20 February 2017

Las Vegas Inaugurates 14th AguaClara Plant!

The 14th AguaClara plant in Honduras was inaugurated on Saturday, February 18th in Las Vegas, Santa Barbara! The inauguration marks the culmination of 8 months of construction, 2 months of monitoring and follow-up, and several years of design and water quality analysis. The event was attended by the Vice President of Congress, the Secretary of Congress, the Governor of Santa Barbara, as well as a number of local leaders, community members, and APP personnel.

The Las Vegas municipality has also committed to hiring one chemical operator, and four part-time plant operators trained by Agua Para el Pueblo staff in order to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the project.  The plant is the largest AguaClara plant to date (70 L/s) and is also the first time a hydrochloric acid dosing system has been implemented in an AguaClara plant to prevent the formation of calcium carbonate incrustation in the distribution system. The addition of the AguaClara acid dosing system provides an affordable way for communities to prevent the costly reparation of distribution piping due to incrustation.

On the day of the inauguration, treated water was leaving the plant with a turbidity of 0.1 NTU which falls well below the US EPA standard of 0.3 NTU.  The event organizers even went as far as to bake an AguaClara cake-needless to say AguaClara plants taste great!

05 February 2017

Gracias, Honduras

Staying in Gracias, Lempira, Honduras has reminded us about how important it is to be grateful.
First, we want to thank God as is customary here in Honduras. Also, thank you to your families for allowing us to come on this trip.

Thank you to everyone who donated to the Mobilize AguaClara crowdfunding. We are truly grateful for those gifts.

The two weeks we spent in Honduras were jam packed with adventures, rehydration salts, and water. At times it could get difficult to keep ourselves grounded and understand the reasons why we went to Honduras and were able to go in the first place. Because of this, we’d like to take the time to recognize some people and things that made the trip both worthwhile and unforgettable.

The first person we need to thank is Monroe. It’s very clear that without him, this project wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see and serve the thousands of people in Honduras that our technology benefits. Without him, we wouldn’t have had our first moment where we truly felt like engineers.

Another person critical to the existence of our program is Jacobo. His work as the director of APP, has brought many years of insight to the lack of clean water in communities across Honduras. The dedication he brings to helping his communities has been truly inspiring, and has helped propel AguaClara to heights otherwise unimaginable.

Perhaps the most interesting and toughest man in Honduras, Jorge provided us with life lessons that we would never have learned and dance lessons that we would never have pushed ourselves to do. He taught us the Honduran ways of engineering solutions to the numerous fabrication issues we ran into. The spirit and joy that he constantly exuded taught us to enjoy life to the fullest. Jorge, keep doing you.

They call Antonio the man of many hats, or in our terms, the jack of all trades. His time spent meticulously planning for our arrival and trip, and trips past, was something that we frequently overlooked. His tireless work in the 351 days a year when we aren’t visiting also goes unappreciated by many. Because of this, we thank him for his dedication to implementing, maintaining, and spreading our technology and influence across Honduras.

Many 20-something year-olds rarely ever achieve the accomplishments and maintain the humility that Byron has. To be the operator of the current largest AguaClara plant, and to be dubbed “The Next Antonio” is something that many of us may never achieve. His accomplishments are something that should not be overlooked by our successes in lab. His genuine interest in the work we do at Cornell is a testament to the fact that knowledge needs no degree.

For many Cornell students, the thought of leaving our bubble never crosses our mind. Spending two weeks in Honduras was, for most of us, the first time we were ever forced to be outside our comfort zone. To be able to live without the luxuries afforded to us by our bubble for two years, and to give them up to help others is admirable. It is what many of us aspire to be, but never pursue due to fear and apprehension. Skyler embodies just this: an exceptional engineer. One whose sole passion is to help others no matter the sacrifices necessary. For this, we thank you Skyler for being a role model.

Driving a stick shift van full of Americans up a narrow road on the side of a very steep mountain would seem like a daunting task to most people, but luckily, we had the best van drivers in Honduras, maybe in the world! And so we say thank you to Denzi and Elliot for allowing us to visit various parts of Honduras safely.

Thank you Honduras for all the beautiful memories. 

