the world-class surfers out there. The rotary club from New Hampshire graciously invited us to the beach house, named ‘El Otro Lado’. Literally this means “the other side”, which is exactly what the beach house feels like. When we stepped onto the property, all of our tension and exhaustion from the past ten days melted away. The beach house is a little paradise, an escape from the struggles of the real world that lay just beyond the entrance doors.

El Otro Lado

We had a great afternoon with Bill, Peter, Brenda, Heidi, Linka, Ron and everyone else at the beach house. Bill shared with us his mean guacamole (yum!) and we grilled up some burgers. Peter, Roxanne, Jesse, and Ariel came back from a long walk on the beach with 2lbs of fresh jumbo shrimp that they picked up from a fisherman that they had passed by. We threw those on the grill as well. All day we spent relaxing in the warm Salvadoran heat, knowing subconsciously that in a few days we would be greeted by the frigid Boston air. Together we shared our adventures in El Salvador, reminisced about good times in New England, and discussed how the Pats would match up against the Broncos. All conversation was put on pause when the clock struck 6pm. The sun was setting over the ocean so we hurried out to watch the beautiful colors of the sky change over the horizon.

The travel team goes to the beach!

A fantastic pair of leaders

Salvadoran Sunset

Thanks so much to the New Hampshire group for hosting us, and we wish you well as you finish up your house building project!

After a day of rest we are ready to get back to work! Buenos noches, and go Patriots!

Travel Team out.

Day 9: Cue Phase Three

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 13, 2012 | No Comments

We began our day by piling into the “scoffer” and headed to Porvenir to continue our site assessment! Jesse, Ariel, and Jesus Antonio made a clay dam around the outflow located upstream from the existing spring box. Jesse and Ariel measured the flow rate of the outflow, while Rob and Jake took detailed measurements of the existing spring box dimensions. Roxanne sat across the river and sketched a lovely artistic rendering of one of our potential project ideas. Luke convinced Jesus Antonio to pretend he had a giant spider in his hands and try to give it to Jake. We all had a good laugh when Jake jumped back and started yelling at him, “No, no!”

Pack up team! We're off to Porvenir!

The Artist Herself

At La Vega Dos

In the afternoon, Rob, Roxanne, and Jake stayed at Mike’s and worked through a few equations and calculations that are critical to our project assessment. All of our data collection and analysis seems to be requiring as much off-site work as on-site work. Professor Durant, Luke, Jesse, and Ariel went to look at a new community called La Vega Dos. It is one of four communities that gets water from a large tank in a nearby community called Serena. The water is already piped into La Vega Dos, where every other day they can access the water via public faucets. Carlos, a community leader, guided us through the village and explained the community’s plans to pipe the water to forty of the seventy four houses in the community. La Vega Dos seem to have engineered a good and well organized project. The only thing they need is the funds to buy the pipes. We will bring the case up to our group back at Tufts to discuss further whether a project at La Vega Dos is fit for our group.

Tonight is Professor Durant’s last night with us, so in his honor we ordered steaming hot pupusas for dinner! He has been very helpful over the last few days, and we are sad to see him go back home!

Day 8: Women, children, and a ton of stickers

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 12, 2012 | No Comments

Another day in El Salvador!

The group woke up at 7 AM and enjoyed another breakfast at Epilogos of cereal, yogurt, and oatmeal! Mike wanted us to check out another project going on in a different part of San Jose Villanueva for a little bit this morning. The project is a house construction for a family of 6 and is being funded and built by a Rotary group from New Hampshire. We ventured over there to check out their work. They’ve definitely done a lot in the short period of time that they’ve been here. All of the walls are raised and they’re working on getting the final blocks ready for the roof! It wasgood to chat with them, as they have a lot of interest in our project as well. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet up with them before we all head back to the States!

We then went back to Epilogos, where we spent a couple of hours working on our post-assessment report and getting materials ready for the day. Ana made us an awesome lunch of Tilapia and we were on our way to the community!

