Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Thursday, May 19, 2011
After two flights, lots of taxis, and a 5-hour charter bus ride, we arrived to San Martin de Los Andes, a picturesque town in the heart of the Argentinean Lakes District. Check-in entails turning in ergonometric results, receiving a wrist band with a scanable code, collection of emergency radios, and customs and immigration forms. I never thought forgetting a passport would be a reason for not finishing a race, and as in this one, on Day 3, you cross into Chile on foot, made sure they were zip-locked and packed first. Large containers are given to each team to include tents, sleeping bags, and whatever one considers necessary for a three day stage race in the Patagonian summer. Zip-tying it shut, we enjoy a few last ‘cerveza artesenales’-microbrews made from the local spring water- and catch what will be the last good night’s sleep for a few days.
Thursday afternoon, nearly 1100 racers and hundreds of support staff take off for the first campsite. Rolling along the dirt roads that connect the small towns in the Lakes District, our driver shifts the car up a small hill and a sickening sound emerges as we screech to a halt. All twelve of us get out and push the car off to the side, and are lucky to get a standing stop on another bus for another hour and a half to the race start, all the while hoping this is the worst thing that happens. The first leg starts in a remote region outside of Lanin National Park. Home to the Mapuche community, the race organizers hired the community to help with food preparation and renting out their cattle to help deliver containers to campers. A lonely goat uses the containers as a stepladder to stretch to an out-of-reach branch, as we wait in line for supper. Every day and evening, the race provides copious amounts of pasta, steak, chicken, sausage, fruit, and refreshments.
A slight change in plans has everybody walking the first 3km to the official race
start the next morning. National park officials guard the access to the forest, as they don’t want 1100 people using the Araucana trees as toilets. Our first start is delayed by about half and hour as we wait for the port o potties to be delivered from the campsite to the race start. Music is blaring, sun is shining, and a nervous excitement is abound. We eventually take off and it takes several miles for the group to slightly spread out. Water bottles are coated in thin layers of dust as so many runners on the dirt roads kicks us a lot of dust. Everybody avoids the first water crossings, not knowing that we will later lose track of how many stream crossings we trudge through.
Day 1 was the “easy” day, rolling dirt roads through a spectacular valley for about 12km. Once the 350 meter climb began, though, teams began to spread out. The climb felt easier than we thought-especially when a race official told us “20 more minutes of climbing and then two fields before the downhill.” When we arrived there in 10, we were both elated at our progress. Matt’s weak ankle and my persnickety knee kept us pretty conservative on the downhill, but for two Colorado transplants living in Peru, any chance we can get on singletrack is pretty darn good. You can see the finish line several kilometers away, as we emerge from the forest along Lake Norquihue. Crossing the finish line in an easy 3:20, we headed right to dip our legs in the mountain-fed lake waters to try to keep our legs as fresh as possible for the big climbing days ahead. A huge screen blasts music and video from Live Aid-a fundraising concert from the 1980s, giving the post-race scene a surreal feel. Surrounded by Patagonian flora and fauna, our Argentine and Brazilian co-racers relaxed by playing some serious air guitar.
Day two has us leave in groups of 100 runners as the serious climbing this day-nearly 3000 feet in about four miles-is expected to slow even the front runners down. After a too-short warm up, the hiking sticks are whipped out of packs, those without grab tree branches to take some of the pressure off quads and knees. The flora changes as we inch our way uphill for several hours, eventually breaking out of treeline to 360 views of snowcapped volcanoes in every direction. This kind of climbing plays mind games on distance calculations; after three hours of ‘running’ and power hiking, a race staff member says “way to go-you’re halfway there!” I hate when people say “almost there” at the end of the race, so this took a little wind out of my sails. But we were getting low on water-having each carried two 16-ounce water bottles and 1.5 liters in camelbacks, so we trudged on to the upcoming water point. Patagonia is one of the few places on earth where you can still drink out of streams without worrying what might be in there, so when we finally reached the spring, we took some time to fill up. The downhill transitioned from thick, cushiony scree, to slippery roots as we re-entered treeline. Roots gave way to a buttery, gentle downhill and we cruised the last 10km into Lake Moquehue. Lots of egos were shattered this day as teams rolled in after five, six, nine, twelve hours.
