East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta

(This post has been updated – a second time – to include an update of how the community of Cienegueta was faring, about six years later, in late 1994.)

(This post has been edited to include a couple of newspaper articles about the completion of the water system in Cienegueta.)

A few months ago I began a new journey here: writing about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall and, each time, reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

The seventh of the 48 peaks that I summited was Osceola East (4156 ft, 1267 m), which is slightly to the Northwest of Mt Osceola.  (The first part of this hike, up Mt Osceola, was described in my previous posting in this series.)

I went up both Osceolas on 10 June 2016, a solo hike, leaving from Tripoli Road, just west of Waterville Valley:

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The hike over to East Osceola from Mt Osceola was a bit harder than it looks, with a significant drop between the two peaks.  And once I got to the top of East Osceola, it was a bit late for lunch – but the only place to stop with a view was full of hikers and dogs.  So I continued a bit, going down towards Greeley Ponds.  It was a bit steep, so I had to go quite far to find a place for lunch…

The trip back to Tripoli Road was uneventful but it was good to be out in the woods on a nice June day.

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I wrote earlier about joining Plan International and moving to Tuluá, Colombia as Assistant Field Director in Plan’s office there.  As I described, Plan was growing and changing very quickly, and the Tuluá Field Office was one of 13 offices that were piloting the changes that the organization was putting in place to handle that growth.  Because of that, and because of the leadership of the Tuluá Field Director, Monique van’t Hek, and her Colombian staff, it was an exciting place to work.  I learned a great deal during those years.

Last time, I described what it was like living in Tuluá in the late 1980’s – despite the rapidly-mounting conflicts there, and across the country, it was a great place to live.

After Jean and I had been in Colombia for two years, Monique left Plan and I was appointed to replace her as Field Director in Tuluá.  Then, a year later, we moved to Quito, where I worked in Plan’s Regional Office in Quito, first as Area Manager for Ecuador and Bolivia, and then as Regional Director for South America.  I’ll describe those years in upcoming blog postings.

But first, one more story needs to be told about my time in Tuluá: the water system we built in Cienegueta.

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There were a number of informal settlements in and around Tuluá in those days.  One of them, Cienegueta, was an “invasion” of land Southeast of the center of town, along the road toward La Rivera.  This map is from Google Maps, and is present-day, so not completely representative of the situation in 1988:

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Cienegueta’s location is indicated by the red circle here.  Here is a satellite view, again present-day – with the settlement shown by red arrows.  You can see the houses along the side of the road:

 

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People had “invaded” land alongside the road sometime in the past.  They were sandwiched between the road and land belonging to the local landowner “Doña Fanny”, which seems today to be the site of an “antinarcoticos” base.  In the late 1980’s, the police academy “Simon Bolivar” existed where it’s shown on these maps, but the anti-narcotics base was not there – the area where the red arrows are placed in the image, above, where it also says “Antinarcoticos” – that was Doña Fanny’s land in those days…

Because Cienegueta was an informal settlement (an “invasion”), they lacked basic services – no electricity, no waste disposal, no water.  It was politically difficult to provide basic services as the people were “illegally” occupying part of a public roadway.  There was an agricultural canal that ran through the settlement, where residents washed their clothes.  People, mostly children, carried water from that canal to their homes for domestic use.

The situation in Cienegueta was complex.  Like Tuluá in general, there were high levels of conflict and violence.  I think that the situation was exacerbated in Cienegueta by their location so close to the police academy – perhaps counter-intuitively, being so close to the academy seemed to greatly increase levels of crime, use of alcohol and other substances, and social conflict in Cienegueta.

But there were many children living in Cienegueta, so our organization (Plan International) took an interest in the situation.

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In this post, I mainly want to share photos of the work we did in Cienegueta.  Not much text, just what it looked like.

So, to start, here is an image of one of the early community meetings in Cienegueta, where we worked with the community to get organized for the project.  The woman in the blue and white stripes, on the right, was elected to lead the project for the community:

 

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An Early Community Meeting

 

We always found that the most important factor in the success, or failure, of any water system was how well the community came together to make the project a reality.  In Cienegueta the community was quite united in its desire to build the water project, despite having some deep conflicts.  The fact that they were carrying water all the time was a big motivation!

One of the tasks that the community took on – at least initially – was digging the trenches for the water distribution network.  We insisted that the trenches be at least a meter deep, just to protect the PVC tubing from damage from vehicles, the sun, etc.  But digging that deeply alongside a road was hard work in a hot climate:

 

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Digging For The Water Network

 

Each family was responsible for digging a trench from the main distribution network to their own household.  Kids often helped out with this:

 

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Digging For A Household Connection

 

Here we can see the PVC tubing being delivered to Cienegueta:

 

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Bringing The Water Tubes To Cienegueta

 

And now we are gluing the tubes.  That’s me in the red shirt, the head of the water committee (smiling at the camera from inside the trench), and Oscar Arley Gómez in the white shirt with his back to the camera.  Oscar Arley was Plan’s health coordinator, a dynamic and smart man, and he wanted to learn how to glue PVC tubing!

