08 February 2010

The PCV Approach

The PCV Approach is based on my service as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the Republic of Panama from 2007 to 2009.

The Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) strives to be eternal. She temporarily lives in and becomes a part of a community, first and foremost, and then works with her neighbors on locally grown initiatives to build permanent leadership and knowledge that can perpetually grow benefits for the community. Using her temporary presence to contribute indefinitely to the local development process, the PCV aims for sustainability in the deepest sense.

One of the first phases of the PCV Approach is integration. Essentially, the PCV becomes a part of the community and gains trust to such an extent that the novelty of being a foreigner dissipates. This is a critical hurdle to jump for several reasons. First, it improves communication: a conversation where there is mutual trust is much more likely to represent the true values of the locals. Embarrassment, shame, fears, a desire to impress, or a simple disinterest in talking with a stranger can all drastically skew the information received by a development worker. With the community, or at least select community members, feeling comfortable with and trusting the PCV, she can gather much more reliable information.

This is a significant advantage of the PCV Approach: the degree of trust and comfort that a PCV can develop over many months of living as a member of the community. This is not a phenomena of people from other countries only; a person from a significantly different context within the country, e.g., higher income, education, or rural/urban can experience the same. The cultural divide between people of higher socio-economic status and people living in poverty can be extreme even within a small spatial area, as was the case between Limón and government officials in the provincial capital not five miles away as the Harpy Eagle flies. Nothing can compare to the bonding experience of participating in local customs and showing appreciation for the community culture. This sort of immersion into the culture allows the people to feel more comfortable with the development worker, ultimately contributing to the legitimacy of the stakeholder involvement in any prospective intervention.

As a second benefit of integration, the PCV has a much clearer path to identifying the sensitivities of the place, including marginalized groups, controversies, and conflicts. A development intervention could fail or be detrimental if it does not diligently avoid irritating existing conflicts; it could contribute to greater community integration by addressing issues of marginalized groups. An understanding of these intricacies is fundamental to sustainable development, yet by their very nature – forming a system completely unique to the local context – an outsider can only hope for a blurred snapshot.

While learning about the people and place, a crucial component of integration is the identification of leaders. The local leaders are the gate through which the PCV contributes to community development. As part of the prospective “beneficiary” group, these leaders are supremely knowledgeable of the people and place, are highly respected, and can contribute to community development in perpetuity. The PCV strives for community knowledge and respect, and can have some advantages over locals in this respect, including a development-oriented mindset to aid in searching for knowledge and neutrality with which to build universal respect. Regardless of the limited advantages attainable by the PCV over a local leader, the PCV is temporary.

To limit the process of development (with respect to time) to the presence of a temporary development worker or intervention in the community is antithetical to the “deep” view of sustainable international development that is synonymous with the PCV Approach. For the purposes of this analysis, deep sustainability is the acquisition of skills and knowledge for and the realization of organic propagation of development in the long run; this is in line with the idea of capacity development and Amartya Sen’s development as freedom. Deep sustainability exists where the benefits of an intervention grow indefinitely. Surface-level sustainability can be seen as consideration for the environmental, social, and economic complexity of an intervention, which is more in line with the Brundtland conception. Of course, both forms are important.

Both levels of sustainability can be observed through the Limón latrine project. At the surface level, the project was sustainable for bearing little if any cost of maintenance, use of local materials, and labor and material contributions from each beneficiary; the lack of maintenance costs prevents deterioration and abandonment of the latrines, local materials are renewable within nature or affordably delivered from the provincial capital, and beneficiary contributions confirm the demand for the latrines. It is important to note that these surface-level sustainability points do not extend much if at all beyond the boundary of the project. At a deeper level, the project was locally initiated, locally designed, locally managed, locally evaluated, and even partly locally financed; local coordinators realized nearly all aspects of the project of their own capacity with only support and training from me. They have the proven skills for organizing the community around an idea, composing it within the framework of a project, and implementing it. The process behind the latrine project can be used to organically effect community development through future projects; naturally, the actual application of the skills to future projects is a critical component of deep sustainability. Sustainability in this sense generates benefit beyond the boundaries, including time, of the project.