We left for day three with no meat in our packs, but happy that we had moved into the top 100 teams. An alternative course had been set up for racers who were beat from the second day, allowing them to still explore the area, but not on a ‘meat-needed’ trail. Another change in plans had us all leaving together again, as the National Park didn’t want people on the early section of the trail for too long as it disturbed the local fauna. We were able to run on trails that are not normally open to the public, and as the day before, began climbing pretty soon. Not nearly as sustained as the second day, there were several sections that required scrambling and even a roped descent. Day three was classic ridge running and absolutely stunning. Once we crested the high point, we cruised along gentle climbs and descents for the majority of the run, before descending steeply through a dense forest. Coming out of the forest, the “Welcome to Chile” sign meant we only had three kilometers to go. A fast downhill road in the hot late morning sun brought us past the immigration check point (I still don’t know how the race organizers got the authorities to let us come into Chile first, then go through the formalities) and cruising into the finish line. Viva Chile-we were done!
More information on the Cruce de Los Andes can be found at www.columbiacruce.com
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Five years ago, I sat down with Water For People colleagues Ned and Wende in the basement conference room of Water For People and we started to think about how we could develop a monitoring program at Water For People. We wanted something simple and applicable across the then five countries that we worked on.
After lots of discussion what we should be monitoring-do we do water quality? How do we do water quality? Are committees important? If water flow on the day of the visit, isn’t that good enough? –it was time to get on with it and do some field testing. Many organizations get bogged down in what to monitor, but we were keen to avoid this analysis by paralysis. So with support from Weston Solutions, ESRI, Trimble, OMNI Research and Training, and willing volunteers, we flew down to Honduras to test the program.
We visited 33 communities that first year and 31 of them had water flowing the day of the visit. Lots of interesting learning occurred that shaped our programming the region-precisely the point of monitoring!
- · rehabilitation projects were 2/3 more likely to have operational problems than those where Water For People provided human resource training in addition to just finance-we know devote a considerable amount of time , money, and training to water committees themselves, association of water committees, and municipal water technicians
- · we found many small system chlorinators not being used by communities and have since modified our approach to water quality in Honduras through piloting different types of technologies, encouraging supply chain strengthening by facilitating chlorine availability through the Association of Water Committees; and supporting human resource back-up support through the different support groups, like the Association and the municipality.
In addition to collecting the actual data, we were also interested in seeing if our methodology was feasible. As we sweated up and down hillsides, sidestepped snakes, and sipped fresh coffee some days and milk straight from the cow’s udder other days, my backpack literally included this list everyday:· A backpack, to carry everything on this list
· A Tablet PC (the grand-daddy of the ipad)
· Car chargers for the Tablet PC
· Hundreds of pieces of paper interviews-interviews for community members, interviews for water committees, back up copies in case some got wet or needed to be used as emergency toilet paper
· Clipboards to organize the paper
· Paper clips to keep my surveys organized
· The most accurate GPS unit on the planet
· My SLR digital camera
· Close to 20 Colilert water quality tests (which would then be body incubated at night-if you are not familiar with the technique of body incubation-it means putting 10 ml tubes of sampled water and reagent down your pants, in your socks, or under your armpits to try to get them to reach the temperature necessary for the reagent to work!)
· Chlorine strips
· Tape to label the water quality tests
· Markers to write on the tape
· Pens (note the plural-we would have been out of luck to find ourselves at the end of those two hour hikes only to discover we left pens in the cars)
· My flip phone
Since that first trip, we have monitored arsenic filters in peri-urban India, improved toilets in rural Malawi, school handwashing stations in Guatemala, public taps in Rwanda, and rainwater harvest tanks in Bolivia. While the concept was right, we would often have significant delays in getting the information back to the field. When we mapped –collected baseline data on access to water and sanitation-in northern Peru in October of 2009, I was not able to return the data to partners until May of 2010. Seven months. Staff, partners, and volunteers just did the exact same exercise in Bolivia last month, and I saw the data the day they collected it. What a difference a Droid makes!
Yesterday –after years of collecting data the old school way-I gave a presentation to government, civil society, and private sector actors from all over Latin America and I whittled that list of equipment down to one thing-a smart phone. I didn’t even know what a Droid was five years ago, or if they even existed, but they have revolutionized how we collect, view, and manage data at Water For People. Multi-lingual, permission-based, simultaneous data collection and entry, GPS and camera-included, myself, our staff, our partners, government, community members themselves can now share with the world with the press of a button or the click of a box, the status of thousands of water systems and toilets the world round. The status of thousands of water points are now transparently available with the click of a mouse and summaries of strengths and weaknesses displayed on our website (http://www.waterforpeople.org/programs/field-level-operations-watch.html ).
