Monthly Archives: March 2015

Thursday, March 12 – Pipeline Work & House Visits

This was our first day working on the pipeline project. After breakfast we drove to Los Hatillos, and were given instructions on how to systematically dig the trench for the pipeline. We had to dig the trench to be about knee-deep and wide enough to stand in on both feet (so that two PVC pipes could fit side-by-side).


Working on the trench.

We each chose a partner from the group, and one person pick axed and the other shoveled. The soil was very dry and rocky, so we had to learn the most effective methods of pickaxing/shoveling from the locals. Doing this in pairs was nice because it gave us frequent breaks where we could get out of the sun and hydrate with lots of water and gatorade.

After lunch, we went on visits to 3 different houses in the community with Luis, one of the translators. The first house was home to a woman and her granddaughter. They had lots of animals outside, including a pig with her piglets, hens, cows, dogs, cats, etc.


Piglets at first home.


Cows at first home.

The next house was home to a mother and her four children – all under the age of 8. The last house was a grandmother, her daughter, and 2 kids. We were able to ask the women what they thought of the project and what they would do after it was complete. In all cases, the women spent hours each day – with their children – collecting water from the sources up the road. They all expressed sincere gratitude that we were in their community helping to build the pipeline. With a new potable source, they will have to worry about diarrheal diseases much less, and they all plan to spend more time at home taking care of their children.

In a few months, GB is going to this community in Los Hatillos with an environmental brigade, and they plan to replace all their cooking stoves. Currently they all have biomass stoves, requiring the women to collect sticks, and leave the embers burning inside their homes constantly. This causes serious problems with indoor air pollution, so the environmental brigade will build new stoves and vent the smoke outdoors. The current conditions cause respiratory illnesses in children; in the second home we visited, a 2-year-old child was sleeping in the hammock because he was sick from lung problems. Between potable water faucets and new cooking stoves, there will be far fewer illnesses among children in the community.

After the house visits, we walked up to the first water source currently being used for non-potable uses – cleaning, cooking, bathing, etc. When we got there, the pipe wasn’t being used by anyone, but leakage left a still pool of water at the opening. It appeared grayish blue in color, and very turbid…definitely not clean water. We learned that this water was a groundwater source, and there are homes just up the watershed that have privies in their yards, eventually seeping sewage into this groundwater supply. No one should have to use this water for daily purposes, whether for potable uses or not…never mind that they spend up to 3 hours each day collecting it.


Girl collecting water.

Eventually, a young girl and her mother walked up to the pipe while we were standing around it. I think the girl was hesitant at first because we were there, but after she started filling her buckets, others gathered to fill theirs. Even the cows and horses came and drank the pool of still water that was on the ground.

While we worked on the trench, we would see the same people with buckets going back and forth along the road. We knew they were getting water, but we didn’t know from where or what it was really like. Seeing their source of water and their homes provided an incredibly eye opening experience. We all felt very welcomed into the community where we would be working the next 3 days, and we’re excited to get back our here tomorrow!


Wednesday, March 11 – Intercultural & Educational Fair

After breakfast we drove to Los Hatillos for the Fair, where we quickly made and hung our poster on “La Contaminación del Océano.” Each university set up at different tent, and presented different educational topics. Six groups of about 20 children each came to our presentation. It was quite a challenge presenting in Spanish, so Marco and Juancarlos helped out when necessary. We first had the children draw pictures of the ocean with different marine life, and after we explained what pollution was, they then added images of garbage and litter to their drawings. Overall, I think it went pretty well, and the kids learned about the dangers of ocean pollution, and how they can lend a hand by not littering.

For lunch, there were different food stations with local Honduran food options. I ate tostada topped with pickled beets, carrots, onions, herbs and shredded beef, with a drink called morro – a thick, white, milky drink that has a faint cinnamon taste – drank from a plastic bag. Both the tostada and morro were delicious!


Eating lunch and drinking morro at the Intercultural Fair – Kacey (L) and Ruari (R).

