Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Enferma y Grant

What is it about being sick that automatically induces feelings of homesickness? Maybe it's that when you are feeling yucky, coughing up a lung, and dripping icky gooey stuff out of your nose, all you want is to be in the comfort of your bed and have all of the luxuries of home (i.e. internet in bed and chickarina soup). Well, that is how I have been the last couple of days: sick. I did manage to drag myself out of bed on Monday and go to work to send my grant (whoooo!). So, I should be hearing this week if I received the money for my project. It ended up being more costly than I expected because of the lack of finding "good" used materials.

For anyone interested, I posted parts of my grant below. It's long so read at your own risk...

Introducing La Plata to Renewable Energy Technology: Construction of Solar Water Heaters

I. Executive Summary

The purpose of this project is to raise awareness of renewable energy technology in La Plata. While Argentina is a country rich in natural resources, Argentines have yet to take advantage of these benefits. The physical results of this project are three solar water heaters (SWH) and the creation of an instructional pamphlet. The SWHs have different purposes in promoting renewable energy education. Two of the SWHs will be located outside of the city in comedores (community centers/soup kitchens), La Estrategia del Caracol and Aprendiendo. These comedores are located in asentimientos (shantytowns) that lack sufficient services (such as hot water). Currently, the inhabitants use electric or gas energy to heat water. The last SWH will be located at the Fundación Biosfera with the purpose of promoting renewable energy technology for city-dwellers. This project addresses various needs including: economic, health, education, community development, environmental, and appropriate technology. Several actions will be done to ensure sustainability; most importantly, an instructional pamphlet will be created with information on construction and maintenance for future projects.

The amount requested from FSD, $1000, is 43% of the funds for this project. Because this project spans four organizations (La Estrategia del Caracol, Aprendiendo, Fundación Biosfera and La Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos), various forms of support are included in this project. The in-kind support (31%) comes in the form of borrowed tools, construction labor and volunteered work in graphic design. The remaining 26% will be fundraised by Jessica Landerman and Elizabeth Thys while in country. The funds from FSD will be used to buy materials and tools for the construction of three SWHs and creation of instructional pamphlets.

II. Background

Currently, in La Plata and more broadly in Argentina, there is little discussion about renewable technologies; even though, there exists a surplus of natural resources. Renewable energy uses natural resources, such as sunlight, wind, rain, and tides. Currently, Argentina is a world leader in agricultural production confirming the presence of abundant sunlight. With a coastline measuring 2,899 miles, the winds and tides, which could easily be transformed into a major source of energy, remain an untapped resource. Furthermore, the varied climates (“ranging from subtropical in the north to subpolar in the far south” ) provide an environment where a variety of renewable energy technologies can be implemented for more secure use. In researching alternative energy use in Argentina, I found one story on wind technology in Patagonia. However, this story discusses bringing wind technology to remote communities in Patagonia, and there are many more opportunities to use renewable technology throughout the country.

With the current state of the world, a hurting economy, unstable oil prices, and concerns over climate change, a move away from traditional sources of energy and towards more self-reliance is a smart decision. Besides alleviating stress on the environment, renewable technology is a way to save money. Renewable technology can be used on a small-scale (by household), which is a grassroots way to take control on individual’s situations instead of waiting for government assistance.

In La Plata, there is little to no use of renewable technology. Yet, there appears to be great interest from the population. For example, La Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo at La Universidad Nacional de La Plata recently released a booklet, entitled Calentador Solar de Agua. The purpose of the booklet is to provide a manual for creating household-sized solar water heaters with the objective to: “preserva el medio ambiente, mejora su calidad de vida y promueve la salud.” However, the system in the manual, which includes constructing a solar panel, is complicated with a plethora of materials making it expensive and inaccessible to most Argentine families and communities. This project will create a simpler, but equally as effective, SWH system with fewer materials that can be implemented in both community centers, such as comedores, and households.

The first SWH will be built at the comedor, La Estrategia del Caracol. Biosfera and La Estrategia del Caracol have worked together in the past to produce successful projects. The president of Biosfera, Horacio, has established a close working relationship with the leader of the comedor, Marta Torres. La Estrategia del Caracol provides daily meals as well as a community space for the barrio, Altos of San Lorenzo, an impoverished area of asentimientos outside of the city that lacks sufficient services. The homes in the Altos are constructed haphazardly with metal sheets and concrete. La Estrategia del Caracol has grown in the last year with added improvements of a garden, oven and community learning space (these projects were made possible by grants from FSD).

