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Donald L. Hanson - Peace Corps Projects - 1981
Donald L. Hanson - Peace Corps Projects - 1981
Being a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras was an important part of who I am today. I served under a great man, the late Alfonso Barahona, who directed the Agriculture Sector with such a desire to transmit meaningful technologies and educate impoverished farmers and their families that a lot of who he was has worn off on me. The pictures and the dialogue below give you a taste of my story in the Peace Corps and how the people of Honduras, the environment, and the struggle for both play roles in defining my career objectives.
Shortly after arriving in Honduras in September, 1981, I found myself in Juticalpa, Olancho, the fast-growing center of the country's wild wild east. It's true, the men there carry pistols on their belts, and many a dispute is settled by the pull of a trigger. Destined not to find myself in such a dispute but rather to work by my counterpart's side on small scale irrigation systems, community development projects, and potable water, I journeyed through that toughest experience I will ever love.
Project #1 - The primary school construction in La Puzunca
Most difficult of all my projects was that of the primary school construction in La Puzunca. Brick walls for the school were erected in 1972. Unfortunately, like so many other projects sponsored via government funds during those times, only the walls were finished before the money ran out. Inspired by my boss and enthusiastic local teachers, I wrote a proposal and funding was received for roofing materials from the Peace Corps Partnership Program. It took 14 months of intermittent stints to roof the brick walls. However, because it was a community effort that also drew from the village members time, pockets, and sweat, it wouldn't die. The teachers got additional financial help for doors, floors, windows, mortar, and school furniture.
The guys at the La Puzunca Elementary School Construction Project (youth from 3rd to 6th grades aided to clean the previously abandoned construction site and coat the timbers with burned motor oil for termite protection - the school opened in 1984):
Several men repeatedly volunteered their carpentry skills and time, and their sons were there to do whatever came up in order to speed progress.
Project #2 Community potable water project in El Agua Fria
Never have I seen one man work so hard as Don Sebastian Estrada, the community leader of El Agua Fria. Singlehandedly, he cleared the brush for over 1.5 kilometers in less than six hours while I measured the drop from the water source to the village. He was inspired by his dream to put abundant, clean water into his home for his family after seeing that the nearest city did it over a 20 kilometer span. At first, knowbody in the village believed in the project. But when the PVC tubing arrived in a truck, everybody pitched in enthusiastically because Don Sebastian threatened to not install lines leading to their homes were they to not partake in the arduous tasks of digging the trenches, hauling the sand, and forming the storage tanks out of cement.
Community of El Agua Fria (water flowed in every house in August, 1984):
Other projects included hydraulic ram installations, land-leveling for furrow irrigation, and gravity fed sprinkler systems
Dozens of enthusiastic farmers contacted me to help them develop potential water sources. One farmer, inspired by large scale irrigation projects being put in throughout the Guayape valley, supported me to design and supervise the land-leveling of a three hectare field for vegetable production. It was the quickest project I had. He had resources, you might say, and was able to rent industrial equipment for the task.
Sprinkler irrigation systems are also simple. This is true primarily due to the fact that low-income farmers can often times afford half-inch hoses, a single sprinkler head, and the time to lay and purge the hoses. Furthermore, sprinklers can be moved around to cover a substantial area, water sources are common high up in the hills of Honduras, less erosion is caused by applying water gently and slowly via sprinklers, and field preparation is minimal.
Hydraulic rams are uncommon water pumps that use the kinetic energy found in falling water to raise water to homes and farms located above any water source. Trained by the Peace Corps, I helped four farmers construct and install hydraulic rams for domestic water purposes.
Furrow irrigation systems need large quantities of water. Again, because water sources are often found high up in the mountains, canals and hoses could be used to divert water to fields at the foot of the mountains for irrigating small areas.
Gustavo Arias and the field hands were very excited to see all this water gushing from the hose we installed during the dry season in the village of Riochuelo (1983):
One special experience amongst many
People in El Agua Fria became very close friends as we worked to put water in their homes. All through the project, Don Sebastian promised to take me on an unbelievable journey, but he wouldn't say where. He fulfilled his promise, and the trip into the jungle was a high point that made the frustrations of everyday Peace Corps life just disappear.
On mules all day long but still grinning after being intoxicated by the wonderful perfume of coffee blossums, gorging on field-ripened bananas, and encountering Quetzals in the jungle.
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