After lunch, we watched some local children dance, and each university showcased popular American dances, as well.


Honduran children dancing.

To finish off the day, there was a fútbol game between the Americans and Hondurans. It’s safe to say that everyone was exhausted by the end of the day – after playing with the children, dancing, and playing soccer – all in ~100 degree heat. We learned a lot hanging out with the kids, and eating local food, and I hope they learned something worthwhile from us, as well.

Tuesday, March 10 – First Site Visit

Today we woke up at 7am to a delicious breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, beans, and cheese wrapped in a tortilla, plus fresh watermelon, papaya, banana, and white pineapple. Fresh fruit is always one of my favorite aspects of going abroad!

After breakfast, we travelled ~40min to the site of the water project. The second half of the drive was bumpy and slow…the road was mostly dirt and rocks. The area we were driving to is called Los Hatillos, and is pretty rural, with a few different communities scattered throughout. Most of the homes have a decent amount of land where they house their chickens, pigs, cattle, horses, etc.

Where we parked for our hike up to the dam.

Where we parked for our hike up to the dam.


Some of the cows we encountered along the way. Notice the dry, rocky ground.

Once we parked, we hiked another 20 min to the site of the dam and reservoir that had already been constructed by Global Brigades. We walked along the portion of the pipeline that had already been built, and Marco explained the engineering to us. This portion of the pipeline is galvanized iron, with a 4-in. diameter and a gravitational flow. Once complete, the entire pipeline will be 14km long, and it will support a 20,000gpd flow rate to serve 150 families in 3 different communities.

Galvanized iron pipeline hanging over the stream bed.

Galvanized iron pipeline hanging over the stream bed.

Once we got to the top of the hike at the location of the dam – 250m elevation – we began moving and laying rocks to fill the reservoir. This work lasted all afternoon. The rocks acted as a physical filter to prevent the entry of leaves, sticks, and other debris into the water supply. The wooded location of the dam could potentially lead to high maintenance costs without such a filter. We worked on this project with several local workers, as well as the president of the Water Council, Geronimo. The Water Council is a group of community members that were elected at community meetings organized by Global Water Brigades. The Council is in charge of operating and maintaining the pipeline to ensure its proper functioning after Global Brigades leaves; this is part of GB’s holistic model.


The team photographed on the completed rock filter on the dam. The wooded location of the dam required the construction of the rock filter.

Back at the compound, we ate dinner, attended a group meeting to discuss different GB programs, and prepared for the Intercultural / Educational Fair on Wednesday. We were told we had 30 min to prepare an educational presentation on ocean pollution that we would be giving to local Honduran school children. I had prepared general research material about ocean pollution prior to leaving for Honduras, knowing that we would eventually have the Fair, but we didn’t realize it would be so soon! In typical CMU fashion, we crammed the project into one night. I think we did a pretty good job, considering, but we’ll see how the children enjoy it tomorrow!

Monday, March 9

Our flights left the Pittsburgh Int’l Airport at the dark and early hour of 5:40 am on Monday, March 9. I don’t think any of us slept that night, since we had to leave CMU between 2:30-3:30am. We had a layover in Houston, and eventually arrived in San Pedro Sula, Honduras around 1pm, their time (2 hour difference). At the airport, we met a lot of the Global Brigades (GB) staff that we would become very close with by the end of the week. Marco was our leader, coordinator, and the professional engineer of the water project we would be working on. Juancarlos was our translator, Luis was one of our drivers, and Wilbur was our guard/police officer. We had a long 7-hr drive from San Pedro Sula, through the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and eventually to San Lorenzo, Valle right after the long plane ride — see map of Honduras below. San Lorenzo is on the coast of El Gulfo de Fonseca, located in the center of the gulf coastline.

Map of Honduras

Of course we were all starving upon arrival, so we stopped at El Gallos mas Gallo in San Pedro Sula for a quick Honduran meal.

