A Letter of Gratitude
Maria Troche Mejía, president of the Los Andes water committee.
As the holidays approach, I am grateful to share a remarkable story with you that demonstrates how your gifts to Green Empowerment are harnessed to achieve lasting results. Authentic partnership is at the heart of our work. With sustaining investments from supporters like you, we are able to forge lasting relationships with in-country partners and follow their lead to design projects that are built and maintained by the community’s citizens themselves. The impact of these partnerships is embodied by our recent work with the families in Los Andes, Nicaragua.
Last year, two late-season hurricanes hit Nicaragua hard. Cities were flooded, highways were washed out, and many of the communities we work with were cut off by impassable roads.
The people of Los Andes had previously worked with Green Empowerment and our regional partner, the Association of Rural Development Workers – Ben Linder (ATDER-BL), to construct a community-wide water system that delivers chlorinated, potable from a spring one mile above town directly to 120 homes, serving 800 people. Completed in 2018, this project, was led by community members who initiated the project reaching out to ATDER-BL for help. They community then formed a water committee to manage and maintain the system. Perhaps most impressively, financial support for this project was matched by the community itself. Each family provided $15 ($1,800 community wide) worth of materials, and the community collectively volunteered an estimated $10,000 worth of manual labor that included digging trenches, laying pipes and building the water catchment system.
It was no surprise to our Nicaragua Program Coordinator Maria Elisa Espinoza, that those same community members reached out to her following the devastation of the 2020 hurricanes. While the water system built in 2018 had survived the hurricanes, the water coming out of the taps was dirty. The spring from which the water was sourced had been aggravated, and the water flowing from the taps was now turbid. This was not the first time the community had seen their water source disturbed; in 2019 a nearby land owner had started building an unapproved road that similarly affected the spring, highlighting a vulnerability in the water system that needed to be addressed.
Our Model at Work
Once the community reached out to Maria, she set right to work, conferencing with ATDER-BL and our technical team to determine a community-led solution. Sam Schlesinger, our Water and Sanitation Program Manager, suggested an upflow roughing filter, which he had helped partners install at several sites in Ecuador to mitigate particularly turbid water. The upflow roughing filters are built in large blue tanks that hold copious layers of stone diminishing in size, from large stones at the bottom, to 4mm pebbles at the surface. Unfiltered water enters the tank through a pipe at the bottom, and filtered water exits the tank from a pipe at the top. As the water flows upwards, solid particles are trapped and filtered out by the layers of sedimentation.
In video conference calls, over email, and text, Sam trained the Los Andes water committee and Maria Elisa on how to install this low-cost filter. ATDER-BL provided materials and with the leadership of the water committee, volunteer community members built and installed the new filter. In addition, Freddy Alfaro, the technical lead from FEDICAMP, another key partner in Nicaragua, traveled across the country to participate in the filter build.
The hard work paid off. The water had always been chlorinated, but now it was chlorinated and crystal clear. As Maria Troche Mejía, president of the water committee, explained: “I tell people that it is beautiful to have potable water and that it does not just consist of piping the water, but also keeping it chlorinated and maintaining it at a quality to prevent illness, especially since there are lots of children and elderly here.”
It is too often the case that international aid organizations provide a technology intervention to a community, only to find that, without local expertise and management, the system has broken down or is out of use 2 or 3 years later. In the community of Los Andes, the community members had real ownership of their water system. They were managing and maintaining the system and they were the ones to identify the need for a system upgrade. For our part, Green Empowerment leveraged our cross-regional experience to find an appropriate technology solution. The process of building the new upflow roughing filters also presented a learning opportunity. Freddy Alfaro, Water and Sanitation Advisor from our partner FEDICAMP had never seen this type of filter before. After participating in the build, he is now equipped to help many more communities on the other side of the country add upflow roughing filters to their systems.
Our Shared Legacy
For 24 years now Green Empowerment and ATDER-BL have worked together with local communities to implement lasting community-based renewable energy, potable water, and watershed conservation projects in rural Nicaragua. Even our origin stories are intertwined.
On April 28, 1987, Benjamin Linder, an engineer from Portland, Oregon, was working with rural communities in Nicaragua when he was murdered by U.S.-funded Contras at the site of a micro-hydro project in San José de Bocay, Nicaragua. The Royce family, Oregonian friends and neighbors of Benjamin Linder, began a local fundraising effort to continue to support the work Ben started in Nicaragua. This seed fund grew into the Ben Linder Memorial Fund and a decade later became the foundation and inspiration for Green Empowerment. During this time, Ben’s close friends and peers in Nicaragua started the Association of Rural Development Workers – Ben Linder (ATDER-BL) in his honor and to carry on his incredible work.
Green Empowerment and ATDER-BL have continued to work closely building community trust and delivering reliable technology. ATDER-BL expanded their work from community to community, and to date have supported sustainable infrastructure projects benefitting more than 75,000 rural Nicaraguans.
This is why, when the people of Los Andes were mobilizing to build a water system, they felt secure in reaching out to ATDER-BL, a local organization with a proven track record. Our partners have a long-term stake in the regions where they work and we in turn build long term relationships with our partners. This means that when a community faces a new challenge, like damage from hurricanes, or wants to build a new piece of infrastructure – they have solid support to call on.
It is because of the ongoing support from dedicated families like yours that we are able to do the long, sometimes slow, critical work of building trust and long term partnerships that are the foundation of real and sustained impact.
Together we will power sustainable change.
With a full heart,