Earlier in the week, we planned to have a meeting with the women of the community in order to discuss their opinions about a water project, since they are often the ones collecting the water each day. At the same time, we organized a “camp” for the kids of the community to learn about hygiene associated with water use. Ariel and Roxanne led the women’s meeting, which went really well! They got a lot of good information regarding water usage and their opinions on some of our possible projects. This left Luke, Rob, Jake, and Jesse to run the children’s mini-camp of games and activities. Although the kids were very timid at the start, they opened up as we made fools of ourselves playing “Agua, Agua, Jabón” (Duck, Duck,Goose but with Water & Soap), colored using leaves as stencils, and played a community-health oriented game of Bingo! We ended the meeting with lots of stickers, which they all seemed proud to show their mothers.

After this, many of the men joined the group and we all headed down to Domingo’s spring box, where we have been working most of the trip. We discussed some improvements that could be made to the water source and some of their opinions on the future of the project. It was great to get so much participation and a lot of different opinions. Many of those community members also volunteered to walk us back to San Jose Villanueva (about an hour long walk), so we continued chatting along the way.

Back at Epilogos, we gathered our thoughts and debriefed on what happened during the day. We enjoyed another great dinner, some guitar lessons from Jesse, and a trip down the street to the ice cream store (where we have quickly become regulars…). Tomorrow is our last full day with Professor Durant, so we are hoping to make the most of it!

- The Travel Team

Days 6 & 7 – Spiders and Surveyers

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 10, 2012 | 1 Comment

On Monday, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our mentor for the project, Professor John Durant. Professor Durant has been involved with the El Salvador group of EWB for many years, and oversaw the successful implementation project in Arada Vieja a few years ago. We’re excited to have him here to get his perspective on the community and its project! Mike picked Durant up from the airport and we were able to meet him at one of Mike’s friends house. We got him caught up on our progress as we drove back to San Jose Villanueva and continued our discussion of possible future projects well into the night.

On Tuesday, Professor Durant helped Jesse, Rob, Roxanne and Jake to continue surveying in El Porvenir. Together we hypothesized solutions to the water problem encountered in El Porvenir.

Luke, and Ariel broke off from the rest of the group, and traveled around the community conducting surveys in an effort to obtain a quantitative estimate of the community’s total water demand. The rest of the group stayed around the existing water source to collect more data that we will need to assess the project. All was going well down by the spring box until Jake discovered a giant spider inches from his face as he was measuring the inside dimensions of the existing spring box! He did not run around screaming like a little girl and he probably won’t be having nightmares tonight about giant tarantulas ;)

When Luke and Ariel returned, the group spoke with Don Chepe and Jesus Antonio, and discussed with them some of our preliminary solution ideas. Our current idea is to build a new spring box at a secondary water source that was discovered upstream from the existing spring box. Don  Chepe, and Jesus both thought that this idea would be feasible and acceptable in the community.  They are excited about the progress we have made and are actively participating in the development of the project.

Jesse, Rob, Roxanne, Ariel and Professor Durant finished the day in Porvenir by collecting hydrology data necessary to ensure that our design will be resistant to the flow of the river during the wet season.

After returning home and dropping off our equipment we were taken to see the community of Santa Maria, where water is abundantly flowing from three different sources at the base of a large hill. We spoke with the community leaders who explained their vision of pumping this water seventy meters up the hill to a large storage tank, and eventually distributing it throughout the town so that every family will have a sufficient and accessible source of water. Although the scope of this project seems very big compared to our previous projects, it generated a lot of excitement amongst the group. We see the project in Santa Maria as a great opportunity for future work for Tufts EWB.

Day 5: Working hard!

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 9, 2012 | 1 Comment

We started our day with a relaxed morning. Luke and Jake woke up early and went to Catholic Mass with Mike. It was lively, and although some of the Spanish was over Jake’s head, they all enjoyed the live music. When they returned, we spent the rest of the morning brainstorming and evaluating ideas for the project and then headed to Porvenir in our friend Felipe’s truck. He loves Mexican music, and those of us who have heard him sing think he should give up farming for a new life as a Mariachi.

In Porvenir, we did some serious assessment. Ariel and Jake worked on flow rate testing and yielded great results that show significant flow from the outflow upstream from the existing spring box! At the same time, Jesse and Rob attacked the hillside with a pickaxe and a machete. You’d think they were digging for gold, but the resource were looking for in this case is water. They hammered a perforated pipe into areas of soil looking for moisture or any source of water. They couldn’t find any new locations, which is unfortunate, but still valuable information for us to have. Luke and Roxanne continued land surveying around the existing spring box.

