Intern Profile #3: Alex Surasky-Ysasi (AIDG Guatemala)

Alex Surasky-Ysasi

Alex Surasky-Ysasi

Where are you based?
Xela, Guatemala

What is your intern project?
My project has been improving the Pelton turbine design of the micro-hydro system and helping XelaTeco build its capacity to produce bronze turbines in house. The first part of my job was learning everything about our first install at Nueva Alianza, what worked about the turbine and what needed improvement. We modified the cup design and wanted to get three standardized sizes of turbine for XelaTeco to produce. Once the design modifications were complete, I had to figure out how we were going to make these cups out of bronze here in Guatemala. Cups for the Nueva Alianza turbine were made in Huehuetenango by an experienced foundry caster and members of the XelaTeco team. My current work has involved determining what type of casting is most feasible here, creating a production scheme that has a reasonable time scale, learning to make sand molds, and building a furnace and a burner.

Modified Pelton turbine - Solidworks
Modified Pelton turbine – Solidworks

Describe what your normal day as an AIDG intern is like.
Normal is definitely a bit hard to come by in Guatemala, so in general I’d have to say my day is varied. My days involve everything from emailing with metal and foundry experts in the US to sourcing materials by walking and taking micro-buses all over Xela to firing up the furnace and pouring some molten metal. My days tend to also include fixing computers at some point, making sand molds or constructing something while making jokes with the guys at XelaTeco. Some of my favorite days are when I get to go out to communities to do installation work or site evaluation, which involves traipsing through rivers. The thing that happens with the most regularity to be honest is refracion, Guatemalan snack time at 10:30am, which I either enjoy with XelaTeco or go out and find snacks for the whole AIDG office.

What are the main challenges you face?
The main challenges I face center on the fact that I’m in Guatemala. It can be hard to find materials and that can get even trickier with the foreign language involved because some things don’t translate directly. The pace of the country is different, so I have to learn when to be patient because there is no other option and when to push because I only have so long down here. The other major challenge is trying to figure out how to help XelaTeco and give them the capacity to produce these technologies, while insuring that they feel ownership of their business and gain independence.

What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
It’s hard to think that one moment has been the most rewarding in my time here. Seeing my project progress and XelaTeco grow is something that I can really only see by looking at the span of my time here. If I had to pick one moment it would probably be the day that I fired up my propane burner for the first time, set up some Baldosa bricks and successfully melted a bronze elbow I had tracked down from at a metal recycler. That was the moment it was clear everything could work: the burner and the brick would work for the furnace. I had already found local sand and clay for making the molds. It was the moment when all the pieces were finally there and all that was left was to put them together.

Who have you met who has inspired you the most and why?
I have been inspired by a number of people in a number of ways during my time here. The people who I work with every day have been amazing because I often find that rather how hard something is to do or the odds that this install will work exactly the way they are planned are focused on how to get something done and working right. We’ve all had setbacks and I’ve seen everyone push through them because they believe what they are doing is going to help. The other people that inspire me are the community members- what I remember one man telling me that the reason the community had taken out the loan, bought the land and was willing to live in poverty was so that their children could live a better life. To hear him see past all the struggles he was living towards the future was incredibly moving.

Why did you choose AIDG? What inspired you about the model?
I chose AIDG because there are so many stories about technology being put in places and then falling into disrepair when foreign aid leaves. By building a business the local people are truly empowered to maintain these technologies and the use of local materials insures that things can fixed or replaced if they break. There is a phone number to call when something breaks and some one who speaks the language and lives in the country on the other end of the line. The model also demands that sustainable technology make economic sense, which is also the only way I think it will ever really take hold.

Duration: 1min 38sec