If you give money to any organization, ask them how they know if what they do lasts; then ask them to prove it. If you work for an organization doing anything-public, private, or civil society-, ask yourself how you know what you are doing lasts; then push yourselves to prove it. Our institutional commitment to monitor has been strong for years. But few organizations were replicating the system. Once we got rid of everything in our backpacks-the backpack included-and began to use technology for good, the interest in FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch) took off. It’s now easier than ever to report back on the sustainability of investments-be they water pumps, school construction, or vaccine programs. Join the movement!
Sunday, January 16, 2011
· Nearly 350 miles (341.4 to be exact)
· Nine months
· In 2010 alone, over 109,000 people now have a toilet.
· FLOW data shows 91% of toilets in WFP-sponsored work in India being used and maintained after construction
The idea for the Run to End the Runs was born during a night I couldn’t sleep in Lima last February. We had just signed up for the Santiago marathon and had been training for about a month. At first I just thought we could use the Santiago race as a fundraiser for Water For People, but the” running for water“ space seemed pretty saturated as several celebrities had just summited Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for the clean water crisis, and cities around the world were preparing for the Run for Water to be held in April. But, as usual, sanitation was merely a topic added on to the races and climbs for water. I get it; I know water looks prettier to photograph than poop, that it can be easier to sell and sexier to talk about the clean water challenge than the nasty sanitation problem. But I’m back to the point I first raised in April when we first started this-nobody talks about poop. And the reason all that dirty water kills kids around the world is because there is poop in it. If we could keep that dang poop out of the water in the first place…..
Enter toilets. Who would believe that when that oh-so-famous‘john’ isn’t around, countries lose billions of dollars per year in lost wages and treating illnesses (preventable ones, that is). It’s extremely important to quantify the impacts of not having a toilet, but I still think the way my friend Luisa puts it-“I like my toilet because I don’t have my neighbor’s shit floating into my kitchen” hits home a little harder. Or her neighbor, who mused that his favorite aspect of having a toilet was that his buttcheeks no longer got wet when he went to the bathroom. Who doesn’t want dry buttcheeks and a shit-free kitchen?
Unfortunately, solving this problem is not as simple as donating toilets. Governments, NGOs, volunteer groups, and others have been trying to build our way out of the problem and this just does not work. Going to the bathroom is embedded in social, cultural, religious, and many other contexts. Thousands of toilets in the Bolivian Andes are never used once they have been built because of reasons that have nothing to do with engineering. Well-meaning groups build toilets that cost more than people’s homes and are surprised when people want to use the nicest structure on their homes as ‘banks’ for their currency-potatoes, corn, or chickens.
And it’s not enough to do it once. Communities grow, some very quickly. The peri-urban areas we are working in Cochabamba have growth rates of nearly 10% per year. Giving everybody a toilet today does nothing for the thousands of people who are going to move there next year, nor those with a toilet, since if your neighbor is still pooping in his yard, chances are you’re still going to be smelling it, your kid might be playing in it at their house, and it most likely will still make its way into the food you eat or drink.
So what we are trying to do at Water For People is make sure everybody can get the toilet they want, not the toilet that somebody else thinks they should have, and that their future next door neighbors can also get a toilet. That looks different from Kolkata (India) to Cuchumuela (Bolivia). In India, where the rural areas outside of Kolkata are denser than the peri-urban zones in Bolivia, Water For People has worked with local self-help groups to add micro-loans for toilets to their products. In Bolivia, one way we are trying to do that is by entering into alliance with Habitat For Humanity who is offering loans for toilets alongside their home loans, and as a separate product. Water For People-Malawi is working with entrepreneurs from other sectors in the unplanned settlements outside of Blantyre to see how the entrepreneurs envision incorporating sanitation products and services into their existing small businesses. We’re experimenting in rural areas with uncovering profitable points along the sanitation value chain to economically incentivize people to adopt and sustain toilet use.
Felix Urena blushes when I call him “inge”, the shortened version of “inginero” in Spanish. People often just refer to professionals by their training as a form or respect. Felix had heard on the radio about a toilet that didn’t need water and provided fertilizer. Living in water-stressed District 9 of peri-urban Cochabamba, where he often spent up to seven times more on his ‘potable’ water than his fellow Cochabambinos with household water connections, he was eager to learn more about a composting toilet. He went to an informational session and agreed to co-finance a composting toilet at his home-for his own family and to show others how the technology worked. Felix put in five more times what he received as a small subsidy and modified his toilet with his ‘steering wheel’ device. Composting toilets need to have the dry wastes mixed so that composting occurs evenly throughout the chamber, but many people do not like to stir their shit with a large stick, which it what had generally been done. Now all Felix has to do is ‘drive’ a couple of times of week and he’s golden. Felix’s story is one of example of how we are learning to be smarter with our support, and to support programs that are not dependent on Water For People.