The example seems straightforward, but instances of deep sustainability are of a gray scale. The deeper purpose of a latrine is to improve health, and through this higher status of health a person can contribute more to her own development than a person who is sick or dying. In this way, the latrines in and of themselves can be seen as sustainable in a deep sense. However, the latrine has a finite life. A person too has a lifetime, but he can transfer skills and knowledge to others during his lifetime. The blurring continues, as one could argue that the latrine indeed transfers its benefit on to the user who is then able to better transfer skills and knowledge to others. Regardless of the arguments that may exist over whether some point is or is not painted pitch black with deep sustainability, maximization of an intervention’s deep sustainability – striving for indefinite growth of an intervention’s benefits – is unarguably desirable. The PCV Approach is about finding the darkest gray available.

The latrine project described above exemplifies a deeply sustainable intervention that came from the initiative of local leaders. The PCV Approach depends on such local initiative. Discussions with local leaders in particular and the community in general will provide a glimpse into the development interests of the community. The community-held interests are then informed by the PCV as she shares information about transforming the idea into a project and the guidance she can provide. The PCV ensures that the community understands clearly that she will not initiate, fund, nor carry the weight of a project; she will support local leaders throughout the project, in developing it, identifying prospective funding sources, and managing the process, but it is up to the community to determine what that project will be and to make it a reality. This is for three reasons: to ensure that the community does not simply wait to be developed, instead grabbing the proverbial reigns; to ensure that the community actually has the skills and knowledge to grab the reigns, e.g., to initiate projects on their own; and to ensure that the PCV does not impose on the community. Furthermore, the PCV suggests that she will only collaborate on community projects, i.e., those projects that are of or for a significant portion of the community. The PCV Approach is about supporting local initiatives, not telling communities what to do; for the former, it is important to prevent a situation where the community holds back from initiating a project as they wait for the PCV to initiate it on her own.

As with every other aspect of the project, the community must be able to lead the transition of an idea into a project. It is perhaps the biggest step to be taken: it requires a high level of self-confidence and hope on the part of the initiator. Once the idea is a project it is visible to the entire community; it could fail in front of the community, and the weight of the failure would be disproportionately carried by the leader. The PCV thusly uses her relationship with the local leaders effectively to ensure they are able to see a feasible path to realization of a project. When local leaders understand that opportunities exist, they begin to explore them with the PCV and other community members.

A PCV’s involvement is always controversial. It is all but impossible to prevent some benefit of her work from being dependent on her presence. For example, encouragement of local leaders from the PCV can be necessary leading up to the local initiation of a project; this encouragement is of the PCV and thus the organic nature of the subsequent initiation is tainted. When the PCV has left along with her encouraging words, the local leaders may not be able to get past this initial hurdle for taking on other community development projects. One argument against this is that such encouragement remains and applies to future actions of the community, like a learned skill. Regardless, the PCV Approach is about maximizing community capacity to perpetually grow its own development. If perfection does not exist, continuously striving for deeper sustainability is the best option. For example, communicating to community members the importance of encouraging their leaders to initiate a project may lead to a deeper level of sustainability than would a development worker doing the actual encouraging.

We can see an example of local initiation in the PCV Approach if we look back to the events leading up to the Limón latrine project. Once I had developed a strong relationship with the community in general and local leaders in particular, I began exploring interests of my community-wide neighbors, including new latrines, improvements to the water supply system, English language lessons, and improvement of the trail to the nearest road. I began sharing with the community members more about how I could be of assistance, including indicating that I had no money to give, could refer them to funding sources, could train them in all aspects of a project, had technical knowledge of and experience with latrines and water supply systems, and had no language-teaching experience nor training. Many months passed at this stage, which allowed me to further strengthen my relationship with and learn more about the community, though not much else (in Limón).

