Intern Profile #5: Katie Bliss (AIDG Guatemala)

Katie Bliss

As I mentioned earlier this week, the illustrious Katie Bliss is back in the UK, but here is her intern profile with her impressions of life in Guatemala and interning with AIDG.

Katie Bliss

Where were you Based?
Xela, Guatemala

What was your intern project?
Community Outreach and Partnerships

Describe what your normal day as an AIDG intern in like.
There really is no normal day! I could be in a community meeting, talking with the people about their needs and resources for potential projects, holding a workshop (to discuss issues such as health, sustainability, providing an opportunity to use and understand the technolgy better) or helping on a community install. Other days I am in the office of local and international NGOs, working to build up XelaTeco’s network and set up potential contracts, or in the XelaTeco workshop helping Maria Natalia and Maricela work on the stove credit scheme. It’s all pretty exciting!

What are the main challenges you face?
Unfortunately bureaucracy and poor communication can be real barriers to getting things done efficiently and thus require a lot of patience and definitely a change of pace! Additionally, road access into remote communities can be pretty poor and occasionally necessitates an arduous journey and perhaps a hike to cover a relatively short distance. Though I can hardly complain in a country as lush and beautiful as Guatemala!

What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
An awesome moment just before I left Guatemala. I was going with XelaTeco to take back an old generator from the former finca owners’ micro-hydro system that they had been contracted to repair by La Florida. La Florida is a community-owned finca (coffee farm) that we have been collaborating with on tests and research.

As we arrived many members of the community were eagerly awaiting us; they had been without power for nearly a year. For those that were still working in the fields or in the houses, they rang the community bell and called ‘Hay que trabajar‘ – We have to work. Men, women, children and the elderly came out of the woodwork. They all helped to carry the generator down to the turbine house or to cheer their compañeros on!. The atmosphere was magic. For me, it summed up the passion, energy and hard work that, over 20 years, has seen the people of La Florida leave the large exploitative privately owned fincas, to fight for their own land and work together to build a sustainable, profitable and socially-just finca.

[Sorry folks, Flickr doesn’t let you rotate video. I’ll give it another whirl in the future.]

That night, La Florida had light for the first time in nearly a year, and the finca was abuzz with excitement. As community members met in the patrones house (like almost every night!) discussing, issues such as food security, potential coffee markets and new projects, they were lit by power produced by their own hydro-electric system. Another step on their path to create a more sustainable, happier and healthier life for their children, and their children’s children…..amazing!

Who have you met who has inspired you the most and why?
I have met so many passionate, hard-working and inspirational Guatemalans who have dedicated their lives to building a better Guatemala. This includes Jose Ordonez at AIDG / XelaTeco, who is a discerning worker, enthusiastic about appropriate technology and its development in Guatemala, Dona Katrina one of the original founders of the Mayan Association Pop Atziak (who work particularly on empowering women, enterprise incubating small enterprises and medical projects) and almost without saying all the people at La Florida. But there are many, many more!

Why did you choose AIDG?
I have a background in the community renewable energy field in the UK, but felt that the benefits would be farther reaching in communities that were currently off-grid, reducing fuel dependence, facilitating local enterprise, self-sufficiency and community empowerment. In addition, AIDG’s model of working through social enterprise, using local materials and locally appropriate design (according to needs, culture and available skills) is very simple and necessary, but something a lot of other organisations have failed to consider.

What inspired you about the organization?
Watching XelaTeco grow over the last year has been fantastic. We have seen them take on real ownership and pride in their business. They are taking up new schemes such as micro-credit for customers, educational workshops and learning how to manufacture new technologies with enthusiasm and drive. Many of them are still young, and I am sure it has been a steep learning curve. I am certain, however, that XelaTeco will continuing thriving into a sustainable and profitable business, whilst helping to improve infrastructure in Guatemala.

Update: I am now back in the UK researching landfill gas opportunities in Mexico and Argentina, but am hoping to return to Xela if we are successful in an application for community owned and managed micro-hydro systems. I will also be giving presentations on AIDG and our Guatemala projects at community sustainability fairs in the UK this summer. I plan to stay in the AIDG loop and for sure will stay in touch with the guys at XelaTeco and in Boston.