We headed back towards San Jose Villanueva and took Mike’s car, the “scoffer” into Arada Vieja. At first glance, the roads to Arada Vieja seem impassible by any motor vehicle. But the Mike’s car gets its name because it sees these roads and scoffs, we cant imagine what kind of road the “scoffer” can’t handle.

Arada Vieja is a community where EWB successfully completed the installation of a RAM pump and bio-sand filter system three years ago. It’s still functional, and the people seem to be doing a good job of taking care of it. We enjoyed the gorgeous sunset over the mountains of the Salvadoran coast as we headed back to Epilogos to debrief after an eventful day. But of course no work session can be productive without first having a yummy Salvadoran  chicken soup dinner and then going on a cockroach raid after killing the cockroach that joined Ariel in the shower.

All of the work we have done in the past few days has generated a lot of questions amongst the group. We’re excited for Professor Durant to come tomorrow to discuss with us our progress and to move forward with the project.

Hasta manana!

The Travel Team

Day 4: Softball Champions!

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 8, 2012 | No Comments

Hola nuestros amigos!

Today we were challenged by the San Jose Villanueva women’s softball team. We met them at the town field to play one 8 inning game of softball in the hot Salvadoran sun. Beads of sweat began to trickle from our brows as we watched the SJV team stroll in with their crisp uniforms. Rob, or should we say, “Roberto Fuerzo” was showing off some serious high school baseball skills. Jake turned out to be an impressive third baseman, while Jesse intimidated every SJV runner that made it to first base. Luke was an all-star by picking up almost every position on the team at one point in the game, from catcher, to pitcher, to outfielder. BIG thanks to some of the women of the SJV team for switching to our team at the start of the game. With the help of some of their players, we won a fierce 8 inning softball game.

After the game we got down to business. We recapped everything that we learned about Porvenir and the existing water source over the past few days and we discussed alternative solutions for the project. Then we met with the community  to present our ideas and gather input from the residents of El Porvenir.

Tonight we will head to Graciela’s for the most delicious pupusas and tortas in the area. Tomorrow we will be continuing assessment and possibly revisiting an old EWB site!

Until next time!

The Travel Team

Day 3: Exploration and Super Mutation

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 8, 2012 | No Comments

Buenos dias!

Our third day in El Salvador was full of exploration. We started our morning with an exciting ride to El Porvenir. Our friend Felipe picked us up in his bright red pick up truck. Our group has worked with Felipe since the beginning of the El Porvenir project (about 3 years). Felipe is from the neighboring town, called Zaragoza. He owns land in El Porvenir, so he is a very active community member and he is always willing to help us out in El Porvenir. We always appreciate the rides he gives to and from El Porvenir. Felipe dropped us off by his property in El Porvenir, and then he walked with us to the spring box. We carried all of our equipment down to the spring box to collect some important data for our assessment. First we observed the areas surrounding the existing spring box where water was flowing out from the land. Our goal was to find the source of these outflows and to measure the flow rate of each outflow.

The first outflow we observed was approximately 6 feet to the left of the spring box (upstream), and located at the same elevation as the bottom of the spring box. Felipe, Ariel, and Jake cleared out the debris surrounding the outflow and exposed a hole in the rock from which water was steadily flowing. We believe this is another outflow of the same aquifer, not a leak in the spring box. This observation is very promising because it is a potential way to capture more water for the community! Felipe helped us create a wall around the outflow to collect the water. Then Ariel and Jake measured the flow rate of the outflow.

Jake and Ariel testing the flow rate of an outflow near the springbox.

The second outflow we observed was directly behind the spring box, located near the back right corner (downstream). In this area, water was trickling out of a hole in the land. Luke cleared out excess debris in the area and discovered that the flow from this hole increased. Then, Luke blocked the hole with rock and clay and discovered that water was still flowing from the land, but from a different hole. The source of this new outflow was from a leak in the spring box. There are multiple pathways for water to escape from the earth; the water flows out of whichever path requires less energy. Either way water is escaping from the spring box and there is, again, another potential to capture more water for the community!!