I had been living in Limón for nine months before a community leader, Paulino, invited me to attend a meeting about a latrine initiative. Paulino had been elected by the community to lead a group of locals who liaise with the Ministry of Health (in a loose sense), so there was a degree of formality to his leadership in Limón. I had spent a great deal of time with Paulino and he had come to be my closest friend in the community. I had discussed with him in great detail my abilities and interest in collaborating with the community, and he had inquired extensively into the possibilities. While causation is far from clear, the fact that he was the first to initiate a project with me correlates well with the aims of the PCV Approach. With Paulino as the principal local coordinator, the process of developing the latrine project had formally begun.

Developing and managing a project through the PCV Approach utilizes the same concepts as initiating it. Information is provided to facilitate the realization of each step by local leaders, now coordinators. This includes training on budgeting, timelines, work schedules, delegation of duties, and other general areas of project development and management; advising the coordinators on feasibility of project timelines and budgets, for example, is a valuable role for the PCV. In terms of budgets, the PCV Approach involves minimizing costs of a project by maximizing contributions from the community; this has the added benefit of ensuring demand for and local ownership of the project. The community information previously acquired instills in the PCV an additional valuable role at this stage. The economic, social, and environmental specifics, i.e., surface-level sustainability, are incorporated into the design of the project through constructive discourse with the coordinators; here the PCV can serve as a voice for marginalized communities and unrepresented viewpoints without imposing. It is important that the coordinators have the ultimate say on whether or not to incorporate the suggestions of the PCV; they are the ones who must advocate for and carry the project, so their ownership of it is essential. If the project veers away from the desires of the coordinators, the coordinators are likely to veer away from the project. Where the PCV judges that there is a need to influence the project development, if her case is compelling and her respect in the community is strong then the coordinators will be more likely to incorporate her thoughts. As in many other areas of the PCV Approach, efforts to incorporate surface-level sustainability through discourse with the coordinators prioritizes deep sustainability, as opposed to viewing surface-level sustainability of the isolated project as the end goal. Discussing the pertinent surface-level sustainability issues with the coordinators in a way that enhances their ability to recognize and address these issues in general is the goal; through training (in a loose sense), the PCV can effect surface-level sustainability in a way that is deeply sustainable.

Development of a project overlaps with management of it. Once a plan is set, implementation can begin; this occurs in many steps as opposed to planning everything and then implementing everything. Where money is needed, an important step will be developing a budget and then searching for funding. The PCV serves as a source of information about possible funding sources. Funding sources that can be accessed by the community without the PCV, e.g., after the PCV has left, are the most preferable in terms of deep sustainability. For example, locally-based governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations can be solicited for support by anyone able to access their offices, whereas an NGO in the USA can only be solicited with internet or phone access. It is an unfortunate fact of the PCV Approach that local funding is not always available. The project may need to be adjusted to accommodate a level of funding lower than the initial plan, as an example of a development-implementation step. The PCV trains the coordinators to evaluate these steps for improvement of future steps.

Minimizing the perceived role of the PCV during the project is a critical part of attaining deep sustainability. The community must believe that they accomplished the project, as opposed to believing that the PCV was the reason for the project success. She must be sure the community sees the coordinators leading the project; she must be diligent in discussions of the project with the community to avoid portraying the sense that the project is “hers” in any way.

The Limón latrine project was developed and managed by a project committee of three main coordinators, established during the initial meeting held by Paulino. I taught, where information was lacking, the coordinators how to piece together ideas into a project, and the committee then produced a project proposal for a new latrine for every home in the community. I trained the coordinators on how to solicit funds with a proposal letter and budget, and accompanied them to meetings with the provincial representative, the district mayor, regional Ministry of Health officials, and others. We managed to secure 25 fiberglass latrine seats from the Ministry of Health. Given the limited success, the committee decided to reduce its proposal from 55 latrines to 15, prioritizing the homes according to need. Funding was solicited by the coordinators and ultimately provided through me from an NGO based in the USA. Once we had the materials (being under budget enabled us to construct five extra), I trained three coordinators in the construction of the latrine, and each coordinator then led five or six other project participants in construction of their latrines, with certain steps being required of each participant on an individual basis. As an example of some of the unique issues we addressed, the conscious decision was made to avoid having one of the coordinators lead the group containing his son-in-law in order to avoid irritating existing conflicts. As an example of continuous evaluation, after one participant missed a deadline the committee decided to put in place a fine for future missed deadlines, which was approved by all participants. The coordinators demonstrated their ability to lead a community project not just to me, but more importantly they proved it to themselves and the community. The psychological importance of this cannot be overstressed; the community now sees leaders in the coordinators and coordinators themselves feel like leaders. Their leadership, enhanced through the PCV, can grow into more and more benefits for the community.

