Today marks one week here in Trujillo as a volunteer. "One down, 103 to go," says Mary, a friend in nearby Sonaguera. This week has definitely had it's ups and downs, but overall I would say it's been a pretty good week. I still don't have a very good idea of exactly what I'm going to end up doing here, but I've got some leads, I'm making connections, and that's a good start.
Highlights from this week:
- I spent two days installing biosand water filters with the local chapter of Pure Water for the World (PWW). Tuesday and Wednesday we drove out early in the morning to Dos Bocas, and aldea about 45 minutes east of Trujillo. The filters had already been delivered to many of the houses, we just had to fill them up with the layers of gravel, gravín (fine gravel), and sand, then teach the families how to use the filters.
The work Pure Water does and the challenges they face are a good example of just how hard it is to improve people's living conditions in a sustainable way. The water filters are fairly easy to use, and when properly cared for will last for years and years. They produce very clean water. PWW chooses communities with a high incidence of water-borne illness (mainly diarrhea), poor water sources, and low likelihood of getting a new water system in the near future. One would think that putting a filter in every household would produce a huge drop in the incidence of diarrhea. But usually the drop isn't that big, if it's there at all.
Dos Bocas is a perfect example of why. Animals outnumber people in the community by 10 to 1, if not more. Dogs, pigs, sheep, chickens, and ducks roam freely through kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms. Kids are almost always barefoot, if not completely naked. Few houses had proper sinks, fewer still had soap. Flies swarm dishes and leftovers in the kitchen. Latrines aren't always well-maintained, and sometimes they aren't even used. Education levels are extremely low (at least one quarter of the heads of family couldn't even sign their names on the receipts we gave them) and many people don't understand the connections between hygiene and disease. Behaviors developed over a lifetime contribute in many different ways to the contamination of the entire household.
PWW has a monitoring program to check in on families who have received filters and counsel them on maintenance of the filter as well as general cleanliness and hygiene issues. One of the things we've talked about is developing a more detailed charla about hygiene and diarrhea that we can give at community meetings. But knowledge does not necessarily bring behavior change. I take it for granted that my parents told me to brush my teeth, wash my hands, shower regularly, wear shoes, etc. If I had grown up on a farm, I would have learned that animals are not allowed in the house. But imagine if you had never received any of that training as a child. How likely would you be to change your behavior if some gringo came by and told you to?
That said, I'm still very impressed by the work Pure Water does. They deliver easy-to-use, durable filters. They recruit community leaders to help install the filters, so that those leaders then become "experts" and can help other families maintain their filters. They have a monitoring program, and incorporate an educational component that attacks the knowledge/behavior side of the problem. Change might not occur quickly (it never does) but they seem to have a good strategy and a good group of local employees who are committed to the project over the long-term.
- I attended an HIV/AIDS prevention taller (workshop) put on by Foro Nacional de SIDA (National AIDS Forum). The Foro is one of my main counterparts and I had been feeling a little discouraged at the beginning of the week because I hadn't been able to get in touch with them. But I spent most of Thursday at the taller and then at a youth meeting at the Foro office. There is a daylong HIV prevention seminario (seminar) next week, followed by a ceremony of solidarity for people living with HIV/AIDS.
- I got a haircut at my new favorite barbershop, Barberia Manhattan. They trimmed and styled my beard as well. It is a...different look, for sure. I'll post pictures sometime (a memory card is on it's way!).
- Yesterday, Mary bussed into town and we headed over to Casa Kiwi, about 5km outside of Trujillo. We had a day of beach, sun, and relaxing. The sunset over the Bay of Trujillo was incredible (again I apologize for the lack of pictures). A thick haze turned the sun a deep, dim red, and the water glowed with iridescent reds, greens and blues.
Unfortunately, the late afternoon also brought out the sand flies (ejenes). These nasty little buggers swarm all over you, and their bites hurt. They're easy to kill once they land on you, but there are so many it just doesn't matter. I am completely covered with bites. And they itch like hell.