The Field Project in Guatemala, April 2005: Getting Started

In the winter of 2005, plans were developed for the first AIDG sponsored project. After successful fundraising efforts and continued contact with previous
organizations from earlier volunteer experiences, two areas in Guatemala were
selected. AIDG had experimented with a variety of devices from the open-source appropriate technology community. The designs for a small-scale windmill and biodigester were selected and slightly modified to meet the apparent needs of the target communities. The AIDG working partnership with end-users will be able to further modulate technologies as they are needed based on local conditions, capacity, and requirements.

A windy and often un-electrified region of the western highlands, Quetzaltenango, was selected for the windmills. There we had previously made contact with a local sustainable development organization, CEDEPEM (Centro Experimental de la Pequeña y Mediana Empresa Rural; in English: the Experimental Center for the Development of the Small and Medium Rural Business). An aspect of CEDEPEM’s operations includes demonstration sites in rural areas for sustainable agricultural and living practices. This is where the windmills are being
co-located.   An aspect of CEDEPEM’s programs is small-scale pig farming, which is ideal for another appropriate technology—biodigesters.

The second location for a biodigester installation is the orphanage Casa Guatemala in a northeastern swampy area known as Rio Dulce.   Also known as the “City Of Children” the isolated orphanage is accessible only by boat.   About 400 people live at Casa Guatemala, operating a free boarding school for orphans and an extensive agricultural operation to provide food and income for the site.   180 pigs provide ample ‘waste’ for the biodigesters to turn into fertilizer and cooking gas.

In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, population growth and unstructured development have led to environmental problems that have negative social implications. The area, which is almost entirely of the indigenous K’iche’ population, lacks most basic infrastructure and receives little support from the Guatemalan government.   One particular problem this region is experiencing that AIDG is addressing is the practice of firewood collection and use for cooking fuel. The use of wood in open-pit cooking leads to many associated problems. The firewood collection causes the shrinking of forests, leading to biodiversity loss, erosion, and fewer ‘carbon sinks’.   Eventually, when the forest is depleted, people may be forced by necessity to move to a new area, beginning the process anew. The burning of the wood also causes long-term negative health effects, including respiratory ailments such as a chronic cough and asthma, eye related problems, and even cause severe accidental burns from clothing catching on fire and/or children playing too close to the fire. Further, as Adil Najam at the Fletcher School notes, this is also a human rights issue. Many hours are spent each day searching for the firewood, often including children that could otherwise be in school or studying.

This blog is from a paper I wrote for class, and the remainder of this document does not fit here…sorry for the abrupt ending with no conclusion!