The PCV Approach is about building local skills and knowledge and showing a community its organic ability to improve; integrating into the community and advising on a project is the path to these ends. In view of deep sustainability, the actual project in isolation is unimportant; the desired outcome is stronger local leadership with the ability to develop and manage projects into the future – without the PCV.

05 May 2009

Pedregoza Water

Early on in my service as a part of the community analysis process I was meeting regularly with Health Assistant and Limón resident Anabel (23, 9th grade education). We discussed the community needs of Limón as well as neighboring communities within the area of coverage of the Health Post in Limón. She indicated to me that the community of Pedregoza, just a 30-minute hike from Limón, had no water system; the residents collected water from crude wells. This caught my attention immediately, and became even more striking as I learned that it is the only community I came to know to lack a water system. My main interest in Peace Corps surrounded my interest in contributing to the provision of access to safe water to those who lack it, so my interest was piqued.


On 22 February 2008 I met preliminarily with the President Anesario of the inactive Water & Health Committee to introduce myself, followed by an introductory community meeting on 18 March. To take advantage of the opportunity to measure water source flow rates during the dry season, we had a first work day on 31 March, assessing roughly ten potential source areas in Cerro Escobal and measuring the flows of those with actual potential. Three candidate source areas were reviewed again with the Associate Peace Corps Director (Panama-Environmental Health) to identify the most feasible source. Perhaps the main reason why a water system did not exist in Pedregoza is for the lack of ideal source areas; no source area introduced to me provided sufficient water quantity – all were disqualified as acceptable sources due to a Panama Ministry of Health regulation setting three gallons per minute as the minimum acceptable flow rate.

The source area determined to be the best alternative, “Mamé,” is located nearer to the peak of Cerro Escobal and deeper in its forested area than the others and provides the highest flow rate. The watershed is rich in vegetation and biodiversity and owned by a Pedregoza resident.

The source structure determined to be the most appropriate for Mamé was a seepage collection system. To test the feasibility of the system, a pilot project was undertaken early on in the process. A 13-meter trench was excavated approximately one foot wide to the depth of the impermeable layer in a way that concentrated the flow to a single point. We measured this flow rate for the first time on 14 June 2008 at 3.7 gallons per minute.

Immediately following the decision to use Mamé as the primary source we surveyed the pipeline route. I used an advanced GPS unit with built-in GIS capabilities (Garmin GPSmap 60CSx) for all surveying, completing the survey several times to verify precision. After acquiring the survey data I completed hydraulic profiles for the transmission line to the proposed reserve tank location and for the distribution line from the tank to the community. Using the profiles I designed the pipeline, leading to the list of materials and budget. The complete design carried a budget of over fifteen thousand dollars, which upon review with the APCD was determined to be less than feasible for simultaneous funding; this lead to segmentation of the project into phases: primary source structure, transmission line, secondary source structures, distribution line to the school only, reserve tank, and house connections. The Water Committee, community members, and the APCD determined that the best option would be an initial project including the primary source structure, transmission line, and distribution line to the school one, with two community faucets.


We initially solicited material support from the Governor, the Ministry of Health, district mayor, provincial representative, and national legislators. The Water Committee, especially the president, took a leading role in making office visits to the potential donors and writing letters requesting support. My main role was to provide a reassurance to the potential donors that any allocated materials/money would be used appropriately. We eventually secured the materials for the source structure, valued at a few hundred dollars, from a national legislator through the candidate from his political party running to replace him. We then went through Peace Corps Office of Private Sector Initiatives to secure the remaining 8,800 dollars. A surprisingly large portion of the total (roughly two thousand dollars) came from family, friends, and other interested individuals, and the remainder came from Waterlines, a New Mexico-based NGO.

