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Concrete Hydram: Letters about the introduction of Demotech's Hydram in Guatamala

Letters about the introduction of Demotech's Hydram in Guatamala

By Bram de Vries, student Anthropology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Email
date: 02-03-2006

Life in San Juan la Laguna

Hello Reinder and people of the workforce,

Monday I started my anthropological bachelor research her in San Juan la Laguna. The village is the closest thing to paradise I?ve ever seen. It?s on the shore of the beautiful lake Atitlan in Guatemala and the people are truly friendly. Reinder, this must be the ideal place to retire within 5 years when Demotech is a huge booming foundation. A moderate climate of 20 degrees Celsius everyday, a nice lake to sail on, friendly old Tz?utujil indians to talk with, nice mountains. Yes, indeed, everything's fine here.

Unlike the village San Pedro la Laguna, next to San Juan, this village is not visited by too many tourists. If you?d like to see pictures of San Juan, and the process of my project (and of my journey through Mexico, and my stay in Quetzaltenango to learn spanish) visit
The only problem is that internet here is very slow, so it takes a while to upload my pictures and it?s not the most interesting job to do. I hope you?ll understand. To take a closer look: download google earth and ENJOY. Within the context of my research I?m interested in peasant life, especially in problems with water. The reason is that I?d like to build a Demotech Hydram water pump in cooperation with the farmers over here. My first discoveries were these:

  • There are three areas where farmers cultivate. The first is on the shore of the lake. Here they cultivate mostly vegetables and irrigate with small gasoline pumps with water from the lake. The second area is in the mountains where they cultivate mostly coffee and sometimes corn or unions. Water comes from approx. eight water wells. The wells form little rivers which are dammed. The dam contains a hose (different sizes) which leads to the garden plots. When a farmer wants water he simply disconnect the hose and lot?s of water comes out. Every one takes water at different times with the consequence of everybody being happy. The third area is the area of my interest. These are the highlands, with no water but rain. The rainy seasons are only May and Nov/Dec. The appearance of the highlands was very different from the mountains. The latter were green and fertile, the highlands were dry with only the sordid sight of old corn fields. The water wells, however, spring very high in the mountains, just below the highlands (Yet I do not know exactly where, but I?ve been told). This means a very real usability for the Hydram.
  • To use (or even to visit) the water wells I need the permission (at least it is strongly recommended) of 'lideres' (unofficial leaders, who gain large respect from the inhabitants). Guatemalans have, in a way, a fear that all natural resources (including water) are being sold by the government. Currently the state has sold some gold mines to Canadian (sorry Joel) companies. The state receive the incredible amount of 0,012% of these gold mines. Understandably the Guatemalans did not like the proposal to privatize all water wells (who are owned by the community or municipality) in september 2005. Mass protests did stop the law, but people are aware of what could happen to their water wells. Therefore it?s risky for me (alone, as a white stranger) and my investigation, to take pictures of water wells. Currently I?m still searching, asking and walking around.
  • The coffee in San Juan is produced biologically and fair trade. It is processed in a ?beneficiary? that belongs to ALL the 140 farmers. People working in the cooperation are all farmers themselves. I think this idea is initiated by a NGO (anacafe), but it appears to work for the people.
  • The hurricane Stan also visited this village and destroyed a couple of houses. Apparently USAID provided help (which I find interesting to see if it DID help). In the mountains there are many signs of landslides. Fortunately no one died in San Juan. Another village nearby was totally flushed away by a landslide, demanding 3000 souls.
  • My language teacher in Xela (Quetzaltenango) is currently writing his thesis on erosion. Therefore he knows a lot about working with farmers in Guatemala, the problems they have and solutions that exist. I explained the idea (in Spanish, yeah!) of the Hydram to him. The moment that he really understood the generousness of the Hydram and the ideas of Demotech as a whole, he, honestly, didn?t know what to say for two minutes. He thought, as an insider in the problems of poor farmers, that this was the best solution he?d ever heard of.

    Therefore I declare Demotech to be the NGO with the best playing cards in hand, the only thing needed is to play them onto the table. The ideas are there, now it?s time to make them reality.

    This is all I can say for this moment. If one of you has questions or remarks, I?ll be happy to here them from you. Hopefully I can put more pictures in my photo albums soon.

    Lot?s of joy and sun to all of you, Bram

    Come back to this page, next letters from Bram will be posted here!

    Concrete Hydram: Letters about the introduction of Demotech's Hydram in Guatamala