Intern Profile #6: Natalie Bonilla (AIDG Guatemala)

Natalie Bonilla in Chel

Natalie Bonilla

Where were you Based?
Xela, Guatemala

What was your intern project?
Outreach and Facilitation Officer, with direct participation in the Ram Pump Group, Water Group, Micro-hydroelectric Group, and Biodigestor Group.

Describe what your normal day as an AIDG intern in like.
My normal day as an AIDG Outreach intern starts off with an early morning ride to a remote community for a follow-up or initial assessment visit. The scenery on the way to any given community is without a doubt the most mystifying experience one can have in a country covered in majestic mountains and endless valleys. Upon arriving to the community, I am greeted by cheery women in traje tipico and men armed with field machetes. They instinctively take me to their central building where we discuss the nature of my visit and their needs and expectations. Accompanied by the AIDG site surveyor Dave, we then take a tour of the community’s terrain, reviewing the potential landmarks where technologies could be adequately installed. By the time we have finished hiking down extremely steep cliffs to get to the river, feeling as though we have survived an episode of ‘Extreme Adventures’, a nice steamy lunch is awaiting us back in a local woman’s home. A pile of tortillas are accompanied by a delicious bowl of black beans and drum sticks with red tomato sauce.

After a lunch filled with discussion about where we are from and what activities the community does, a meeting with all community members is called, so as to discuss the objectives of a possible project that could be executed in the future.

The patio where we had been first taken for introductions now becomes a classroom dynamic, with Dave and I at the head of the class, explaining the project. The faces of these 30 men, women and children light up with excitement and with the efforts of understanding our explanation. Questions and concerns are raised directly from the attentive listeners as we get into the details that they want to address. When this meeting is adjourned, Dave and I say our lengthy goodbyes and are on our way back to Xela on his motorbike. The next day will give me the opportunity to write up the details of the previous day’s thrilling visit.

What has been a crucial moment in which you have felt that AIDG is truly succeeding?
I went with Maricela Chan, XelaTeco’s Administrator, to a workshop at a Woman’s Association called Pop Atziak, in Quetzaltenango. On behalf of promoting XelaTeco’s most popular product, efficient stoves, Maricela and I took a stove to the Association as a demonstration so that the women could test it out for themselves. The presentation that Maricela gave, as well as the way she encouraged the woman to use the stove to boil water, was engaging and informative. I was truly impressed with the way she presented XelaTeco and the results she had from the members at the workshop. Most women were interested in purchasing the stoves and some were able to. XelaTeco’s ability to reach out to its audience and inform them so eloquently about the benefits of their products in relation to the environment, health care, and the money they will save shows me that they are able to go forward in sustaining their own business.

What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
The most rewarding moment for me was when I was with Dave in a community near El Tumbador, called Plan de Arena, on a site visit where we wanted to identify their potential to be the host of a micro-hydroelectric system. After determining that the river they had was adequate for this project, we told them that it would be good to have a letter of interest and involvement from them, confirming their motivation to take part.

Without another thought, the community leader, Don Ovidio, sat with Dave and I, took out his typewriter, and began typing the letter. When the letter was completed, the community members came to sign it one by one. The ones that could not write left their fingerprint on the paper. Their contribution to our visit felt fulfilling and priceless.

Who have you met who has inspired you the most and why?

Measuring river flow
The team is measuring the river’s flow to determine the potential for a
micro-hidroelectric system. Pictured: Dave Goosen , Don Carlos Cano (Community representative), and Jose Guzman (Ana Cafe)

The group of people who have inspired me the most are the members of Comunidad Nuevo Eden in San Marcos. The sixteen families in this community had until recently been refugees, having fled to Chiapas, Mexico to escape violence during the Guatemalan Civil War. They returned to Guatemala by choice after ten years with the help of the government. Many of the families that fled with them, however, preferred to stay in Mexico. Upon their return, they took to repairing and utilizing a coffee beneficiary and began working the dryers and other machinery. They also cultivate macadamia nuts.

What is most astounding about this group of individuals is how extremely well organized and interconnected they are. We came for a site visit because they were interested in a micro-hydroelectric system that would let them take advantage of the three rivers that run up to their community. The reason Neuvo Eden doesn’t have electricity like some of their neighboring communities is because at only sixteen families, their community is too small to qualify to receive power from the main supplier DEOXA.

Household members spoke to us about what motivated their desire to generate their own electricity. It almost always came down to one main objective: to have light so that their children could study at night and not have their eyes damaged by the dimness of candlelight which they currently use. In Nuevo Eden, not only do all the children attend the primary school located in the community, but families in neighboring communities also send their children there.

This community’s value of education and their children’s need to stay awake studying inspires me to help them gain the tools needed to create a better future for themselves.

Why did you choose AIDG?
I chose AIDG because its direction and presence in the NGO world is so unique and exiciting. While searching for jobs, I began learning more about the organization and was immediately inspired by its method of ensuring sustainability by incubating businesses administered by nationals of a country. AIDG’s solution to the challenges that the developing world faces through the development of technologies that take advantage of natural resources is a promising goal that I am so happy to be a part of.