Outflow from behind the springbox.

The third outflow we observed was uphill and to the right (downstream) of the spring box, near the base of the tree that exists above the spring box on the border between El Porvenir and a farming community called Tula. We noticed that the steep rock behind the spring box near the base of the tree was saturated with water. To find the source of this saturation, Roxanne and Rob took pick axes to the rock. After a while of picking through the rock, more water began to flow out of the rock but the flow was not significant.  Until we have more advanced tools and some expert advice, we will wait to explore this site as a potential to collect more water for the community.

Rob with the pick axe digging for gold! (we're kidding, just for water)

In the afternoon, Luke took the “new guys” (Rob, Jesse, Ariel) through the entire community to meet more of the people of Porvenir. The “old timers” (Jake and Roxanne) stayed by the spring box to continue studying the land around the spring box and measuring the flow rate of the leak in the spring box and the refill rate of the spring box. Two hours went by before we saw Luke, Rob, Jesse, and Ariel returned to the river with Don Chepe and Jesus Antonio, two leaders of El Porvenir. They were exhausted and sweating from the heat and sun of a typical El Salvadoran afternoon. The group was exclaiming of their survivor-like adventure through an old aqueduct in the community. They walked along the San Antonio River and scaled the wall of the aqueduct, which no longer holds or transfers water for the community. The group cautiously walked along the mountainside, prepared with their hiking boots, while Jesus Antonio climbed effortlessly in his worn-in flip flops ( he even saved Ariel from tripping multiple times, thank you Jesus Antonio!).

Jesse on the aquaduct!

Back at the spring box we shared a few laughs about the groups adventures. Shortly after their return, we were greeted by Mike, from Epilogos, and a rotary club from New Hampshire. The club had ventured down to Porvenir to see our project. We presented our goals, our progress, and our challenges. A few engineers from the rotary club were particularly interested in the engineering of the project and we discussed future solutions with them. We introduced the rotary club to Don Chepe and Jesus Antonio. We were excited to meet the members of the club and we look forward to engaging in more discussion with them over the next two weeks. We also want to wish them good luck on their house building project in Palomar!

By the end of the day we were exhausted. After a good recap and documentation session back in San Jose Villanueva, we were ready for bed. But not without a run to the pupuseria next door! Ariel and Roxanne were invited to make some pupusas with the women at the restaurant. Ariel made a massive pupusa, twice the size of the others. The owner of the stand called it a “crazy pupusa”, but she said she would still hire us. We enjoyed our late night pupusa snack with a viewing of the X – Men at the volunteer house. After being inspired by Professor X we decided if we could have one super mutation it would be to provide clean water at our finger tips.

What would your super mutation be??

The Travel Team

Day 2: Exploring El Porvenir

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 6, 2012 | No Comments

We’ve successfully completed our first full day here in El Salvador!

We woke up at 7:30 AM here in the Epilogos Volunteer house, got ourselves ready for the day, and then headed over to the main Epilogos building for breakfast. Ana, who works, with Mike & Susie, made us an awesome pancake breakfast before we made a few PB&J sandwiches and were on our way.

Mike drove us to the community of El Porvenir, which is about a 15 minute trip via car. The roads are fine until you get into the community, where they are unpaved and very rocky. We stopped before we entered the community officially at the Rio/River San Antonio, which borders the Western side of the town. We all took the time to walk across a suspended footbridge that was completed by a graduate student team from Duke this past year with a group called Bridges to Prosperity (check out the bridge here). It is a great addition to the existing infrastructure because it allows community members to get to town when the river floods over the current bridge. This allows adults to get to work and children to get to school, on days when they might not have been able to before it was built.

Rob, Ariel, and Luke pose on a bridge constructed by a Duke student group

We headed towards Domingo’s house, which is the closest residence to the main source of water, a cement spring box. A spring box catches and collects water that is deposited by a natural spring, usually on the side of a hill or a slope. Along the way, we said hello to Don Chepe, another member of the community we have worked with before. Today our goals were to get the group acclimated to the community’s layout, examine the spring box’s condition, and start conversation with the community members.