You can see here, in the background, that a back-hoe was helping dig the trenches at this point.  The walls of the trenches are too straight to have been dug by hand!  The community was able to get the Municipality of Tuluá to assign the back-hoe to the Cienegueta project for a few days – thank you again, Mayor Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazabal!

 

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Gluing The PVC Tubing

 

After we glued the tubing, it was placed at the bottom of the trenches, and covered:

 

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Laying The Tubes

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Covering The Tubes

 

As we worked down the hill, digging trenches, gluing tubes, and covering it all up again, the community participated and watched with interest:

 

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A Young Cieneguetan Woman

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Two Children In Cienegueta

 

There was already a water tank at the top of the hill, which was lucky for us.  But it wasn’t big enough.  And since were were taking water from an open canal, we needed to filter the water.

Here members of the community are excavating for the storage and treatment tanks.  The only place with room for these tanks was on Doña Fanny’s land, so we had to negotiate with her.  She was reluctant, because she feared that the people living in Cienegueta would start to occupy her land as well as the roadway, but in the end she agreed and we built the treatment plant:

 

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Excavating For The Treatment Plant

We built the new water-storage tank, and the slow-sand filter, using the same “ferrocement” techniques that I had developed in Ecuador a few years earlier; for details, see my earlier blog in this series.

Here you can see the formwork being assembled, using locally-available bamboo instead of the roofing tins we used in Cañar:
Formwork For The Water Storage Tank

Plastering the outside of the water storage tank:

 

Plastering The Outside Of The Water Storage Tank

Plastering The Outside Of The Water Storage Tank

 

Plastering the inside of the slow-sand filter.  The formwork for the water storage tank can be seen to the right:

 

Plastering The Inside Of The Water Treatment Tank

Plastering The Inside Of The Slow Sand Filter Tank

 

Eccehomo was the Plan technician who supervised the tank construction, he’s the man in blue, with his hand raised:

 

Plastering The Inside Of The Water Treatment Tank

Plastering The Inside Of The Slow Sand Filter Tank

 

Here we are filling the new water storage tank.  Unlike in Cañar, I was pretty confident that the tank would hold water this time!:

 

Filling The Water Storage Tank

Filling The Water Storage Tank

 

Here is a view of the treatment plant, with the storage tank in the foreground and the slow sand filter just visible below.  Dwellings can be seen alongside the road:

 

The Water Storage Tank

The Water Storage Tank.  The slow-sand filter is just visible below the storage tank…

 

Yes, it held water!:

 

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The Water Storage Tank – Filled!

 

Here we are testing the water distribution network, and water is arriving at the house of the water committee chairperson:

 

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Water arrives.

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Water arrives for the first time.

 

Once the water system was done, we had a big party to celebrate.  Here are some images of the event, and you might notice a guy with dark sunglasses: he was playing me in a skit!

 

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Here are a couple of articles from the local Tuluá paper, “El Tabloide”, covering the completion of the water system in Cienegueta:

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Perhaps by coincidence, Plan sent a photographer from headquarters to Tuluá those days, and I took her up to Cienegueta.  The photos she took were fantastic, and one was even chosen for Plan’s Annual Report that year.

I got an enlarged copy of that photo, which was of a boy enjoying having water in his home for the very first time.  It’s one of my favorites, and now has a special place on the wall here at home:

 

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UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2016:

Recently I found a document related to our work in Cienegueta.

Many years later, in December of 1994, I was working at Plan’s headquarters in the UK, and I was about to make a presentation about the Cienegueta project to staff members there.  The idea was to give them a sense of how their work, even from headquarters far away from communities, was having a positive effect on poverty.

I reached out to the head of the Tuluá office at that point, Gladys Enid Hurtado, who wrote me back:

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The relevant section of this memo reads, in English:

“The water system in Cienegueta has gone very well.  It’s one of the projects that the community most highlights, and on the day of our farewell they did so.  In Cienegueta (after the water system completion) various projects have been carried out: health post, toilets for the school, legalization of land tenure, literacy, electricity installation (this last project will be carried out this fiscal year).  These projects have been very successful.”

I was very happy to read this, especially that the people living in Cienegueta now had legal title to their land.

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Next time, some reflections on working across South America from Plan’s Regional Office in Quito…

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Here are earlier posts in this series – climbing 48 New Hampshire peaks and reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá.
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11 thoughts on “East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta

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