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Researchers of the Month

February 2011

SB Global Water Brigade - Honduras

Brianna DiMasso, Environmental Studies (ecology concentration)Jose HernandezBusiness ManagementNicole IzzoEnvironmental Studies (Marine concentration)*Brittany Kalosza, Sociology & Women's Studies; Juhyun KimBiology (environmental concentration)Elizabeth Lugten, 
Environmental StudiesLaura Morella, Sociology; *Anna Veit, Marine Sciences;Joy Marie VirgaPolitical Science & Women's Studies;
Daniel Zori (graduate Student- Environmental Management).Global Water Brigades-SB chapter, President: Amamah Sardar, Environmental Studies.

Faculty Mentor/Advisor: Dr. Malcolm Bowman, SoMAS

Access to clean water is not a given for everyone on our planet. 

WaterBrigadesIdentifying communities most in need, Global Water Brigades (GWB) works to establish new, sustainable water systems through education and training as well as engineering & infrastructure. GWB is one of 9 programs within Global Brigades, an international student-led organization that mobilizes university volunteers across campuses worldwide in response to global challenges in developing countries. The GWB website explains that "nearly one billion people lack access to safe water. Water Brigades designs and implements water systems to prevent water related illnesses in communities with limited access to clean water. With a sufficient quantity of properly treated water community members can cut off the connection between water and illness and ultimately live healthier more productive lives. ...With a holistic approach to development we plan to continue working with communities to improve their health and standard of living through the most fundamental resource on the planet, water."

WaterBrigadeThe village of Guaricayan, in the mountains of Honduras, is one such community in need, a place where it is estimated that clean water alone would lead to a drop in infant mortality by at least 50%. And this is how it came about that a remote village in Honduras, located a few hours from Tegucigalpa, became the destination this past January for a group of volunteers from the Stony Brook chapter of Global Water Brigades. SB’s Global Brigadeers include undergraduates Brianna DiMasso, Jose Hernandez, Nicole Izzo, Brittany Kalosza, Juhyun Kim, Elizabeth Lugten, Laura Morella; Anna Veit, Joy Marie Virga; Daniel Zori (graduate student); and the club’s faculty advisor, Distinguished Service Professor Malcolm Bowman of SoMAS. Working together with peers from Johns Hopkins University, SB’s Water Brigadeers took up shovels and pick axes, dug trenches, and experienced first hand what it was to be part of a large-scale public health/infrastructure project for installing a potable water reticulation system. A week of volunteering and learning began with physical labor and culminated in a community-service day where SB students interacted with many of the village children, not only playing soccer but giving lessons on hygiene and public health practices through songs & games such as "microbe tag." The SB chapter of Global Water Brigades plans to host an exhibit on Global Water Brigades/Honduras at the annual SB Earthstock event on April 29th. AnnaVeitandchild

Support for this project was provided by Stony Brook University's Office of the Vice President for Research, the School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, and URECA. Two students, Brittany Kalosza and Anna Veit, recently spoke with Karen Kernan, URECADirector, about this out-of the classroom experience which has had such an impact on their lives. Excerpts are included below.

Photos, courtesy of Prof. Malcolm Bowman 
1. (top) 
The Water Brigade!
2. (left) Joy, Nicole, Liz.
3. (belowright). Anna & a boy at the local orphanage
4. (below, left) Cow watching over work of Brittany, Laura, Rachel (coordinator) 
5. (below, right ) Girl filling up buckets & water containers. 
6. (bottom, left) Welding the PVC water pipe joints. Malcolm, Nicole and Liz. 

The Interview

Karen: How long have you been involved with Global Water Brigades?

Anna: This is my first trip, my first involvement with it. But as soon as I heard about it, I had to go!

Brittany: I heard about it last year from the president of the club, Amamah Sardar, who is one of the residents in my building. Amamah was telling me how every year a group of Stony Brook students go to Honduras. She told stories about the trips they’ve gone on, and the amazing experiences they had. Last year, I tried to go but I couldn’t get the money together in time. So this year I was able to go.

Karen: What was your goal?

Anna: Our goal was to work toward completion of an all gravity-driven water system for a village called Guaricayan. It’s in a rural portion of the mountains of Honduras. The government constructed a water system for the community in 1987 but it was poorly constructed. The tubing that they used was mostly metal [not PVC] and a lot of the calcium and minerals in the water precipitated out and clogged the pipes, which were also not wide enough in diameter to start with.

