Friday, July 15, 2011

EcoSan in Tepoztlán

How we arrived in Tepoztlán is one story, with some details provided here, but why we stayed for 3 weeks and how much we loved that place is another story that cannot be explained in blog form. So here goes a Cliff notes version of what got us hooked (and be glad that this the abridged version, ´cause it got kinda long as is...).

A colleague of Mike´s from grad school, Justine, has been kind enough to list out some highlights from her travels through Mexico and Central America. One of which was her time in Tepoztlán years ago, with Ron and Alicia. An informal email from Mike to Ron was enough to set up a meeting with him, but dropping Justine´s name was enough to get a place to stay with Ron and Alicia. Ron is the director of SARAR Transformación, an organization that encourages community development, recently focusing on school-based water and ecological sanitation (EcoSan) programs.  Mike, in particular, with his background in water and sanitation for developing communities, was very much hoping to learn more about SARAR´s work by getting involved with their current projects.  Jill was also happy to get involved, more with the agricultural side.  But initially we were hoping that it all panned out, because perhaps our time with Ron and Alicia could have been as simple as a introduction, a quick tour of their facilities, and then on our way.  After all, we were effectively strangers to them. But it turned out they were gracious enough to host us for the entire 3 weeks that we were there, and are absolutley wonderful people! We truly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them better, and had a phenomenal time.

Another aspect that made our time in Tepoz so enjoyable was what we learned from the projects and staff at SARAR Transformación.  We wanted to help out while we were there, to get involved and see the projects from the inside, so we offered some volunteer labor.  Near the end of the 3 weeks, Mike gave what was supposed to be a brief presentation in English, turned nearly 2 hour (mostly) Spanish presentation-discussion-marathon-session of basic, relevant water treatment technologies.  Hopefully it will serve some use for the staff at SARAR.  But their area of expertise is truly that of ecological sanitation - EcoSan.

SANITATION in Developing Countries
For those of you who may not know, almost 2.5 BILLION people around the world lack access to an improved sanitation facility (that means they don´t even have access to a simple pit latrine), commonly practicing open defecation (translation = shitting in a field.  Other interesting innovations have come about in these situations, such as the ´flying toilet´, where the subject shits into a plastic bag, then proceeds to huck it as far as they can.  The most unhealthy version imaginable of the old game 500.)  Poor sanitation and hygiene directly accounts for millions of deaths each year, with children under 5 accounting for the vast majority.  Studies have shown that access to improved sanitation facilities and better hygiene practices (e.g., washing hands with soap) can have a greater impact on health than access to clean drinking water.  Many governmental organization and NGO´s work hard to improve these conditions.  See the World Health Organization page for more introductory info, or the WHO Sanitation page, or UNICEF, or EAWAG, or google around the interwebs to your heart´s content (alternatively, you are welcome to email Mike at motojeros  AT gmail  dot  com for more links or info).

Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) is a way to close the loop of nutrients that are normally considered waste products - specifically urine and feces - while also minimizing water usage.  More info is available through EcoSanRes and through GIZ, as well as many other sources.  The offices at SARAR have a demonstration center, showcasing technologies of EcoSan.  Also, Ron and Alicia´s house serve as a great example of EcoSan in use.  The systems shown there include:
  • urine-diverting, dry toilet
  • Sanihuerto or Arborloo
  • Greywater biofiltration and reuse
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • a ´popostero´or dyring bin where the feces is dried before turning into compost (or ´poopost´)
  • a garden where urine and poopost is applied following appropriate guidelines

(rainwater harvesting system)

(sedimentation basin with gravel roughing filter)

(urine storage)

(composting in three phases)

(Sanihuerto or Arborloo)

(garden area)

(urine application)

It was fantastic to see these systems operating in person!  After having studied some of these technologies, Mike was ecstatic to get to use some of these systems himself.  There´s nothing quite like one´s first chance to do his business in a toilet where the urine goes down a separate funnel to the front and the doody is captured separately.  The toilet is used just as a normal flush toilet would be, is not nearly as strange as it sounds, and in fact, after only 3 short weeks, both Mike and Jill got so used to the diversion that it seems somewhat odd to use a flush toilet now.

The work there at SARAR gave us a fantastic experience, and we look forward to finding other opportunities as we meander south.  Also, there is a chance we´ll finally get the Donate button to the right of our blog actually going to a beneficial purpose.  Stay tuned...

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