The next SWH will be located in another comedor, Aprendiendo, located in the barrio of Libertad, Berrisso. Aprendiendo serves an extremely poor neighborhood of families that live in government-provided housing and sustain their families with government assistance. Of all the families in Libertad, not a single one has hot water. With a 10-year history in the community of Libertad, Aprendiendo is a well-established community center. Aprendiendo’s leader Mabel Adurate is dedicated and capable, and is assisted by 2 other women from the community. Together, they serve milk and bread to more than 140 local children. At times, the government does not provide the promised milk, flour and sugar to feed the children. A testament to their dedication, Mabel and the other women scrape together whatever resources they have to provide whatever nourishment they can.

The second phase of the project is building a SWH at Biosfera. The purpose of the third SWH is to alter the project towards the needs of city dwellers. The design of the system will be altered slightly for roof-installation instead of ground-installation as at the comedores. Biosfera is another ideal location as a large number of local people come to Biosfera seeking advice from Horacio on a variety of environmental issues. Horacio is a passionate community leader, who has the skill to bring people together and facilitate collaboration. In addition, a large number of community members (including students, journalists, activists, politicians, and others) filter in and out of Biosfera for interviews or meetings with Horacio. Therefore, a working model here would be seen by a variety of people and become an example for the community.

Lastly, this project is particularly timely with the state of the world economy. People around the world are looking to save money in any way possible and Argentina is no exception. Having a SWH is an effective, environmentally friendly tool for lowering heating costs. The cost to build one system is low and payback in terms of lowering monthly bills can occur rapidly.

III. Statement of Need

a. Economics
A major advantage in pursuing the implementation of renewable technology is the combination of an environmentally friendly practice and a money saving technique. The effects of the systems at the comedores and Biosfera will be similar. Currently, the comedores spend $60 pesos per month on a gas tank for the stove in the kitchen. At La Estrategia del Caracol, with the restarting of the panadería (a project started by a past FSD intern), there will be an increased need for hot water. While the basic cooking supplies, such as flour and oil, are donated, the comedor pays for the gas itself. The introduction of a SWH could ideally eliminate the need for the gas tank (at the minimum stretching the use of one tank for a longer period of time) cutting down on costs for the comedor. A SWH would help the comedor focus their funds on the bread business or improving the library for the children. At Biosfera, Horacio pays for gas and electric heating for cooking, washing and showering. The installation of the SWH would alleviate these needs and cut costs at the Fundación.

b. Health
Currently, the women at the comedores are using gas stoves or fires to heat up water for washing in the winter, which is time-consuming and wasteful of gas. Also, burning wood or garbage for fires is a common and harmful practice in the asentimientos. This project addresses the unfortunately common practice among developing communities of burning harmful products for heat. Health problems related to open fires near the homes and burning garbage can cause respiratory, eye and nose problems. In addition to these problems, cold showers in the winter cause other sicknesses. Hygiene is an additional problem in terms of bathing and washing clothes and dishes. By using cold water to do these tasks, the women are unable to remove unwanted dirt and bacteria from their bodies and cooking supplies. This project will address the need for hot water because there will be a ready supply of hot water and decrease the presence of harmful heating practices. In Libertad, the local doctor has confirmed that the major health problem among the children is skin infections due to poor hygiene/sanitation.*

c. Education
The majority of the women running the comedores are immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay trying to build a better life in Argentina for their families. The majority of women has completed primary school (7 years of schooling) and can read and write. However, a number of women did not attend school and cannot read or write. The construction of the two SWHs will be done with members of the comedores in order to teach the construction process. This project will also provide the women with the knowledge to use and maintain the system. Additionally, the instructional pamphlet will provide complete information on materials, construction and maintenance of the system. The information sessions before, during and after the constructions will include information about better environmental practices in the community. This project will educate people in La Plata about renewable technology in a way that is affordable and accessible.

d. Community Development
After the economic crisis in 2001 and with the regularity of corruption in the Argentine government, there is a lack of faith in government organizations as well as a lack of hope for improvement. The majority of the people in the Altos of San Lorenzo are immigrants from Bolivia or Paraguay content with their improved lifestyles in Argentina in comparison to the poverty in their old countries. However, the Altos of San Lorenzo still lacks essential infrastructure. The overall feeling of complacency is a barrier to future changes in the community. However, witnessing the excitement in La Estrategia del Caracol over the oven and the restarting of the panadería, it is clear that there is a reserve of determination and energy waiting to be tapped. This project will inform the people of the Altos that they already have an abundance of natural resources at their disposal. Through collaboration with the construction and the realization of educational workshops, this project will bring community members together.

