Local high schoolers get their hands dirty learning about water issues

Caminos de Agua recently completed a three-week educational module with 99 students at CBTis no. 60 school in San Miguel de Allende. The program was funded by Lloyd's of London and included both theoretical and practical components. The students spent three days in the classroom learning about local water issues. This multidisciplinary module comprised of lectures with practical case studies and an engaging play performed by local theatre group, teatro despierto. During the second week, the students constructed a rainwater harvesting cistern next to the classroom. The final week focused on biological treatment systems, and the students helped to install several examples, which they will be testing throughout the year. By the final day, many of the students felt motivated to spread the word on the issues they had learned about and driven to work towards finding solutions.

The program was run by Saúl Juarez, Caminos de Agua’s director of community projects. Over the first three days his classes to the students covered many themes including: the problems of water contamination in the basin and underlying geopolitical causes, the effects that this contamination has on people’s health, and the actions that local people can take to mitigate these problems.

A local theatre group, Teatro Despierto, performed their play, Agua Pasa, as part of the first week. The play adds a human element to the water issues faced by people in the region, and brings engaging humor and hope to an otherwise disheartening topic. The drama worked well to capture the imagination of the students, many of whom laughed throughout.

The second week saw Saúl, with the help of Daniel, a young man from the community of Llano Verde who was inspired to help Caminos de Agua after attending one of Saúl’s workshops in his own community, lead a group of 30 students in the building of the cistern. This will collect 12,000 liters of rainwater from the roof of the classroom, and will not only provide the students with safe drinking water, but also with a source of water that they can use for projects like the nearby school garden. The students enjoyed the opportunity to work outside with their hands and together with their peers.

The third week focused on biological treatment options. Under Caminos supervision, the students helped build and install several systems that can be tested throughout 2017 and 2018. These systems were: 1) a slow-sand biofilter with 300-liters/day capacity, 2) a chlorine/biochar combination system, also 300-liters/day capacity, and finally 3) three Caminos de Agua ceramic water filters. The rainwater catchment combined with treatment systems will help provide safe and healthy drinking water to the school. Additionally, the students will analyze the water quality from these systems throughout the year to see which work best for their needs. This second and third week made the ideas taught in the classroom practical, tangible, and engaging.

Saúl admits that it was difficult to motivate the students at first, both because of the limited time and the students' lack of hands-on experience. By the end of the project, however, the students felt that they understood the severity of the local water situation and felt empowered to act. On the final day, many said that they wanted to learn more and get more involved in other similar projects. Some even asked if they could work with Caminos de Agua in the future to give classes and teach others!

This was the first time that Caminos de Agua has conducted such a structured program with a high school, but the rainwater harvesting cistern sitting proudly by the classrooms and the comments of the students over the final days are testament to the success of the project. The students' eye-opening experience continues to motivate us here at Caminos de Agua to keep delivering such courses in other schools and communities in the future.

Caminos de Agua and the students of CBTis#60 are grateful for the support of Lloyd's of London who made this project possible.

ProjectJenn Ungemach