TGP's Clean Water Initiative with the Huillcapata School

The GREEN Program has been working in Peru dating back to April, 2014. Since then, GREEN has had over 8 programs involving over 80 students from 50+ universities represented globally. After the end of our winter program in January 2015, I was looking for more opportunities in the surrounding area to further involve our students, their educational skill sets, passions and drive to make a positive change in this world. This is when the Program Director at USIL (Universidad de San Ignacio de Loyola), Cristian Lopez Cerda, introduced me to the Huillcapata Elementary School, located 40 minutes outside of Cusco City. 

The Huillcapata School is located in the small town of Ccorao where 100 families call home and is predominately known as a farming community. This little slice of paradise is tucked away near the sacred valley and has some of the most beautiful and scenic views in the area

The school has around 60 students and aims to educate students from the ages of 3-13 using a similar hands-on approach to education that The GREEN Program takes such pride in. One of the school's current initiatives is to provide the students with breakfast every morning before classes begin. The school receives governmental aid to provide the food for the students, but this school takes it one step further. Huillcapata has been growing some of its own vegetables in addition to raising a few small animals on the school grounds to help provide a well-balanced, nutritious breakfast. 

What’s great about this model is that the school uses the food production as an opportunity to teach their students and bring them outside of the classroom for some experiential learning. For example, the school will use the greenhouse as a hands-on math tool in addition to a planting class. The students count the necessary amount of seeds, plant them, and learn how to tend to their new crops.

During that initial trip to the school, I noticed a lot of the projects from the greenhouse, trout farm, duck ponds, and composting bins were in much need of repair or reengineering to help reach their full operating potential. After seeing the sustainable opportunities at the school, I knew this would be GREEN’s next passion project in Peru.

Fast forward to March 2015, I returned to the Huillcapata Elementary School with our GREEN students who quickly fell in love with the kids, the school, and the possibilities available in this rural elementary school. Our students focused their capstone project on the different sustainable initiatives and projects that could be implemented at the school. Upon a successful capstone project, this was now our new roadmap for project implementation at the school. 

Going into a little more detail, our spring GREEN students looked into fixing the roof on the greenhouse, installing tops on the composting bins, and using recycled plastic bottles to create an up-cycled rainwater collection system.

Throughout our summer programs we were successful in the implementation of all of these projects. Each program this summer was able to bring a small portion of this capstone into fruition, but there is always more to do. This brings us to our most recent community service project endeavors: bringing clean water to the community of Huillcapata.

We noticed on our various GREEN trips to Huillicapata Elementary School that some of the children were getting sick from the unclean water. Most students could not afford proper treatment and would become even sicker; some students even contracting parasites and kidney stones. Therefore, the students would take longer to recover and miss school all because of unclean water.

Knowing this initiative would be a large project, we called on the help of 33 Buckets after GREEN CEO Melissa Lee met Swaroon Sridhar, a team member from 33 Buckets in the summer of 2015. Since then, GREEN worked with 33 Buckets to bring this project to life. 

33 Buckets is a Limited Liability Company (LLC), aiming to combat the shocking statistic that 783 million people in the world lack access to clean water, while 8 million people die from water-related diseases per year. 33 Buckets travels to rural communities that are in need of clean water on mission to educate the communities about clean water, sanitation, and hygiene along with implementing a self-sustaining water system for those communities. 

Upon connecting with 33 buckets, I worked with Mark Huerta, CEO and co-founder of 33 Buckets, to start the process of bring clean water to the children and families of Huillcapata Elementary School. 

After meeting with elected community officials and confirming that they were on board with this water sanitation project, Mark from 33 Buckets, Oscar and Jose from USIL, Agrepino, the director of the school, five members of the Water Management Committee (WMC), and I set out to assess the current drinking water situation in the community of Huillcapata in Ccorao. 

The 5 members of the WMC graciously took time off on the weekend to meet us at the school and tour us through the drinking water collection and distribution system. It was a very informative tour that provided much of the missing information to designing an appropriate solution. 

We discovered that there are a number of drainage collection points that gather rainwater from the side of a mountain in the upper part of the community. The water is then funneled into two main aquifers for storage. The water from these aquifers is then distributed to the community utilizing gravity. 

The upper aquifer has two main storage units and a shed which houses one of these units along with a chlorine system implemented by the Ministry of Health. The chlorine automatically drips into the water in the first storage unit. However, the amount of chlorine is not calculated and therefore, the residual concentration could be skewed. The water from the upper aquifer serves approximately 50 families living in the higher elevation of the community through a series of pipes. 

The community—not the ministry—built the lower aquifer. The water is not purified in any way at this point. Through a series of pipes, this aquifer serves another 50 families that live closer to the base and the water distributed at the school. 

It became clearly through our site visit that Agrepino and the members of the WMC were very receptive of the idea of implementing a clean water distribution platform. They previously charged 1 sol/month/family to maintain the current system and are open to new models of generating revenue to maintain a new system.

We got to work right away, collecting various water samples and sending them to Laboratorio Louis Pasteur in Cusco for a comprehensive water analysis. 

Later, we met Raul from the Autoridad Nacional del Agua (ANA) with Jose. This meeting was crucial, as it helped us uncover how to maneuver one of the biggest obstacles in solving the clean water problem in Peru. It turns out that many of these small communities are not recognized by ANA because they do not have a license for the water system. 

In order to acquire a license, a community needs to hire an engineer for 1,500 soles (<$500 USD) to fill out the proper documentation and submit it to ANA. This piece of information was very significant because with the license, the community can then submit a project proposal to an organization called la Programa Nacional de Santamiento Rural, which apparently has a 1 billion sole (almost $300 million) budget. I knew then that if 33 Buckets, The Green Program, and USIL could work together to organize these communities, funding could be acquired to make change on a large-scale. 

After water sampling, extensive research, licensing meetings, and hours of designing a new system, we were ready to complete the project. This project involved improving the current water infrastructure, building a shed, implementing a filtration system, educating the students/community-members, and assisting the WMC in setting up the water distribution channels. Seeing our progress in the project, the municipality even came forward to help us. 

During our implementation in May, the government and school helped us run a water sanitation day for the families of the Huillcapata children and surrounding communities. The class explained how microbes and bacteria in the water could cause sickness, emphasizing the importance of water sanitation. 

While the children were guaranteed free access to clean water at school, this water sanitation day helped convince many parents to buy into the system, so their children would have clean drinking water at home. Half the money generated from our self-sustaining sanitation system would go to the school—ultimately helping the children—and the other half would go to the employee maintaining the system. 

Overall, the clean water initiative was a great success, as the children of Huillcapata Elementary School and community received clean drinking water. We even have plans for our future GREEN students to paint the shed, housing the sanitation system on the next trip to Peru!

Written by: Colleen Burns

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