Congratulations to Philip Chan, an RPCV from Guyana, who won our hearts – and our first small grant – with his proposal for the Clean Water Project in St. Monica. Please take a moment to read his magnificent project report below.
PROJECT REPORT FROM PHILLIP CHAN
The purpose of the trip was to implement a small scale clean water project in the Amerindian village of St. Monica. The decision to conduct this project was based on ongoing communication I had with my village since COS-ing regarding the rise in gastrointestinal complaints (vomiting and diarrhea) reported at the health post and village concerns about the increasingly polluted waters of the Pomeroon. Prior to the trip we conducted research on applicable clean water applications, including portable filtration systems, Life Straws, water purification packets, and river bank sand filtration. We consulted with the local Philadelphia chapter of Engineers Without Borders (regarding the river bank sand filtration method) and with Dr. Andrea Thorpe of the Miami Chapter – Rotary International. We also invited a guest speaker, Dr. Christiaan Morssink-president of the United Nations Associations of Greater Philadelphia to come to our school and give a lecture on water security in the developing world. Dr. Morssink had previously lived in Suriname, where he was head of the Department of Planning and Project Management in the Ministry of Health. Ultimately, we settled on rainwater collection as the application for use in our project, primarily for three reasons:
- Turbidity and conductivity data collected by a 2006 CDC team to the Pomeroon indicated rainwater as the cleanest natural source of water in the region.
- Village leaders identified rainwater collection as the desired source for clean water in the community, and already possessed resources to support the set up of a rainwater collection system on the central village compound (including four 450 gallon rainwater tanks).
- In conjunction with Rotary International, a successful larger-scale project to set up rainwater tanks had already been conducted in the neighboring village of Kabakaburi. Assessment plans to expand this project to St. Monica and Karawab were already underway, and our efforts would complement those of the RI team.
We arrived in Guyana on the morning of Sunday, March 22, and arrived in St. Monica the following day on Monday, March 23. On Tuesday we traveled with the tushao to Karawab at the request of Dr. Thorpe, who wanted to collect population and resource data for expansion of Rotary’s clean water project to this community. We were also planning on setting up a second water tank stand at the Karawab village compound, near the primary school and health post. However, due to time limitations we were restricted to setting up a single water tank stand at the St. Monica compound. Wednesday and Thursday were devoted to clearing the work site area and gathering materials for the stand, including 384 BMs of lumber donated from community members, representing nearly half of the necessary resources for the project. Construction commenced on Thursday, and was completed the following afternoon. Friday evening we had a sendoff dinner and party at the village community center. Paiwari was shared. I danced the Worm.
The water tank stand is located on the central village compound, next to the village health post, primary and nursery schools, and community center. It has an immediate benefit to the 137 schoolchildren (54 boys, 83 girls) in attendance at the schools, patients at the village health post, the 6 households located on the compound itself, and also the larger community during functions conducted at the community center, such as holidays, Amerindian Heritage Month celebrations, and weddings. With a ready source of clean water available, beneficiaries will no longer have to rely as heavily on the less potable river water. This is especially true for the schoolchildren, for whom treatment options and access are more limited during the day while they are at school.
Goals and Objectives:
With the completion of the water tank stand and installation of 4 tanks, we were able to provide a system capable of providing 1,800 gallons of rainwater during the rainy season and into the dry season. This accomplished our goal of improving access to clean water for a broad range of community members in St. Monica. Our second goal of building a similar system at Karawab was not completed, primarily due to time constraints (see challenges below).
Challenges and Successes:
A secondary goal of this project was the construction of another tank stand in the neighboring community of Karawab. As stated previously, a trip was taken to the community to talk with village leaders, assess the state of existing clean water resources (available tanks, buildings with large corrugated zinc surface areas), and request a list of supplies needed. Unfortunately, due to the limited time available (only 4 and a half days at site), and the natural delay that would occur in receiving supplies lists, ordering and delivering materials, and enlisting workers, it was deemed unfeasible to complete this project in conjunction with the one at St. Monica. In addition, discussion with village leaders also revealed that current plans were already underway to improve Karawab’s clean water supply. A requisition for village council funds had already been made and approved to repair the broken tank stand for the village health post, and [we were informed] that Karawab’s primary school was likely to undergo renovations in the coming year through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Ministry of Education – improvements that would include installation of new rainwater tanks. Rather than interfere with or possibly duplicate these efforts, we chose to focus instead on collecting information for our contacts at Rotary International, who had requested population data and a count of pre-existing rainwater tanks at Karawab in preparation for their plans to expand the entire community’s access to clean water.
Personal Experiences and stories:
From Forster Chean, a fellow Jefferson classmate who accompanied me on the trip
During the relatively brief visit, many people in the village spoke of their hopes with respect to economic development and education. A number of people expressed their interest in and support for an ongoing project to create a village woodwork shop. The shop would be a central workspace to build household furniture and produce arts and crafts, all created from local wood, for sale in local markets. In addition to the economic returns, the shop would also:
- Function as an alternative to working in the interior of the country in the logging or mining industries, where there are much greater occupational, environmental, and health risks. Most of the older male teens and men work in either logging or mining.
- Help to empower women who choose to take part in the manufacture and sale of goods through the woodwork shop by providing them with a source of income. Some of the goods, especially the wicker-like arts and crafts, could be completed at home.
- Present an opportunity for which younger people, especially those who may be out of school and unemployed, could learn the trade of woodwork from their elders.
The school headmaster stressed the importance of advancing the teachers’ computer literacy and proficiency with respect to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This would help them better prepare future generations of students to function in a more computer-centered society. To this end, we conducted an after school lesson helping [the headmaster] with his own Word and Excel skills on Wednesday afternoon.
On a personal note, it was really awesome to be back in St. Monica. There were moments of nostalgia, bizarre feelings of deja vu, and a little bit of sadness (such as seeing my old Grade 8 students pregnant or having to get malaria meds from working in the bush). However, for the most part I was actually heartened by all the positive steps the village seemed to be taking, from the woodworking shop and functioning village telephone to the head teacher’s enthusiasm and continuing use of the computers. There is an especially promising long house left behind by the Barama Lumber corporation which the village is hoping to make use of (some ideas included a tourism guesthouse, health center, and Upper Pomeroon marketplace).