Wednesday, January 8, 2014

SWB Works Wonders in El Salvador

The WaTER Center is proud to have been a sponsor of the SWB Thanksgiving week trip to El Salvador (Nov. 25 - Dec. 1).  Sooners Without Borders (SWB) is a service organization on the OU campus that plans and conducts service and development projects for peoples in need, both domestic and abroad. This year they were invited to do several projects in the Bajo Lempa (lower Lempa River) region of El Salvador, a coastal plains region with some of the poorest inhabitants in the country.

Students measure the salinity in an upstream channel near Isla Montecristo.
The 10 students and there 3 adult mentors worked on two water and one development project. The purpose of the first water project - a tidal zone and water quality study in Isla Montecristo - was to locate wells and analyze water quality to provide a more reliable and long-term source of clean drinking water. Coastal villages face the challenge of inadvertently drawing salt water into the wells, which ruins the pumps and is unsafe to drink. The second water project was a solar irrigation pump design and installation to provide an eco-friendly solution for crop irrigation during the dry season, which is gradually becoming longer with a changing climate. A submersible pump, a cased well, a set of solar panels, and an elevated tank were installed as a system that began working perfectly as soon as the last wires were connected. The development project included doing a geologic analysis of soils stratification on a building site for a new mangrove research center.

Students work with their adult mentor to install pipe from an elevated water tank.
The group stayed with host families in Ciudad Romero where they were working on the solar-powered water system. Students ate with their host families, stayed in their beds (or hammocks), used their outdoor latrines, and tried to sleep through the raucous sounds of farm animals from early evening to very early morning hours. The village was founded in 1991 by approximately 300 families of former refugees from the Salvadoran highlands returning after 10 years of exile in the Panama jungles. The farming community is working with groups like Sooners without Borders to build an infrastructure compatible with the region’s climate and topography.

Students stayed in host family homes - simple, clean, and accommodating.
But it was not all just work for the 10 students and their 3 adult mentors.The group also enjoyed playing soccer (futbol) with the local teenagers, playing in the ferocious surf of the Pacific Ocean, and releasing baby sea turtles at the ocean's edge as part of a turtle egg hatchery and conservation initiative. 
Students release baby sea turtles into the Pacific Ocean.
Students play futbol with the locals, who had the "home court" advantage.

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