Although we are officially done running for toilets, I won’t stop running or talking about toilets, and Water For People has its work cut out to continue to get people on the pot. We couldn’t have done this without all of our supporters. A vey special thank you to our sponsors: ME Simpson and Co, AECOM, and FSAWWA. Thanks to Turnbull, Scott, Celeste, Kat, Lindsey, and Jackie for running with us and to everybody for donating, buying shirts, introducing us to nuun (Laura and Sam, we’d have dropped out of every race without it!) telling your friends, or just stopping to think for a moment how great having a ‘John’ really is.
On a training run, 15,000 feet in the Bolivian Andes
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Just had a great running week that has me wanting to go faster and farther! We hit up the Marine Corps Marathon on Halloween for a jaunt around the Nation's capital. The course was pancake flat and super fast, but what it lacked in hills it made up for in pavement. The hardest part of the race for me was just getting to the starting line and then getting a taxi to go home. With over 30,000 runners, heightened security, and spectators; it was a two hour slough just to the starting line. In fact, I didn’t even see Kate all day as we both arrived at the start from different locations. I wouldn’t find out how she did until I made it home and they posted the results!
After standing in the toilet line for another 30 minutes I started the race with my brother and we went out easy for the first mile, trying to weave our way around our 30,000 friends for the day. He wanted to go fast so I let him go after that figuring I would run a 3:30-3:40 so I would have some "fresh" legs for the 50-miler six days later. I hit the half at 1:43 and some change feeling fantastic, but still running reserved. The second half went even easier and cruised to the finish line with a negative split (by 3 minutes) for a time of 3:23 and change....and feeling like I only ran a ten miler. Legs felt great, no pain or soreness (other than sore feet from all the pavement), and the whole race just flew by. Part of me wished I didn't have to run the following weekend because it could have been a much faster day! My brother ended up going 3:09 in his first run over 20 miles. I would have loved to race him (by race I mean beat), but had to be smart and hold back for the next week. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Kate was having an equally fantastic day and enjoyed her 26.2 mile jaunt with only a small Achilles issue and a loathing for pavement.
Fast forward six days to November 6 at 5 AM. Three-hundred runners boarded five school buses and headed about an hour to the starting line in the rural Virginia mountains for the Mountain Masochist 50++ miler. It was cold, but pleasant at the start. After the traditional wait in the bathroom lines we were off for a long day at 6:30 AM. The first 6-ish miles were on the road and in the dark, so it was a nice way to warm up the legs before hitting the trails. I started out a little faster than Kate, but she soon caught up to me and we ran to the first aid station together at the turn into the trails. As soon as we turned onto the trails we started uphill. The hills weren't bad, but the numerous transitions from short uphill to quick downhill really took a toll on the quads. After a few miles I got a little ahead of Kate and tried to relax and get into a rhythm to carry me to the half way point at, hopefully still having some juice left in my legs. Wrong! I felt like crap for the first half of the race and came into the mid-way checkpoint questioning finishing.
The midway point is actually 26.9 miles and the race is actually 54 miles! It is a 50++ as they say, with long miles. Anyway, as I sat at my drop bag at the mid-way point, Kate came running in and had actually caught up to me! She was having a killer day and I was dying. I quickly grabbed my food and forged onward. The next 2.9 miles was all uphill and was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to regroup, focus, and get my nutrition back on track (which was why I was feeling depleted). After 3 Gels, a bag of pringles, some Milky Ways, two S!Caps and listening to the Rocky theme song playing on repeat from the Aid Station at the top of the climb, my body just snapped out of it. I felt like the race had just begun. I hit the top of the climb (roughly 30 miles) and crushed the next downhill to the 34 mile mark. Then we hit “The Loop” a 5 mile, super technical, single track loop that was hard but absolutely amazing. Still feeling good after the loop (mile 38-ish), I kept cruising on until the 43 mile mark on some easy two track roads. At 43 miles we hit another 4 miles of technical and hilly single-track until the 47.1 mile aid station. That section went well; I was getting a little tired, but still able to run all the flats and downhills. There was a crazy hill, more like a wall, thrown into this section at about mile 45. I say wall because it was short and steep and probably would turn anyone back if their mental focus was wavering. After getting over “the wall” we had a nice downhill to the final Aid Station at 47.1 miles. Then it was all downhill for the final "2.9" miles....which actually is 4 miles. What a deceiving and mental blow that mileage mistakes can make...but I knew I was going to finish and the "runner's high" carried me down the final decent without incident. I crossed the finish line in 10:12...and felt fairly good. Quads took a beating, but had a killer runner's high!!!! It was an awesome race, awesome course and just turned out to be a good day. Kate also had a fantastic day and came running in to the finish line at 10:52! She is slowly closing the gap on me and I was definitely looking over my shoulder all afternoon hoping she wouldn’t pass me!