Gracias, Honduras

02 February 2017

An Interview with the APP Technician, Antonio Santos

Written by Erica Marroquin and Lilly Mendoza

Lilly and I sat on the concrete steps in front of an AguaClara plant in Cuatro Communidades, probably holding PVC pipe and discussing the new 1 L/s plant that was just placed there. Antonio, the long-time technician for Agua Para el Pueblo, passes us and says, "Paisanas!" The little boy Edgar that lives next door chuckles at us.

We look at each other with a kind of expression that says, "What did he just call us?" Lilly asked him what that meant, and he explained it as something like a native or someone who has ties to the country. We both have family from El Salvador; Antonio often chatted with Lilly about it and would endlessly make fun of me for not knowing how to speak Spanish.
Lilly and Antonio at the airport

As we all became more familiar with our new Honduran team members, conversations like this became more common, leading us to become more curious about them. We wanted to know more about their lives and how they ended up where they are. Lilly and I plopped ourselves in the (very comfy) backseat of Antonio's truck on the way to the airport and asked him questions from, "Where do you see APP going in the future?" to, "What is your favorite ice cream flavor?" (It's vanilla, by the way). He happily entertained all of our questions and gave us some valuable knowledge. Here is our interview translated from Spanish:

What drew you to work in water treatment with APP (Agua Para el Pueblo)?
I came with the necessity of a job. A friend introduced me to Jacobo in 1992 and came to APP at the age of 17. I ran errands and completed high school in the first years of being with APP. After, I went to be part of the AHJASA (Association of Honduras Group of Water) program to learn the administration, operation, and maintenance of water. After finishing, I came back to APP as a technician and trained in water systems. I have been with group for 33 years. In 2006, Ojohona was the first cemented integration of AguaClara with the objective to train the operators and build the water board. Now, I educate and train operators and serve as technical assistance to all AguaClara plants.

What is your favorite part about AguaClara?
To see the evolution and function of the plants. I enjoy capacitating operators and improving the efficiency of the plants.

Where do you see APP going? What about wastewater treatment?
I want AguaClara technology to be the solution for all of Central America. The need for clean water is there, and all the problems are similar. When theres a good solution, you can adopt it for almost all the similar situations. [As this happens] the university as an academy will need a special program in Central America that has AguaClara offices all over the region. The program will also need a director, maybe a Cornell engineer. I don’t think waste water will expand as much as water treatment since it does not have as much of a need/demand.

What do you think about the partnership with AguaClara Cornell?
The partnership is good so far, but with the frequent change of engineers in Honduras it creates a barrier (mostly language). The barrier is difficult, but the relationship is good and necessary for AguaClara in Honduras.

Tell us about your visit to Cornell?
I came in October 2012 to receive an award (technical award) and stayed for a week. I was able to see the AguaClara labs and what the students do, which was very nice for me to see. I was able to show the social aspect of what I do and not the technical part. I was able to display what is not seen by most.

Antonio, once a professional soccer player, helped lead our team to (kind of) victory

01 February 2017

What's the Wifi Password?

It was a warm evening in Gracias. After a long day of meetings with important water board members, we found ourselves in a charming, hole-in-the-wall pupusa restaurant. We divided into small groups to sit at different tables. As we ate and chatted about the day, we looked up to see that there, at the other table, were two students staring blankly at their handheld devices. They were completely absorbed in their screens and were oblivious to the delicious food and to each other.

This was often the case every time we went somewhere. The first thing many students did when we arrived at a restaurant or hotel was find the proprietor and ask, “What is the Wifi password?” We were surprised the first couple times this happened, as neither of us was even expecting to have Wifi, and it would not have occurred to us to even ask. From our perspective, this trip was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in a different culture, and to take a break from constant communication. Clearly, our peers did not share this attitude, and felt the need to validate every experience by posting it on social media. Even though some were aware of their social media addiction, they were not able to resist the allure.

Why? What? How?

We were both weirded out by this behavior. Why do people feel the need to share everything they do on social media the instant they do it? Why were students calling each other out for not liking each other’s photos on Facebook when we were all there when the photos were taken and saw their subject matter in the real world? Instead of being present and immersing themselves in what was happening around them, they chose to be on their phones. What is the point of being somewhere if you’re not actually there?

That being said, we know the internet is good for some things, such as having the plant operators be able to send data as they get it. But it’s also essential to take a break from it once in a while and connect with your surroundings.

In conclusion: What is a Snapchat streak, and why does it even matter? Please explain.