This post was written by Nancy Xu, a member of the Jolkona team. A few months ago, she traveled to Costa Rica and with Astha Gupta, another Jolkona volunteer. They visited a school that benefits from the water conservation program and this is what they learned.
It’s middle of the winter back home, but it sure is hot and humid here in San Jose, Costa Rica. Astha, Maryam and I are on our walk back from the market, and we see Aitor Llodio from Aliarse, already waiting promptly with a cab. We give each other a warm greeting and are on our way. Today, Aitor is taking us to visit a school that has benefited from the water conservation program. Since the school is located in a low-income community, Aitor asked us to pack minimally to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. We chat along as storefronts become less and less dense, as we pass by mountains that are ex-volcano craters, and through coffee farms where groups of young men are catching a break on the sidewalk.
Aitor has been intensely involved in the water conservation initiatives for the last couple of years. The concept of water conservation is not quite on the radar of its citizens, as reflected by the nationâ€™s increasing consumption for water. Since the government is not steering the ship to make any improvements in this area, a number of grassroots efforts like Aliarseâ€™s began in hope of making positive change. They have multiple approaches to address this issue. Today, Aitor is going to show us the education and the infrastructure improvement programs.
We arrive at the school and it seems to be lunch break. The children walk past in their school uniforms, and stare with curious eyes. A few schoolboys are playing a game of foosball by the principalâ€™s office. Some parents are sitting on the curb outside of the school, waiting. Since this school supports a lot of low income families, most of the parents are unemployed. The ones that are registered as employed tend to be street vendors selling scarves and bootlegged movies to tourists.
The principle gives us a tour around the school, and we are all amazed to learn that the school contains many age groups of children. To fit such a variety (and volume) of students into the school, each age group gets 3 hours of the day. This essentially turns the school into a â€œshiftâ€ system.
The Water Conservation Education Program
Now, onto the water conservation education program. This program is architected quite brilliantly. Each school year, Aliarse selects a few schools in the San Jose area to target. From each school, they choose 25 kids between the ages of 10 and 12. Since it is not possible to give an informative course to the entire school, they developed a system where children with the most influence were chosen, and it is up to them to spread the idea to the rest of the school. The 25 children will consist mostly of the smartest kids in school, but a few will be the trouble-makers. It is important to throw the trouble-makers into the mix because if the program can turn their attitude around, the sphere of influence grows further. And the selection of only 25 children gives the program prestige, and helps create excitement.
The program consists of 4 modules and runs once a week for 3 months. The first part is an interactive classroom session. The children are taught the value of water, and how our delicate ecosystem and its life forms are dependent upon it. The second part is a class field trip (and kids love this one!) where they visit a local water purifying plant. The plant manager takes them around the facility and explains each of the steps needed to treat the water before it comes out of the tap. The 3rd part of the module is very hands on. The children are taught plumbing basics, and are empowered to help the school report or solve problems such as leaky and rusty pipes. The last module is about ways to reduce unnecessary water usage. The reduction of black water is also one of importance, only 4% of the nation’s black water is treated today.
Overall, this education program has proven to be extremely effective and reduces 20% (and sometimes up to 50%!) of the target school’s water usage after program completion.
Fundamental Infrastructure Improvement
Aitor is also working on another initiative that has even greater impact to water conservation, but comes with a higher investment. This involves a complete upgrade of the school’s water distribution system to make it inherently non-wasteful. For example, the boys’ urinal is an entire wall where a curtain of water pours down constantly from top to drain. This is inherently wasteful. The upgrade consists of tearing down this setup, and to add standard urinals in its place. In their vision of future upgrades, they would like to install waterless urinals instead. Another installation is a self-timed tap. This is common in our public bathroom in North America, but not yet widespread in schoolyards of Costa Rica. Old leaky pipes are also torn out and replaced with the new. These infrastructure improvements achieve 70% reduction of water usage immediately after installation. This is huge.
The government does not have the ability to fund these activities today, which is why Aitor’s organization steps in again. This is a much larger under taking. For this particular school, it has taken 3 months, a crew of 5, and approx. $8K USD to complete, and every school is different.
Luckily, they have one big sponsor backing them up – Coca Cola. Coca Cola consumes 2L of water for each can of Coca Cola. As resources become scarce, trend setting companies are operating in a more socially conscious way. Coca Cola for example, strives to be water neutral. They invest in water conservation efforts across Costa Rica to balance their consumption of water. This is all great, but the funding is still limited and Aitorâ’s organization can only hit 3 to 4 schools each year.
As we drive off after our enlightening visit, Aitor points to the fields behind us.
“That’s where the drug lords from Columbia reside. We do not go there. We lose a lot of kids to that zone. They do not come back.”
Hmm, foreshadowing for the next problem to tackle in Costa Rica perhaps?
“The Red Cross went in there once after a stress call, and the gangsters shot at the rescue van. They do not go there anymore.”
…so we may not be ready to tackle this one just yet. For now, we are loving the water conservation program here in Costa Rica, the Aliarse group and the Amigos of Costa Rica, and really glad that Jolkona gets to be a part of these amazing initiatives.
About the author: Nancy Xu is a multimedia storyteller for Jolkona. She works on video games and gaming gadgets by day, and aspires to make postive social change by night. Nancy is also actively involved with the independent film community in Seattle. She screens and introduces films for local film festivals, and makes documentaries and feature films in the summer. Feel free to check out her personal website, here.