The early work days, beginning with the assessment of source areas until the arrival of materials, were more voluntary than obligatory. The Water Committee held community meetings to discuss upcoming work days and request assistance; they made it clear that participation was always recorded and would be taken into consideration in the future, though the exact consequences of non-participation were not made clear early on; the early stage of work was in large part completed by individuals motivated to improve the community.

Prior to the initiation of construction at the end of February, a work schedule was established and approved by the community. It was decided that each community member designated as a worker would work two days per week. The seventy-five workers were grouped by twenty-five, with each group coordinated by two or three members of the Water Committee. The work calendar for the month of March (and the end of February) was made at a community meeting in advance and then displayed at the two community shops. This was repeated for the April calendar.

The construction phase began with the water source structure. The work days were considered all-community work days and were used as opportunities for community members to learn more about working with concrete and concrete blocks. Prior to the work day the Committee reviewed the design and planned for the work days. A local mason who spends most of his time working and living in Panama City made an exceptional trip to Pedregoza to lead the construction of the source structures along with Committee Secretary Pedro Justino. I periodically called the work group together and the two leaders described in a clear way the previous and next steps. Upon completion, the group held a meeting and reviewed all the steps in the concrete process including concrete mix ratios, foundations, steel reinforcement, tying rebar, placing blocks, using mortar, and using waterproofing additives (SIKA-1).

To finalize the source structure, we built a small collection box of concrete with a removable concrete cover. The collection box is surrounded first be gravel and then larger rocks to filter the inflowing water. The inlets into the collection box are located vertically midway between the ground elevation and the collection box outlet; this minimizes any sinking and floating material from entering the box. Though no measurements were taken, the system visibly lowers the turbidity of the water; water from the outlet of the collection box is clear and free of debris.

Maintenance will be minimal: we have gone over the need to review the area periodically, remove accumulated debris as needed, and remove accumulated silt from the collection box as needed.

The source structure materials were sufficient in quantity to include in the project a second source structure in the immediate area of the first. The second source was constructed in a similar manner to the first without the collection box; the collection area inlet is raised above the ground elevation a few inches and screened, then surrounded with gravel and then larger rocks. The main difference with the second source structure is that it is entirely capped with concrete because of an above-ground flow that exists in the rainy season that would not be desirable as drinking water; the above-ground flow will run over the concrete cap without entering the collection area. A vertical washout pipe connected to the inlet pipe protrudes up through the concrete cap. Maintenance for this second source structure will involve assessment of the water quality during the rainy season and when needed, perhaps after several seasons, the collection area may need to be cleaned, requiring removal and then reconstruction of the concrete cap. If small debris accumulates in the inlet pipe it can be washed out via the exposed washout pipe.

All stages of the pipeline construction began with me training coordinators and then continued on via the leadership of those coordinators. These stages included the proper placement and gluing of the pipes, river crossings, testing of the waterline and identification of air block locations, assembly and placement of air regulator devices, and assembly of the community faucets.


River crossings were constructed using a SCH 40 PVC pipe (the strongest caliber available in Panama) as a protective shell around the water-bearing pipeline where it is not buried. The SCH 40 pipe is hung by vertical suspenders from cables tensed between two large tree trunks, in the form of a suspension bridge. Ideally, the ends of the SCH 40 tube are buried so that no water-bearing pipeline is exposed, though due to the significant cost of the SCH 40 pipes this was not realized in a few instances. There are roughly fifteen river crossings constructed in this manner, ranging in span from roughly four to twelve meters.

