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The After-Graduation Series: Building a water tank in rural Guatemala

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.

Chicken wire, re-bar, and cement.  With a combination of these three basic ingredients and help from the community, volunteers from CasaSito,  and a partnership with UCLA’s Engineers Without Borders (UCLA EWB), another water tank is very close to being completed in a rural Guatemalan village called Chocantariy.

I happened upon this specific project because I’m living in CasaSito’s volunteer house, which houses volunteers from countries all around the world for a very reasonable price, with all proceeds going to support their work within the community. Primarily, CasaSito is an NGO that focuses on rural education, but they also have a community development fund for building water tanks. They know that clean water is essential for the health of the community, and to date, they’ve helped to build around 18 water tanks in the areas surrounding Chocantariy, Guatemala.

The team hard at work

The need for a community development fund at CasaSito came from a partnership with an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) group from UCLA. According to an article on the group’s website,

Chocantariy lies on the continental divide, and has distinct rainy and dry seasons, each lasting about six months. During the rainy season, the collection of clean water for drinking and sanitation does not pose a problem for the people of the village. In the dry season, however, they must walk long distances to collect water from pools, which are often contaminated…The collection systems built by the group would provide a clean, safe source of water for an additional three months during the area’s dry season.

Our group from CasaSito was comprised of about 6 people–some Americans, some Germans, and a Brazilian. We were all there giving what we had–time, skills, and a willingness to learn. In exchange, we were given hot lunches cooked by the mother of the family, Quiche lessons (the predominant language in Chocantariy), and a lesson in building a water tank.

Here’s a video that the UCLA EWB produced to show what it means to build a water tank in Chocantariy:

Engineers Without Borders- UCLA, Guatemalan Water Project

In order to be added to the waiting list of water tanks, one must put in time helping to build a neighbor’s water tank. Not only does this help the community become more invested in itself, but it ensures that the project is sustainable–people are constantly teaching and learning the skills of how to provide clean water for their community.

Posted on: December 14, 2010, 9:00 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , ,

4 Responses

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  1. Laura Stephenson said

    Hey Rachel,

    So exciting to hear you’ll soon be in New Zealand. A friend of a friend has built earth domes (basically, they’re housing made out of whatever material is around) there. If you’re interested, I can certainly send him an email.

    Can’t wait to hear about New Zealand,

  2. Laura Stephenson said

    Hi Rory,

    So good to receive a comment from you–I’ve heard a lot of good things about your work here. Where are you in the world now? Are you doing related work?


  3. Rory Healy said

    Hi Laura! Reading your article brought me back to Chocantariy! I used to volunteer with Casasito as well and had the time of my life working in Chocantariy and Tierra Colorada with all the locals like Alfonso and Estevan!!! Such an awesome experience and worthwhile project! So happy to see others like you have taken part as well! Viva la Asociacion Casasito!!:)

  4. Rachel Glaeser said

    Laura, it appears you are making quite a difference in Guatemala and receiving priceless knowledge and experience in return. Hope you are doing well! I have left Carrboro and will be traveling to New Zealand in February for a few weeks. I wish you all the best in your 2011 endeavors.

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