Now I am ready for more. Legs are back to normal and I can't wait for the next race. We may try and head down to Vina del Mar, Chile the first week in December for another marathon. We would like to run a fast marathon time and the course there is fast and slightly downhill! Vamos a ver....
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
We’ve come a long way in those five years, refining the process along the way to one that takes advantage of the newest technology, allowing us to collect data on cell phones, transmit to a publically-viewed website, and integrates the GPS, camera, and data collection tools into one little cell phone. A far cry from the days of lugging around Trimbles, cameras, copious paper copies of surveys, and my personal favorite, body incubation of water quality samples-good times!
But what is neater than the technological advancements is what the technology has allowed us to do. The ‘check-up’ of water and sanitation systems is not an evaluation-I can’t tell you how women’s lives have been impacted or how many less cases of diarrhea there now are. But we can, with hard data, 1) speak to the sustainability of investments over time and 2) modify our programs that aren’t providing long lasting solutions; and 3) conduct more in-depth evaluations that are informed from the data collected with FLOW.
Sustainability is quite possibly the most overused and under-demonstrated word in the development sector. FLOW puts Water For People’s money where its mouth is and allows us to quantitatively document the sustainability of its efforts for years to come. For toilets, sustainability to us basically means that toilets are being used and hygienically maintained. The data from the most recent India monitoring showed that 91% of the toilets were being used and hygienically maintained. These toilets were all purchased by households with micro-loans from local institutions, and more research is currently underway on the effectiveness of the loan mechanism, but a 90% success rate is something that should be celebrated in a sector where failures are often unknown because of lack of sustainability monitoring or kept in the closet for fear of failure.
Modified Programs : Take the case of sanitation in Malawi; a few years ago, the monitoring team visited a total of 482 toilets-(now there is a new way to spend your vacation!-if interested, check out http://www.waterforpeople.org/programs/how-we-work/world-water-corps/ -Water For People’s volunteer arm that assists with FLOW monitoring) . Two categories: sanitation use (measured by evidence of use confirmed with observation, and questioning users on which family members use the unit) and sanitation hygiene (measured by the presence or absence of urine and feces in the toilet, and the presence or absence of flies) served to measure the use and maintenance of toilets post-intervention. The data from Malawi showed that nearly all of the units were still being used, but among non-users, the largest category was children. This piece of knowledge allowed Water For People to modify its programming, which now includes a simple child-sized and child-friendly slab that creates a barrier to keep the kids’ poop from the kids’ environment, yet is not dark, scary, or otherwise
inappropriate for a kid to use.
A child in Malawi demonstrates his new child-friendly loo.
Informing Evaluations: Back in my neck of the woods, the initial data collected from a Bolivia monitoring trip a few years ago triggered an interest in conducting a much more in-depth evaluation of a large ecological sanitation program in eastern Bolivia, another one of the roles of the simple monitoring conducted with FLOW. It allows us to identify issues that might need further exploration through an evaluation, or local successes that should be celebrated.
Graphic displaying breakdown of status of ecological toilets in San Pedro, Bolivia
The majority of the bathrooms in the red category were not using dry material (or not enough) and thus prone to odors and presence of flies. Variation within specific communities ranged from between zero units in the red category to over forty percent in the community of San Pedro, where the bathrooms are only two years old.
Most people were not aware of 1) the potential uses of the composted feces and urine; 2) where to go for assistance when their units were full. The majority of people interviewed are not using either product and several have emptied the vaults after only 4-6 months, when it is highly doubtful that the compost has been converted into a safe, manageable substance.
Those interviewed expressed positive feelings around having improved their sanitation facilities from an unimproved, flood-prone pit latrine to a more secure ecological toilet. It should not be discounted that over 50% of the units were in the green category, meaning that approximately 1000 people are hygienically using in a sustained manner their sanitation facilities.
FLOW is a tool, and the power of most tools, no matter what their purpose, is not the tool itself, but what it allows one to do. For more information on the data, visit http://www.waterforpeople.org/programs/field-level-operations-watch.html. I just got emailed the raw data from the exercise going on RIGHT now in Bolivia-a huge change from the months it used to take to get data back-so I’m off to poke my nose, virtually, in 222 people’s toilets, thanks to FLOW!