The pipeline is located in a very hilly area and includes many peaks and valleys. Each peak was tested to see if an air block would form by disconnecting the pipe at the next downstream peak to see if the water would arrive. In times when the system would lag behind or to accelerate the testing process we determined if air pressure built up when the disconnected end was capped by a hand; releasing the hand slightly allowed for escaping air to be heard. We positioned an air regulator device at each peak that would produce an air block, preventing the problem. We based the design of our air regulator devices on one recommended to me by Panama Ministry of Health employees. The device uses a floating ball (a Jacks bouncy ball abundant in the provincial capital) in a pipe (three-quarter inch pipe with a male screw adaptor on each end to trap the ball and a screw cap connected to the top adaptor – the screw cap has a needle hole in the center that allows air to pass through while minimizing the amount of water that can pass through) connected vertically to the pipeline with a T-connection; the cap; the ball rises and creates a seal with the top adaptor when the device is filled with water from the pipeline, preventing (in theory, and to a great extent in practice) water from flowing out the needle hole; the ball falls to open the needle hole when air from the pipeline fills the device. The air that would have accumulated into an air block (preventing flow) is allowed to leave the system through the regulator device. We modified the device slightly to prevent a seal from being created with the ball and the bottom adaptor in the case of a vacuum forming within the pipeline; by preventing the seal, the regulator device will also serve as prevention against the unlikely formation of a vacuum. Under normal operation of the water system, the air regulator devices release a nominal trickle of water from the needle hole as the seal between the ball and top adaptor in each device is not perfect; a different ball may provide a better seal though the availability of small, durable balls that float is limited.

Two community faucets were included in the initial budget. We ended up being significantly under budget and were able to include two additional community faucets and the additional pipeline to connect them. Each faucet is built using a 4” PVC pipe five feet in length; SCH 40 0.5” pipe is run inside the 4” pipe through a hole made near the bottom, then runs up the length of the 4” pipe and passes through a hole near the top to leave the 4” pipe. Roughly one and one half feet of the 4” pipe are buried, and the 4” pipe is then filled with concrete and a bar of reinforcement steel. A food under and around the buried portion of the pipe was also made from concrete, along with a floor to prevent erosion where the water would fall. The faucet head is connected to the 0.5” pipe protruding from the top of the 4” pipe. A valve is placed on the 0.5” pipe connecting the faucet and the main pipeline.


My collaboration with the community was via the Water Committee and at times with President Anesario alone. I emphasized the importance of community ownership and leadership of the project and tried to maintain a low profile; I strongly believe and explained to the Committee members that the community needs to see the Committee as the leaders of the project for sustainable continuation upon my departure from the Panama. This was balanced with the motivating factor of having a foreigner at community meetings and work days, along with critical importance of participating in the community activities and ensuring mutual respect between the community members and me. For example, during some community meetings I was the main speaker and facilitator and sat or stood in front of the audience, while during other community meetings President Anesario was the main speaker and facilitator and I sat in the audience; in the case of the latter, Committee members and I would discuss important topics in advance.

Throughout the project, I facilitated the meeting of Water Committee members and employees at the Potable Water Office of the Ministry of Health, funding entities, and public officials such as the mayor of the provincial capital. The Committee members now have a better understanding of the support that can be provided through the Ministry of Health and other official entities. The Committee has taken the initiative to work with the Ministry of Health to have themselves officially recognized by the government and seek additional funding through the provincial representative and the Ministry of Health.

The main improvements needed for the project are the future phases. We prioritized the phases as follows: additional sources and the connection pipelines, storage tank, house connections.

Fundamental to the Pedregoza water project was capacity development and training of small groups of project coordinators related to project development and management of similar endeavors in the future. I placed great emphasis on the importance of the local coordinators themselves leading the projects, from identifying community needs to soliciting funds and determining work schedules; the only step in which the beneficiaries themselves did not play the major role was technical design of the water system. My hope is that the community members of Pedregoza will expand on the successes we were able to share during my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

04 May 2009

Limón Latrines

At the time of the health survey I realized with the local Health Assistant, January 2008, thirteen houses in Limón had no latrine. We also noticed that latrines in the area do not utilize a moveable slab to cover the pit; instead, the pit is generally covered with a crude combination of logs covered with weak concrete. The repetitive cost of a non-moveable slab creates a barrier to proper latrine use in that the users procrastinate the transition to a new pit when the current pit becomes full, greatly decreasing the benefits of the latrine to health and the environment. The appropriate technology of a moveable slab (reinforced concrete) removes the costs (money and time) associated with covering a new pit, requiring nothing more than four people for five minutes to relocate it. Additionally, the structural integrity of a moveable slab is far superior to an average local slab. We discussed this information with leaders in the community and I was eventually invited to a meeting of the local Health Committee – a group of volunteers who work with the Health Assistant to maintain the health post.

