Monday, 20 June 2016

3 weeks left...

It's been an exciting couple of weeks. We still don't have all of the materials, but we've started work on constructing the pieces. So none of the pieces came cut or ready to go (not really surprised I guess), but there are people in the community who have 'equipment' for cutting and welding (I say it that way because I'm 90% sure this is a hodge-podge homemade welding apparatus, sort of just a high voltage box and some twisted together wires...). I ended up redrawing the technical drawings by hand to include the new dimensions of pieces and they have been so helpful with communicating. Without pictures I'm pretty sure this would be impossible. So far we have all the table legs done, and today they are cutting and welding all the remaining pieces. It's a little bit difficult, and they seem to be over complicating it (like in my picture the table is 2m long along the inside edges, but the first one they made was 2m total, so they calculated how long to make it rather then just following my numbers the easy way). We painted all the pieces with rust-proof paint the other day because a lot of them were starting to rust already. Needless to say my hands were covered in the paint, and he insisted on pouring a clear liquid out of a recycled milk jug on them. It was paint thinner. It burned. (So, uh, safety standards are not quite the same here as they are back home..).

We're behind on schedule, but like, I'm pretty sure that no construction projects actually ever go following their desired time line. I'm a little worried we won't finish in time though. We still don't have the plastic, or corrugated metal and stainless steel sheets. But the solar panel got here the other day! And I sent out the required fan details (and a link to it on amazon) the other day to David and Eneyda, so hopefully that works out. (The fan is super important, it needs to match solar panel power, and needs to keep air moving at the desired speed to maintain the desired temperature.) 

We went to a really pretty island over the weekend and that was a nice break from the stress of trying to communicate with the two worker guys. Got to go swimming, and ate so much fresh fruit. I did find out that I am rather sensitive/allergic to the chichicaste plant (essentially like poison ivy), I guess it touched my arm while swimming causing my entire arm to burn and break out in a rash. I'm all fine now, but it's really scary to not understand what is happening.

My hand-drawn technical drawings

Cutting metal...

Welding in the safest way...

Discussing the drawings again and again

The table legs with the brackets

Monday, 13 June 2016

Week 5 Update LP

Our translator Jenn left us on Sunday morning :( It was great having her here as a way to increase communication and as someone who is familiar with both Latin American culture and U of M Service Learning! The two weeks she was here flew by and we will miss her help a lot. We spent a relaxing yet rainy weekend in San Salvador with her and were also able to "vamos a la playa" to Playa El Espino again this past Saturday.

As Kassandra mentioned we were able to visit the hardware store while Jenn was here and she helped Kass order parts for the dehydrator. It's unfortunate that the timing didn't work out as we were really hoping to build the dehydrator or at least start it while Jenn was still here. However such is life in El Sal and we likely won't be building it until next week. Conveniently one of our neighbours is a mechanic and is going to help us solder things that need to be soldered and cut metal.

In the meantime I have been working on manuals and resources for food preparation and food safety. I have been lucky enough to contact a Canadian who visited Guatemala a couple of years ago and started a similar project with local farmers and fruit dehydration. He has given me some really helpful advice as well as the manuals they used as instructions for food prep. I've also done some other research into similar projects and even looked at old class notes for food safety information. My task now is to take all the info I've gathered and streamline it so that it can be easily understood and translated. Since literacy may be an issue I am going to make the instructions as simple as possible and locate (or possibly draw?!) some pictures to go along with them. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

This past week has been pretty good. We got a little bit started towards actually doing stuff. The area that the dehydrator is going needed quite a bit of work, so we started to clear the brush, and found people to cut down the trees. We cleared up a spot pretty good, but then it was decided we should put it east-west, not north-south, so that it is in the sunlight for longer (which makes total sense). There's just more work to do now. (The space we cleared will still be used because Oikos wants to install one of those fancy green houses, though.)

We also made the trip down to the hardware store to go over the material list with them. I'm going to be doing quite a bit of improvising, because they had a very small selection of parts available. So all the dimensions of the brackets and diameters of the round bars are different, and the u-profile has been scrapped entirely (will need to find a new way to connect the cover to the base...). I'm still hoping that the legs and roof connectors will be welded before they get here, like they are in the technical drawings I provided, but they may not be. The materials should get here any day now and then I'll have a clearer picture of just how much more work will need to be done. 

We went back to San Salvador for the weekend and stayed in the cute hotel we had stayed at for our first few nights here, which was nice. Unfortunately, it also rained all weekend so we couldn't really utilize the pool. 

Pulling weeds and removing trees...

Quite a bit more sunlight...

With most of trees cut down...

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Two week update...

Okay, so it's now officially been two weeks. As an important update, it's not a box, rather an octagon shaped room (with lots of windows and even air conditioning which was a plesant surprise). The Oikos area is nice, a couple toilets, a shower (with water less cold than anticipated), a fridge (broke twice, so not too reliable though..), and a stove. Pretty decent overall. All the staff is super nice, it's super difficult (for me at least) to communicate with them, (apparently I suck at learning languges). But it's bareable. 

The goal for the first couple weeks was simply to observe the community and get to know how Oikos works and what they do. So it was pretty chill. A lot of waiting, and driving, stopping by farms, walking up hills.. We saw so many different types of farms, (ALSO so many dogs here too, stray and pets. It's good.) There are an awful lot of these strange greenhouse like structures,  not quite a greenhouse because the function isn't to be extra warm and humid, but more so act as a barrier against harmful sun rays and bug protection.  Which is cool. Most of the farms also have intensive irrigation systems that involve rainwater collection which I thought was super cool. 

