Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Water For San Genaro -- part 4

We finally jumped through the last two hoops of the bureaucratic procedures for establishing a public water access in San Genaro. The water utility required that we obtain written permission from the municipality to block the road for the period of time necessary to make the connection. The municipality chose to approve it for the period December 18 to 22, so unfortunately I won´t be around for the inauguration and celebration. But Freddy invited me and some of the neighbors to his house for dinner a few days ago, and they presented me with a little gift for my efforts -- a retablo (a Nativity scene in three parts, enclosed in a wooden box).

The dinner was pachamanca, a meal traditionally prepared in the ground over heated stones, with the food wrapped in banana leaves to protect it from the dirt and retain the juices. It usually consists of three kinds of marinated meat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and fava beans.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Your Contributions Are Needed

The longer I work here, the more firmly I become convinced that donating things to people (whether food, housing, or whatever) is the wrong way to help the poor. In fact, it´s counter-productive because it simply maintains a cycle of dependency. People become accustomed to receiving things and begin to feel that because they´re poor they have a right to handouts. Worse, they begin to believe that the solution to their problems is not within their own power, that they must depend on others to ¨fix¨ the situation in which they find themselves.

I think that those of us who are lucky enough to have been born into a country with great wealth have a moral duty to share our wealth with others who are less fortunate, but we should do it not by sharing our cash, but by sharing our knowledge: teaching them to create their own wealth -- teaching them to fish, rather than giving them fish.

Energy-saving technologies are money-saving technologies. They have the potential to create wealth, and quickly. Not a lot of wealth, but enough to make a significant difference in the lives of the poorest. For someone who lives from day to day without stable employment (about a quarter of the population of Lima) and sometimes has to decide between buying food or paying the electric bill on time, it can mean having enough money to do both. But it will take time and dedicated effort to teach people how to use these technologies, to overcome their resistance and to convince them that a small investment that is within their means will produce a savings many times greater, which they can use to improve the nutrition of their family or buy the materials that their children need for school.

My friend Martin (an anthropologist) and I have formed a team to continue disseminating the ¨retained heat cooking¨ technology that we have found to be successful in significantly reducing the use of gas in the preparation of meals at the women´s club in Pamplona. We are going to adopt two more women´s clubs in Chorrillos (closer to where I live) and perform more rigorous studies of the benefits and the problems with acceptance of the technology. Ultimately the use of these retained heat cookers can be self'-financing since the energy savings quickly pays for the initial cost of the device, and there is virtually no maintenance cost. But during this start-up phase we need to buy materials to construct various prototypes, buy gas and other combustibles to conduct our experiments, and pay the bus fare of some of the volunteers.
So far I´ve been financing this work out of my own pocket, but I know that some of you are interested in helping out, and since we´re approaching the end of the year I suspect that some of you are planning charitable contributions to reduce your tax burden. You can send your contribution by check to Una Familia, whose temporary address is 6440 Harbridge Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46220. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so all contributions are tax deductible. I can promise you that your donation will not be used to pay salaries (all of us are volunteers). It will provide us with the materials we need to do our work, and reimburse the cost of transportation for those volunteers who could not afford to help us if they had to pay it themselves. And of course I´ll continue to keep you updated on the things that we accomplish together.

Day Trip To Chincha

Yesterday Sonia and I took a bus to Chincha, a town about three hours south of Lima in a fertile valley where there are many vineyards, some nice beaches, an archeological site, and a very large and interesting market. We had time to visit everything except the vineyards. In the market we found huge freshly caught shrimp selling for less than $3 per pound. But since I didn´t have any way to keep it cold for the rest of the trip, I didn´t buy any. Next time I´ll come prepared!

The typical food of this area is sopa seca (literally ¨dried soup¨), which consists of a mixture of dried potatoes and fresh potatoes cooked in a peppery sauce, and a helping of spaghetti coated with ground basil.

Class On Solar Water Heaters

The second class of the technology workshop took place on Thursday. We talked about the principles of heat transfer underlying the operation of a solar water heater, and some possible uses such as water for bathing, cooking and cleaning, as well as purification of water. Then we divided up the six students into two teams and each team built their own solar water heater.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Inauguration of Technology Workshop

I decided a few weeks ago to set up a small research and development workshop so that volunteers could carry on developing the energy- and money- saving technologies that I´ve been working on. Miguel, my landlord, graciously agreed to let me use part of the big room below my apartment that was being used for storage. I´ve been outfitting it with tools and equipment for working with wood, metal, styrofoam, etc., and instruments for conducting experiments, like a gas flowmeter, balance and thermometer. Yesterday we had the formal opening of the workshop with a half-day class. Only about half of the people who said they were interested in attending actually showed up, but there were at least two, Lucy and Olivia, who are planning to volunteer in the workshop. And the fact that they are women makes them more valuable in the role of disseminating information, since most of our potential users are women, and men are regarded as knowing nothing about cooking.
Several other friends are donating their labor to help build workbenches, shelves, etc. The mission of the workshop, which we´ve named Centro de Investigaciones en Tecnología Ahorradora -- Research Center for Saving Technology -- is to develop, implement, test and disseminate low-cost technologies that conserve energy (hence money) and are applicable to the needs of the poorest members of society.