Web link

www. WaterForHumans.Org

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back in the USA

After five weeks our team is back in the USA trying to adjust to life without the "Mango lady," and our outside patio office. With the new direction for our project we are focusing our efforts on growing the organization and starting a focused development program.

Now the hard work starts :)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Our last formal meeting

We spent the past few days not in meetings; however we have been working hard rewriting all of our web copy, executive summaries and funding letters. We tried to take a siesta prior to our last meeting with the other Oaxaca Rotary club at 9 pm. We had corresponded with this club in the prior week, but had not been able to contact them about attending this specific meeting, so we just showed up and invited ourselves. From what I have seen of the Rotary clubs in the Seattle area this would be impossible to just show up. We sort of learned from our last Rotary meeting, and this time we showed up at 9 pm for the scheduled 9 pm meeting. Even then we were still “Gringos,” as we were early. Shortly after 9 several of the Rotary officials started to trickle in. Claire introduced us to several officials. They instantly knew who we are and welcomed us warmly.

Little did we know that this would turn out to be a very important meeting for both the local Rotary club and us. First, there were close to 30 members there. This meeting was special because, it included many old and returning members. Because we were had not heard back from them, and they were excited to hear what we are up to, they squeezed us into the agenda to present our wetland project. The meeting opened with the formal “ringing of the bell” followed with introductions from everyone. The Rotary officers read their reports; we all stood for the saluting Mexico’s flag while the national anthem played. A fellow member presented a thorough presentation on geriatric injuries. Then Claire presented for us. Personally I was intimidated by the large group. I was concerned how they would receive our idea and request to support our efforts. As usual, my fear was ill-founded. The club was excited to hear that we are working on a new approach to the defunct and nonexistent sewage treatment plants. Several members asked clarifying questions and how they could help us with our project. After several more short presentations and introductions the formal meeting was closed. After the formalities, several members came to talk to us and stress that they would be proud to help us however they could. They realize the sewage problem is a systemic issue; one member stated it would be great to have a solution to show the “engineers” that there is a better way.

We left the meeting both tired and charged up. On one side we were tired and glad to have our last scheduled business meeting finished (and on a good note). On the flip side we were wired with excitement that we have another key partner to add to our team.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jumping in the pool

Our entrepreneurship professors (Paul Hudnut, JimPoss, Gifford Pinchot) have a term for describing launching an enterprise. They use the term “jumping in the pool.” As we look back at our original idea of providing low cost water filters to underserved populations and then having a long term mission of more community based water solutions, we are now focused on our long term mission. After meeting with our initial target communities we have now flipped our priorities from water filters to implementing a natural sewage treatment wetland modeled after the system in place in Arcata CA (marsh 1, marsh 2).

Before coming to Oaxaca, we knew we needed to listen to our partners, to our customers (communities), and to be flexible and open, so that we could provide solutions to their most pressing needs. We were told that with most folks in Oaxaca we would have to talk around our ideas and not be direct. After our initial meeting with Maria of Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla (SD) we knew we were headed toward a solution to their sewage issue. Much to our amazement, as we introduced our ideas to Maria (SD) and Justino Guadalupe Etla (GE), they jumped on the idea almost instantly and wanted to know more about it. Thus, we went from idea stage to solution stage very quickly.

As we look back, we all agree that our original idea was sort of like taking the first step in the shallow end of the pool. With the project we have now taken on, it feels more like we have jumped in the ocean. And, it feels GREAT. We say this because in just a few short weeks we have developed partnerships, relationships and commitments from the local communities, state & federal agencies, the university and our partner NGO: INSO. In building these commitments and partnerships, we have committed ourselves to follow though and put the money where our mouths have been.

Putting the money where our mouth is will be challenging, but we know we have a powerful public health story to tell, as well as, a fully sustainable solution.

We are now in our ocean adventure. The water is warm and GREAT. We know we have many challenging times ahead, but are ready for the adventure.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sanitation Forum at INSO

We gulped two cups of coffee this morning in anticipation of the Grupo de Saneamiento meeting (Sanitation Group of the Water Forum). Juan Jose of INSO hastily organized the Group meeting (while we are still in town) to facilitate discussion between many key players involved in the potential wetland wastewater treatment project, including federal and state government representatives. Having visited the university’s wetland on Thursday, Justino (Guadalupe Etla), Maria & Camerio (Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla), and Carlos (INSO), were well informed of the ins and outs of this type of wastewater treatment system. Also in attendance were Juan Jose and Francisco of INSO, Federal and State Commissioners of Water, and us, of course.

Carlos and Juan Jose facilitated the conversation by asking for observations, concerns and goals from each of the parties involved. We couldn’t have asked for a better combination to put our thinking caps on and problem-solve; at local, regional and national levels, we’ve gained necessary support to move a wetland sewage treatment project forward in Santo Domingo. The over-riding consensus brought to the table was that the time is now to lead the way in alternative technology, to be an example other communities can emulate, with sewage treatment, household rainwater catchment, composting latrines, and other clean water solutions. The group discussed at length how a wetland sewage treatment system in Santo Domingo could lead as an example to many other communities. Also, support from the national level could coincide with the 2010 celebrations (Mexican Independence bicentennial -- 1810 and Mexican Revolution centennial -- 1910). To honor these special events, all levels of Mexico’s government are supporting many civil projects. As a result, this type of sustainability project may fit nicely into their objectives. Many combined actions, both individual and cooperative, will allow humans and the natural environment alike to benefit. These actions are interrelated, and must be recognized by the government if they are to gain financial and political support.

Maria of Santo Domingo addressed again the issue of getting Etla on board, who up until now hasn’t been a part of the discussion; the State Water Commissioner said he would facilitate a conversation in order to come up with “real” solutions. Furthermore, these officials were very concerned about the damaged sewage pipe which impacts Santo Domingo, and pledged to work to remedy the situation. This fact alone is huge, as it will at least eliminate the sewage overflow into Santo Domingo. It is also important the federal and state government representatives visit the university’s wetland project. They pledged to coordinate with Erik (UMBJO) to see firsthand how wetland technology can work here in Mexico. This will be followed by conducting a follow-up review and looking at the initial project proposal. Depending on the outcome, the government could provide up to 70 percent of the project costs! It is also important to mention that private and state engineers are pressuring pueblos such as these to put in more expensive sewage plants, 70-90 percent of which fail due to lack of resources for maintenance, or poor design and construction. Both Maria and Justino were concerned about the potential wetland project costs, as much as we were about everyone’s commitment from all levels. Juan Jose did a magnificent job of tying this up, in stating that we do not need to discuss project costs at this point, we only need to agree to work together to bring this important opportunity and project to reality. With that said, we all agreed that this is a unique opportunity to demonstrate appropriate sustainable solutions, and pledged to work to ensure its success.

This meeting cascaded us even closer to reaching our water goals. Our business plan is significantly different now (all for the better), as it looks like we are implementing a major project related to our long-term mission. The group still needs to decide on a fix for the currently leaking black water pipe in Etla (which routinely overflows through Santo Domingo and lower communities). We are hopeful the state and federal representatives, who now are aware and very concerned about the issue, can assist in finding a speedy solution. In addition, we need to think about our overall business plan and other possible revenue streams such as the original filter idea.

On Monday afternoon, we will head back to Santo Domingo with Erik and other university staff to survey the site. This will include preliminary water testing, slope analysis and other basic design parameters. These data will allow Tressie and the UABJO team to scope out a preliminary design and project plan, as well as provide us with the necessary information for the proposals we will use for fundraising.