Brittany:  The system in place was terribly designed… it wasn’t built to last. A lot of pipes were above-ground, just laying there. If a rock fell or a pipe burst, you were done—the whole system was gone. It wasn’t built to be sustained by the community. For the first 3 days, we were there digging ditches, trenches. Most of the trenches had to be above our knee so that our pipes would be protected from being driven over. We were gluing and laying down pipes running down the streets to the homes.

WaterBrigadesAnna.  Global Brigades builds the trenches through the main roads, but then the individual families are responsible for digging the trench up to their own house. Even younger boys in their teens who may not live in a separate house from their families also work for the right to have water in the future. This water is a huge deal for the community, not just for the water itself, and cooking, cleaning, & drinking – but now, they can develop the community. While we were there, we even saw construction beginning on a house that the Global Brigades leader said hadn’t been touched in months. All of a sudden, once there is the promise of water, the house is starting to be constructed. There’s a lot more hope ….

Karen: And the drinking water quality?...

FillingwaterAnna: Basically, right now, the residents of Guaricayan can go days without any water whatsoever.  So they leave their faucets open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the event that water does trickle out any given point of the day. They fill every container that they can possibly get their hands on with water. The system stopped working over 10 years ago – so the community members have been drinking untreated water for years at this point. Guaricayan was identified to have a high need based on health issues that arise in the community, mostly from parasites, from drinking untreated water. It’s a subsistence agricultural community …and the impact of drinking untreated water is big. The people in the community miss days of work, kids can’t go to school, and the nearest health center is a good hour-and-a-half,  2 hour-walk away ….

Britanny: You really learn while you’re there how everything is connected. Access to clean water affects whether or not some of these communities can live on or die out. If they don’t have access to water, then they can’t tend to their crops, and they have a really high infant mortality rate. . . It’s all connected to water. The water system we worked on is being built so that the water will have a few different methods of filtration, and will kill the parasites. The idea is that soon, parasites won’t be a daily problem for them. So when the villagers do go to the doctor, the Medical Brigades who are treating members of the community can focus on diagnosing bigger issues—cancers and certain other illnesses and diseases not connected to having clean water. If they had access to clean water, the people in the community could take care of themselves much better. It really seems like in places like this, the government really doesn’t care if the people live or die.

Karen: What‘s going to happen, as far as maintaining the water quality? Will the water be monitored?

Anna: It’s going to be chlorinated— basically just with powdered bleach. It’s going to drip down into the water tank in small amounts so that it’s diluted. It’ll be tested. And the community will be  responsible for their own maintenance and materials once the water system is in place. The PVC piping is designed to last for years and years. The water system that’s going in place now should be good for 20+ years.

Karen: What kind of activities did you participate in?

GlobalWaterBrigades2011Anna: The first day we got to hike up the mountains, see the new dam that’s being constructed, and the piping that’s being put in place by previous college groups. We got to go see the old water system, the old water tank, and see why that no longer works, what went wrong with it, what they’ve done to correct it with the new water system. We interacted with members of the community. We worked pick-axeing and shoveling trenches, two feet deep by a foot wide. The first few days, we primarily got to know the men in the community.

Brittany: We also did a lot of community education on hygiene, how to protect your watershed, how to protect your water source, teaching the kids primarily.  We interacted also with the women in the community who brought the kids. They wanted to see what they were learning, and try to implement that in their homes. Many of the children haven’t had adequate access to water or never had water delivered from a pipe. A lot of them might have heard you’re supposed to wash their hands but never had water to do this …So we did did education on: what are germs? Where do they come from? Why is it important to clean? That sort of thing. It was strange in a way for me to be teaching kids as old as 14 years – how to wash your hands. For us, it's something we’re taught before we even start school. But some of the kids had never heard that before.

Karen: Did they teach you how to teach? Did you get training?

Anna: We put together the lesson ourselves, and translated it into Spanish. We came up with a skit, a game, and a song to teach to them. We drew pictures. We played “microbe tag”. We had little pieces of green paper that we cut and used as "microbes" as our tool when we talked about washing hands. At first, the expectation of having to teach the lesson was a little nerve wracking for all of us. Because the lesson was all in Spanish, and it was supposed to be an hour long. But once you’re doing it, it was so easy. The kids are so excited to learn!