The group spent a good deal of the day in the riverbed, which is possible since it is currently the dry season here. Roxanne, Jesse, Jake, and Rob did an awesome job with the land surveying equipment that we brought down. They were able to get the relative elevations of many different points around the spring box. This will be useful for us, as we are considering a few different projects that would require either piping or construction in this area. We also examined the geological characteristics of the river bed and the river bank, thinking about things such as soil composition, construction feasibility, and erosion.

Jake and Roxanne surveying the land surrounding the spring box

Ariel and Luke spent a lot of time talking with Domingo and Don Chepe, two de facto leaders in the community. They have expressed to us that most of the community takes water from this source, but the amount of water in the spring box lessens severely as the dry season goes on. We have several potential projects in mind, as does the community. After eating some of those pre-made PB&Js, shaking ants out of our backpacks, and returning a few shovels, we made our way back to the volunteer house on foot. Domingo and Don Chepe accompanied us back on the walk, which had some awesome views of the Salvadoreño landscape.

Off-Trail landscape on our walk home from El Porvenir

Back at Epilogos, we discussed what we had done for the day, had a delicious Tilapia dinner (Thanks, Ana!), and enjoyed a post-meal conversation with Mike. As anyone who knows Mike can attest to, he is an awesome guy who does great work for San Jose Villanueva. He also has a ton of fabulous stories that we are lucky enough to hear.

Before turning in for the night, we had a Skype session with our faculty mentor, Professor John Durant of the Tufts Civil & Environmental Engineering Department. Professor Durant will be joining us on Monday, but we spoke today about what we had seen in Porvenir. It was a great discussion that generated a lot of good questions and ideas. We’re excited to take these ideas and put them into action tomorrow!

Tomorrow, we’re hoping to get up bright and early and head to El Porvenir. We want to do some more research on some of the ideas we generated today and get some more community input before our community-wide meeting on Saturday!

Hasta luego!

- Luke, Ariel, Jesse, Rob, Roxanne, and Jake

Day 1: Travel Team Assemble!

Posted by | Filed under Uncategorized | Jan 5, 2012 | No Comments

The morning began for most of us with a relaxing 3:30 a.m. alarm. I spent the next ten minutes questioning why we ever decided to book a 6:00 a.m. flight. Following a final cleanup of the house and some scrambling for luggage, Rob, Roxanne, Ariel, Luke, Jake and I hopped into a cab at 4:15 a.m. Temperature outside was 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and while the cold was unpleasant to say the least, we were all eager to begin our trip and we enjoyed the slight of the sunrise from Logan.   We had no problems making our connection flight in Atlanta and promptly landed in San Salvador at 1:05 p.m. (central time). A few questions and a stamped passport later, we walked out of the airport into the warm Salvadoran air, greeted by our Taxi driver, Julio. He drove us to Epilogos, a local NGO we have stayed with before and who will behousing us for the duration of our stay in San Jose Villanueva.

We arrive in beautiful El Salvador

Our chapter of Engineers Without Borders has worked with the  Epilogos team of Mike and Susie since 2005 assessing and implementing sustainable water projects. For about two years now, we have been working in the community of El Porvenir, a community in need of clean water during the dry season (November to April). Within the next few days, we will travel to El Porvenir with a primary focus of collecting data that will confirm the location of a water storage tank. Water will be piped from an existing spring box to this new storage tank which will ideally increase the clean water availability for the community. (Photos will be provided soon!) We also conversed with Mike about a potential future community to work with, Santa Maria. Santa Maria has access to clean water, but needs the water to be pumped uphill to a new location. The project has been funded by a Canadian rotary and all that would be needed is the design and implementation. To make things complicated though, the town adjacent to Santa Maria has recently been provided access to a national supply line of water and many speculate it is only a matter of time before Santa Maria also gains access to this supply essentially rendering any of our implementation useless. As fate would have it, it’s election season in El Salvador too. So, many candidates run with the proposition that many of these villages will have access to this supply of water. This leaves our chapter with a very gray playing field.

Over the next two weeks, we will be updating this blog daily, so keep checking it as we continue to post new photos and stories!

~Jesse and the Travel Team