Libertad also has a large immigrant population of varied educational backgrounds, and little to no familiarity with solar technologies. However, residents are incredibly enthusiastic about the project. The women are eager to hear about other solar possibilities, such as solar cookers and solar showers. The men, many of whom are skilled in plumbing and construction, are eager to understand exactly how the technology will work. Many hope to duplicate the SWH for their homes, and look forward to sharing the instructional pamphlet they will receive as part of the project. *

In addition, the community around Biosfera will benefit from the information on solar technology in a similar way. The frustration with government corruption is constantly eroding the hopes of change among the people of La Plata. Something as simple as a SWH can introduce the idea of grassroots change and personal initiative. Furthermore, the help from community members ensures their investment in the project and the outcome.

e. Environment
This project will address environmental issues on three fronts. The first speaks to decreasing the use of conventional energy. The installation of the SHWs will decrease the need for the currently used gas or electric energy (which is accompanied by the impact of monthly gas deliveries). The second front tackles the awareness of environmental education. The information sessions before, during and after the construction of the SWH will include information on natural resources how we can utilize these resources better. The information sessions will encourage people to think about their relationship with the earth and how we can improve our interactions with the environment in a less-harmful manner. This kind of education is essential if we want to ensure a safe and environmentally secure planet for future generations. Lastly, this project will alleviate the need to burn wood or trash in the asentimientos for hot water. These practices cause pollution in the form of smoke and toxic gas harmful to the environment.

f. Appropriate Technology
Most people think that new technologies are too expensive or complicated to implement on a small-scale with limited resources. This project directly responds to that notion by proving that simple technologies exist and can ameliorate the lives of people without large-scale construction, large sums of money, or government intervention. By introducing this new technology into the community, it will open the door to other useful, small-scale projects of this sort. Through Horacio, I have met with numerous community members that have a great interest in this project. With the successful construction of the SWHs and a clear instructional pamphlet, I believe that more community members will attempt this technology on their own.

VI. Sustainability and Conclusion

This project directly addresses a need in the communities of the Altos of San Lorenzo and Libertad – the lack of hot water. However, it also addresses a large issue in Argentina, which is the lack of understanding and use of renewable technology. Argentina is a country rich in natural resources, but as of yet, has failed to utilize these assets. The idea for this project came from a manual published by the University of La Plata on solar water heaters. However, that solar water heater is too complicated and expensive for the majority of people in La Plata, especially people living outside of the city in asentimientos. This project will provide a cheaper and simpler version of a solar water heater that can easily be implemented by Argentines.

Methods to ensure sustainability have been embedded into this project. First, by building the first two SWHs with members of the communities, these members will learn how to construct a SWH firsthand. Second, the information sessions at La Estrategia del Caracol and Aprendiendo will provide education on the function of the system as well as maintenance to ensure long-term use. Third, the construction of the SWH at Biosfera will ensure that a large and varied group of people will see this technology. Fourth, the creation of a pamphlet will provide detailed instructions on how to construct and maintain a SWH. Lastly, the inclusion of Argentine volunteers in this project illuminates the interest in renewable technology in La Plata. Through their involvement, they are investing themselves in the project and developing a sustainable interest in the outcome.

I have already received a lot of feedback about this project. Many members of the La Plata community (through contacts from Horacio and FSD) have approached me to express interest and find out more information. This is an exciting opportunity for FSD to bring not only a new technology to La Plata, but also a new way of thinking about natural resources and energy use. This project falls directly under FSD’s vision of grassroots development by involving a variety of members from the La Plata community and addressing a lack of a basic need (hot water). With the construction of three SWHs, this project will introduce La Plata to the new frontier of energy independence, renewable technology.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Liz,

    Excellent and impressive project. I hope that it all comes together. Tried to Skype you a few times last week. Love, Dad.