I worked with a group of three project coordinators from our initial development of the project through the construction of the latrines and evaluation. We sought funding from the Governor, Mayor, Provincial Representative, National Legislator, and the Ministry of Health; we were allocated fiberglass seats for the latrines from the Rural Water and Sanitation program of the Ministry of Health. The funds for the remaining latrine materials were solicited and received through Peace Corps’ Office of Private Sector Initiatives, with funding from individual donors (giving an incredible amount - over one thousand dollars) and allocations made to Peace Corps-Panama by NGOs. We received a total of 1,397 dollars for our project, developed to provide the moveable slab and zinc roof for fifteen latrines, though it ended up providing for twenty latrines. The latrines were allocated according to the survey data, with the houses lacking a latrine receiving priority. Deadlines and attendance requirements, including attendance at a health and hygiene presentation by the Health Assistant, were established by the project coordinators and me, which eventually led to four invitees being replaced due to non-compliance, and is the reason why there are still three houses with no latrine.

The work for the initial fourteen latrines (one of the original fifteen participants was removed after missing two deadlines and refusing to pay a fine) was split up into several phases. Each recipient was required to have the latrine pit and the corner posts for the latrine hut ready prior to the date I purchased the materials; they then had to carry the materials to their house prior to the slab construction day. After the construction of the slab, the recipients had one week to finish the walls of their respective latrine hut prior to receiving the zinc roof; a two-dollar fine established in advance to apply to anyone not meeting this deadline – given the 35-dollar value of the zinc, this fine is nominal. Four houses were a few days late with the walls and accordingly paid the fine prior to receiving the zinc roof.

During the initial construction phase of the project I trained the three coordinators in the proper procedures through a form of “on-the-job training.” The coordinators worked together under my instruction for the construction of each of their moveable slabs, rotating through the tasks of measuring and cutting reinforcement steel, measuring and cutting lumber for the frame, spacing and tying the steel, mixing the concrete to a proper ratio, and vibrating the poured concrete; additionally, I highlighted management techniques including delegating tasks. In general, the capacity to properly work with reinforced concrete was developed within each coordinator. Each coordinator then led a group of recipients during two work days while I supervised from one group to the other; this demonstrated the coordinators’ capacity to both lead a small group construction project and properly work with reinforced concrete. In turn, the coordinator-led construction served as an introduction, at the very least, into properly working with reinforced concrete along with each of the aforementioned individual tasks.

I emphasized the importance of continuous evaluation throughout the project. After the group construction days I met with the coordinators to discuss areas of improvement; they indicated that one of the recipients arrived late, and through further discussion determined that a fine may have prevented the tardiness. We discussed the coming phase of the latrine wall construction and the coordinators determined that establishing presently a fine for anyone who does not meet the deadline may help prevent delays; this led to the establishment of the two-dollar fine. The significant value of the zinc (thirty-five dollars, roughly half of the total material costs) provided a strong incentive for the participants to meet the deadline or pay the fine.

We constructed two of the latrines as ventilated improved pit latrines (VIP latrines). These two featured a 4" PVC pipe roughly eight feet tall protruding from within the pit. The pipe was covered with mosquito screen to prevent flies, etc., from entering and leaving; the top opening is covered with a suspended clear plastic cap (like an umbrella); the pipe is painted black. The umbrella cap is clear so that sunlight can be seen at the top of the pipe; it should be the only light visible by flies within the pit, which they seek out, become trapped by the screen, and die. The cap is suspended to improve airflow out of the pipe, which is facilitated as the sun heats up the black-painted pipe and the air within it, causing it to rise and create a current out of the pit.