Karen: So the language wasn’t much of a barrier?

Anna: It reminded me that connecting with people doesn’t require words, doesn’t require a conversation. That basic human connections and emotions are ground in being with people, and laughing. And just the smiles on their faces, joking without words, and making eye contact. It was humbling. The people we met have much less in terms of material goods than we do . . . They are just so grateful that we were there. In one of the houses, one of the women kept saying "thank you thank you thank you." She gave cookies that she had made and prayed over us. 

Brittany: Some of the kids and teenagers were really, really excited to talk to us too— really excited to have brigades coming in.

Karen: Was it hard to come back? To get re-adjusted?

Brittany: My friend Laura and I are both RAs on campus. When we came back to the States, we came right here for training. The first time we walked into the SAC, I started tearing up. Back in Honduras, these people do manual labor all day long, tend to fields. Sometimes the dry season is too dry, and they don’t have water to water the crops, and the crops don’t grow, and they don’t eat. But here, we just walk across the street and we have all the food we want. We take ten minute long showers. So coming back, turning on the faucet, being able to flush the toilet....I almost felt guilty just being here. What makes me different? Just that I was born here and so I have all these things?

Karen: It sounds like you really connected with the other students too.

Anna: We did. We were down there the same time as a group from Johns Hopkins University. Usually, when two schools are down there for GWB, each group works on their own project. But with us, on the first day, everyone hit it off so well that we decided to do everything together. We were pretty much inseparable! We blended immediately, and it was really nice. We hope to have a reunion and keep in touch with everyone…. …You can ‘t share an experience like that and not be bonded together. Most of us cried when we were leaving and had that sinking feeling when the plan took off from Tegucigalpa.

BrittannyWhen you’re down there, you get so close to that group of people you’re working with. You’re really, really close. You get to know people much more than you would ordinarily.....We’re trying to set up events now to stay connected.

Karen: It also sounds very well organized, your week-long experience there.

Anna: Yes, it was. The whole week is scheduled for you. You get there, and you have meetings every night to discuss what’s going on, to talk about your feelings, how it’s starting to impact you, and what you plan to do.

Brittany: The way that Brigades sets it up, every night we have these hour or two-hour long reflection meetings. We talk about what we did that day, how it made us feel. What it means to us, and what it means to the community. From the very beginning, the staff members told us we’re going to realize while we’re here that the communities don’t need us for the manual labor. They could do all that by themselves. The reason why Global Brigades gets college students involved is because …to be able to work with these communities and help out with these projects, we really need to be thinking about why we’re here, and what we’re expecting to get out of this trip. What we’re hoping for. And to map, with each experience in the community, how working in Honduras is changing us and changing our goals. They reminded us every night, “Be thinking about why you’re here. What are you getting out of this? What are you taking back with you to the States?” This community in Guaricayan: yes, they’re getting water and they’re learning a lot from us, but we’re learning so much from them, and from being able to work with them. So a big part of the program with Global Brigades is your own personal development.

Karen: Has the experience helped clarify long-term goals? 

: I think realistically what I’d like to do now is work for Global Brigades. I’ve started talking to human resources director about internships.

Brittanny: A lot of us were wondering about the future, and had worries about grad school. Part of my goal for going to Honduras was deciding whether or not to get a masters in public health. I wanted to make sure this was something I enjoyed doing, to make sure that the public health part of it is something I'd really connect with. And I did! Some of us knew that when we went there that we were going to dig trenches, set up a water system and have an education day. But when you’re down there, you realize how much this experience is really going to change your outlook on life, on your future. Just from one week! Some of us decided then and there that we wanted to work in development fields and with public health. You can talk about the trip as much as you want. But to really understand what we learned and what we took from that experience, you have to go down there and do it. Which is why, for next year, and years after…we’re trying to get more and more students to be able to go on the GWB trips. What we’re bringing back to the Stony Brook community is so much bigger than what we brought down there. The outlook and the new look on life that we’re bringing back is such a part of it. You come back feeling so renewed. It really puts everything in perspective.

Anna: I feel like I got more from the community members at Guaricayan than I gave them. My life is forever changed!

Brittany: Absolutely! It was the best few days of my life. It’s one of those experiences that rubs your soul raw. I feel like we took a lot more from them and their community than they did from our physical labor. It was really one of the most amazing experiences I could have ever had!

**link to photos:

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