We are reporting from Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala’s second largest city. We are a part of the UVa-Guatemala Initiative, a program dedicated to the development of mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships between the University and various communities in Guatemala. As a team (our whole team consists of five members), we are combining 1) cultural and language immersion, 2) engineering research, 3) collaborations with Guatemalan community partners, and 4) consideration of past projects and site-specific challenges to discover the best way to complete our project. Our project is to come up with a plan for a sustainable, cost-effective solar hot water system in one of Guatemala’s public hospitals, the Hospital Nacional de Totonicapán.
Based on prior research, we have discovered that solar power is a feasible energy solution in resource-limited environments. Therefore, we have focused on the solar heating of water as our sustainable and replicable solution. By researching the best way to implement such a system, we hope to achieve our ultimate goal, to improve hospital sanitation and patient care.
Our first three weeks in country consisted of mandatory Spanish classes at Celas Maya Spanish School (25 hours per week), along with various orientations and project meetings with our In-Country Coordinator Jessica Gonzalez. A large part of our project is learning about Guatemalan culture; we believe cultural familiarity is important to any research project. Throughout our time in country, we are staying with local home stay families. The home stay experience has enabled us to learn from diverse perspectives, try new foods, and make new friends.
After our three weeks of Spanish classes, we began our daily 1-2 hour trek to Totonicapán (on “chicken” buses) to begin conducting field research to assess the hospital’s water needs. Our first day in the hospital we met Don Gustavo and Don Martin, two of the hospital’s maintenance technicians. We went on a tour of the hospital, and saw some of the existing water infrastructures. For the remainder of the week we split into teams, passing out surveys to a variety of clinicians and maintenance personnel. Survey results showed that the departments most in need of hot water are: maternity, newborns, pediatrics, emergency room, and operating room. Hygiene was a big takeaway – hand washing, postpartum baths, and general cleanliness seemed most important.
Aside from handing out surveys, we were able to get measurements and photos of the hospital’s roof, and take the water temperature of the near water tower. All personnel were extremely helpful and friendly. Three doctors (who visited UVa in the spring) made a majority of our visit to the hospital possible. All three are strong believers in healthy personal relationships; these relationships are the foundation of a productive work environment.
To this point, we have gathered a lot of good, reliable data from the hospital. The next few weeks we will be visiting with local technology companies, vendors of solar water heating projects, and engineers. Since we are here for a limited amount of time, it is unlikely our system will be installed prior to departure. However, we plan to gather as much information as possible to allow for future implementation. So far, this project has been a wonderful learning and enlightening experience. We look forward to the weeks to come, and will keep you all updated on our progress!
Tammy Cavazos and Siobhan Perks
P.S. If you are interested in reading more of a personal experience of our time in Guatemala, check out Tammy’s blog here.