Honduran fast food

A lot of us fell asleep during the drive, but I stayed awake just to take in the beautiful landscape and practice my Spanish with our driver, Luis. The Northern and Central parts of the country are very green, hilly, and relatively water-rich compared to the Southwest.

Somewhere along the drive between SPS and Teguc.

Somewhere along the drive between SPS and Teguc.

Once it got dark, the drive got a little more hectic – there are no street lights, and the roads are very hilly and windy. We eventually made it to our compound in San Lorenzo, where we were greeted by some groups from different universities. We joined them for a much needed dinner after getting a tour of the compound. The compound was a hotel/club with hotel/dorm-style rooms, including A/C and decent showers. The outside had a pool, dance floor, hammock, bar, and a decent ice cream selection 😉 These were much more comfortable amenities than I would have expected!

Tomorrow we will get a tour of and learn more about the water project we came down here to work on.

Hasta mañana – Ruari

Plan for the Blog

We got back from Honduras last Sunday, March 15. There was limited Internet access while we were there, so we are writing our posts a little bit late. My plan is to make a post each day this week; each post will be representative of the corresponding day of the week that we were in Honduras, e.g., today’s post will represent Monday, March 9 and tomorrow’s post will represent Tuesday, March 10. After the final day, I will do an overall “reflection” post about my general thoughts on the trip.

Overall, it was an awesome, inspiring, fun, and eye-opening experience, and I am excited to share some stories and pictures!

You can access all the pictures I took through the Flickr widget on the right, and I will include some specific photos in my posts, as well.

Why GWB? By Devon

I believe my compatriots already hit home the importance of a clean, safe water supply for a rural community, and it is rather simple. Time that people spend getting safe water without an easy source is time better spent working to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. GWB hopes to create that easy source for rural communities so that the people who live in them can work towards this goal. Further than that, GWB develops a relationship with the community to assure that the projects its teams create are maintained and continue to serve the communities they were built for.

Potent, sustainable change. That’s what I personally hope to foster by participating in this trip. I personally have taken part in two service trips before GWB, one with AMIGOS de las Americas and another with Walking Tree Travel. The former’s idea of change was doing a small project, decided upon by the leaders of the rural community to which I went, and trying work with the community to foster a culture of betterment and sustainability. Unfortunately, the project I worked on was so insignificant that it had almost no effect, and I’m sure by today everyone but the family I lived with forgot what it was altogether. With the latter organization I felt that we completed a sizable project that would have a real impact on the community, but we largely did it by ourselves. When it was done it felt unsettling that the statement was, “Look what we built for them.” This was surely not sustainable.

These experiences behind me, from what I have seen and heard of GWB, I believe we will accomplish the best of both of these. I truly believe that we can work with the community to build a project that changes peoples and ultimately is a sustainable construct that lasts long enough to make a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives.

Why GWB? By Ruari

Access to a sufficient supply of water and the means to treat that water to potable standards are basic human necessities – without the adequacy of both, communities cannot sustain. I feel strongly that no one should have to center his or her life on the hunt for water. This is valuable time that could be spent caring for children, getting an education, or working for an income – time spent building an improved community. Citizens most affected by a lack of access to clean water tend to be women and children. Reliable access to this fundamental resource will grant them an equal opportunity to become contributing, productive members of society.

GWB is a program that safely and effectively connects relatively privileged people to those in less fortunate communities in the developing world; without the infrastructure of GWB, it would be much more difficult to manage proper outreach projects. As a Civil and Environmental Engineering master’s student focusing on water quality engineering and science, and I am excited to apply my education to a practical and impactful project.

Through the GWB trip to Honduras, I know I will grow as a person while providing people with a basic human need that they currently lack. In the United States, we have the privilege to complain about such things and the smell of sulfur or the residue of calcium in our water. It is difficult to imagine a life revolved around finding the next source of water (clean or not) to keep a family alive.

Through my experience traveling, I have learned that people everywhere simply want to be happy and to provide a decent life for their families. Providing access to clean drinking water is the first basic step in this quest, and through Global Water Brigades, I will be able to lend a hand with a great group of people!