By Cordelia Stewart
It was a truly incredible experience to be back in the beautiful mountainous region of Trojes, Honduras. Our days were full of coffee, Spanish, science, water, the PWW office, Coca Cola, y fútbol. One of the most rewarding component of being back in Honduras this summer was fully appreciating how well the biosand filters continue to perform. Although 12 of the schools still face challenges with access to their source water, it is always important to focus on the improvements in the schools that now have working filters and potable water.
Most of the time, students remained in class while we interviewed the teacher and took samples from their source water, filters, and their safe water storage bucket (the storage bucket was only studied in 12 of the 43 schools). In this school, students were running around when we arrived so we read Huevos verdes con jamón por Dr. Seuss (Green Eggs and Ham) together while one of my colleagues, Catherine Hopper, a microbiology professor at the University of Maine, collected samples from the source water.
For the vast majority of the days I was out in the field, there was at least one school where we couldn’t find the teacher to do the survey, source water was inaccessible and the filter had been abandoned, the keys to the school were missing, or the survey could be obtained but the filter was on the other side of a locked door. Fortunately, my impression of the success rate of our group was wildly skewed, as other team members such as my brother, Patrick, were on teams that were able to collect all of the data and survey information at every school visited. A silver lining with trouble collecting data in the field was the important lesson that outside of the lab setting, things inevitably change. Every morning was a scramble to reorganize the schedule to best logically fit the geographical locations of schools. Of course, without the hard work of Eva, a new PWW volunteer, and the PWW team, the success of that scramble would not have been possible. The diligence of the PWW team was what powered our study as the drivers faced daily challenges such as washed out roads due to rain, difficulty translating information about the filters, and absent teachers or keys preventing access to the filters.
The absolute highlight of my week occurred when we were able to return to where the girl (who couldn’t walk that I had met last summer) lived and we worked with PWW to get her connected to a doctor/rehab program in Trojes (see my first blog post called “Summertime is Water time” to see more about her story from last summer).
For more details on our Honduras trip, see posts from during the week:
Since returning to Maine, after a week of basketball camp I worked with Dr. Barbara Stewart on putting together a report summarizing the findings. Once a draft of the report had been edited and read over by many of our Honduras team members, I translated it into Spanish so the complete report could be useful to all of the PWW staff, regardless of their English level.
I also heard back from the UNC Water and Health conference and will be presenting a poster in October at the conference about the 2016 results on studying biosand filters in schools in Honduras. Before going back to Bowdoin, I collaborated with one of the Honduras team members, Julia Fasse, class of ’19 at Tufts University, to get a poster template ready to go for October. The reality of science is that nothing gets done without continual collaboration with other scientists and I appreciate all of the dedication and hard work of everyone I have worked with this summer.
Reflections: what’s the big deal, anyways?
Before this summer, I was fortunate enough to say that I had been to Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, and Honduras. As such, some might ask: so, what is the big deal of going back to Haiti and Honduras this summer? My response: everything. My biggest takeaway from interning with Pure Water was a ginormous sense of appreciation and inspiration for all that they do. I have witnessed first-hand the importance that each and every member of this organization does, whether it is administrative, volunteer-work or in-country employees in Haiti and Honduras. One reason for my unlimited gratitude is that while some students in Honduras are altogether absent from school due to excessive rain and people in Haiti are still rebuilding infrastructure after the disaster of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, PWW tirelessly brings hope to communities by improving water education and sanitation practices.