When we realized that we would be under budget, I convinced the coordinators of the value of constructing one latrine in each of three neighboring communities. It introduced the moveable-slab technology into the other communities at the house of a resident with no latrine and provided an opportunity for interested residents to learn the technique – a number of non-recipients attended the construction and there is one person I know who seems likely to build his own. For these communities, the recipient was required to contribute 8.50 dollars or a sack of cement, which posed no problems. Another modification was that with each of the six latrines after the fourteen pre-planned ones all work was done in the same day: the slab was constructed over the pit on a bed of dirt and branches, allowing for the immediate construction of the latrine hut (corner posts, walls, and roof).

Seventeen latrines were constructed in Limón. With these seventeen new latrines, the project decreased the number of houses with no latrine by ten, decreased the number of latrines in poor condition by five, and decreased the number latrines in okay condition by two.

If I were to start this project from the beginning again, I would make several changes. The most fundamental relates to the beneficiary contribution. I would require a cash or material (e.g., the sack of cement) contribution by each participant. The ease with which we acquired the 8.50 dollars/cement from each non-Limón participant leads me to believe the amount is below the average amount that would be willingly paid; a “willingness-to-pay” survey would be a fitting exercise that may indicate the most-appropriate contribution amount (Contact: PCV Steve Russo). This would help in preventing non-recipients from waiting idly for a free latrine instead of investing their own money sooner. I discussed this idea with the project coordinators and they are open to the idea though I am not confident they will implement it.

I would also follow the process for completing all aspects of the latrine in a single day, starting with the construction of slab directly over the pit. Critical to this process is the readiness of the over-pit bed and wall materials prior to the construction; these materials would need to be verified on a pre-work-day deadline, which could be the same deadline as that for the pit and corner posts. The zinc would be withheld until the materials are verified, and a fine may aid in preventing delays.

Building one demonstration latrine for a community organization or institution such as a school or health post would be beneficial for training coordinators and increasing community interest in the project; this is something I think would have been very valuable for our project.

A final consideration in similar projects would be incentivization of the coordinators’ work. In this project no problems arose with the coordinators but it was a significant time commitment for each. Of the initial pre-planned work days (two), Coordinator P worked both days for a total of six slabs, Coordinator D worked one day on three slabs, and Coordinator L worked one day on two slabs; there was a mild complaint after the work days from Coordinator P, though he had understood in advance that he would be working disproportionately more. An incentive for the coordinator to oversee the slab construction as well as the entire latrine completion (e.g., motivating the beneficiary to meet deadlines) may both directly motivate the coordinator to seek a) completion of latrines started and b) expansion of the project and indirectly lead to motivation of the participants to a) meet deadlines and b) complete their respective latrines. I put forward the idea during evaluation discussions, offering an example of the incentive as one dollar per latrine completed and the idea was received with mixed feelings but eventually considered to be an appropriate improvement. This practice could lead to coordinators rushing latrines in an attempt to complete more, faster to the detriment of quality and may be seen as conniving or generally inappropriate by the participants and other non-coordinators; the idea of incentivization and potential negative impacts should be widely discussed and considered prior to implementation.

During my going-away party, we sold my belongings that I could not take back and raised $100. This money was given to the Health Committee to build more latrines; combined with some surplus materials and collected fines, the money should be sufficient to complete two more latrines. This will serve as an excellent test to see if the Committee can function independently.

02 May 2009

Will post soon.

I'll post a full article soon. For now, a picture of a finished latrine (with a view) and the Water Inauguration.

28 March 2009


Guanábana, my new favorite fruit

Porcupine-type creature

Building a latrine floor slab with a view

A completed latrine floor slab


Building a floor slab

Damián opening a mamé (similar to a cross between a melon and a papaya)

A black and white walking stick

Jyósi hauling a 3" tube for a river crossing, the Pacific Ocean in the background

Pedro Justino and Angel working on an air escape