We ended up going to San Salvador last weekend and stayed with both Benjamin's and Guillermo's families on seperate nights. Which was super sweet of them. Unfortunately I think I made a strange impression on them due to my entire loss of appetite for a few days (unfortunate side effect of traveller's diarrhea whoops). But it was still good. They both have children (grandchildren) who speak English so communication was good for that weekend. Now Jen is here for a few weeks to act as a translater and help us out for a couple weeks which is awesome. 

Hopefully soon we will start work on the dehydrator! 

[Here we are at Benjamin's family's farm, there was a wonderful view.]

Phase 1?

Alright so mi nombre es Andrea Kauehowen, and I just graduated from Asper with my Bachelor of Commerce degree. I was referenced to join this service-learning program due to my interests within the fields of social enterprise and international business.
We are just finishing our second full week here in Usulutan, which is a rural district of El Salvador where the Oikos office is located. We are around 2 hours away from the main city of San Salvador which we have already visited a couple times, and there are plenty of amenities close to where we are staying as well - including places like Wendy's and Pizza hut for anyone who thinks we are literally in the middle of nowhere. Although we were brought to Pizza Hut once for dinner, we have mostly been eating at one restaurant close by that has an agreement with Oikos. The food is good! And I'm pretty sure we have already eaten pupusas at least 7 times.
For our first weekend here, two of the Oikos members invited us to stay in their homes in the city and we were able to enjoy the beautiful nearby beach, as well as a much needed cervesa at dinner. This weekend is a little more low key, as all of the Oikos workers went home for the weekend. However, we are getting some solid reading time in, as well as hoping to start studying our Spanish a little more diligently. The language barrier has definitely been the most frustrating aspect of this experience thus far. Thankfully, today we had Jennifer join us from Winnipeg for two weeks and she is fluent in Spanish! Yay! She is going to help us with the communication needed to really start the process of setting the project in motion. After two weeks of tagging along to meetings and touring local farms we are definitely ready to make a game plan for getting this dehydrator built and put in action.
The room we are sleeping in here on the Oikos grounds has A/C which definitely feels luxurious considering many homes around here do not even have electricity or running water. Everyday the temperature reaches between 35-39 degrees Celsius, but I think my body is finally starting to adjust to the climate.. slightly. Sweating is good for you though, right?

Week Two

As of today we have been in El Transito in Usulutan for two weeks. Our goal for these first two weeks was to shadow in a sense, the OIKOS employees and figure out more about how the organization works. Monday to Friday since we've arrived we've been going around to different farms and areas that OIKOS works with and just observing. At times it has been really difficult with the language barrier but we've had our chance to practice Spanish to say the least! We've also needed to be flexible, easy-going and to get good at the waiting game.
We have learned a lot about the surrounding areas and the way the organization has benefitted local farmers. We have visited shellfish, papaya, maracuya and sweet pepper farms and seen the various greenhouses and irrigation systems that OIKOS has helped install. We've learned that OIKOS has a strong focus on sustainable agriculture, use of organic fertilizer and pesticides, maximizing profits for local farmers and helping them get their products to the formal or informal market.
We have also been lucky enough to go to the beach twice last weekend! Last Friday we visited Playa Espino after a short ride in a fishing boat from the mussel farms in Remolina. On the following Sunday we were staying in the city of San Salvador and visited Playa Trunca in the area of La Libertad. Both times we were super happy to be in the water after experiencing 38 degree weather for days on end.
Everyone we've met at OIKOS, and also their family members, have been extremely welcoming and made us feel very at home, despite communication being a challenge. We are anxious to work out the final details and start our actual UMANGOES project.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Okay. Well, Hi! My name is Kassandra Swan, I’m a fourth year biosystems engineering student aiming towards a specialization in sustainable building systems. I should be graduating at some point in the next year and a half. I think that alternative building and renewable energy are just about the coolest things ever, even though I’m not quite sure what I can do with that. I’m also an active member of the Engineers Without Borders chapter at the university, which takes the engineering problem solving process and applies it towards social change. As for some other things about me, my main hobbies/interests include videogames, Netflix, rhythmic gymnastics, acro yoga, local metal concerts, craft beer, tea, and petting cats (though dogs are cool too..). 

We left Winnipeg a few weeks ago, and headed to Quito, Ecuador for a couple of Spanish lessons. (My spanish teacher was super funny and sweet and I regret not taking a picture with her...) Quito is a beautiful city that I'll need to go back to one day because there is so much more that I still need to do. I really enjoyed all the hiking we got to do (up ALL the volcanoes!), and also the Otavalo market where I purchased a sweet alpaca blanket and backpack. The most memorable experience I think I have from Quito (but not best cause it makes me a little sad) would probably be all the stray dogs.  There are so many, holy, I counted seeing around 50 in one day alone. 

We arrived in San Salvador 2 days ago, and leave for "the box" in Usulutan in an hour. It is SO hot and humid here, nothing in my life so far has prepared me to sweat this much hahahaa.. But actually, I am so excited to start doing stuff, we met with the people at the LWF the other day, and get to meet OIKOS later. :)