Back to Newsletter Page

Agua Para La Vida

5464 Shafter Avenue

Oakland, CA 94618

(510) 643-8003

Graduation! July 1999

In January, our first class of students graduated from ETAP, APLV's technical school in Rio Blanco, Nicaragua. The graduation ceremony marked their completion of a three-year course in gravity-fed drinking water systems and rural sanitation that included classroom work and substantial field training. It was a joyous and well-attended event with good food, lots of singing (most notably by Technical Director Juan Carlos Aráuz) and some impressive dancing, even by some of our most reserved campesino staff!

Of the five graduates, three (Renaldo Díaz, Jaime Rodríguez, and Esteban Cantillano) have been given positions with Agua Para La Vida in Rio Blanco where they have assumed responsibilities for project study, design and construction. One of the other graduates, Juan Romero Alonso, found work at the local bank, demonstrating a demand for skills developed in our students that are useful in a broader context than water projects. The fifth graduate, Oreste Jarquín, was forced to leave the region after the brutal assassination of his brother in an incident reported in our May 1998 newsletter.

We plan to enroll a second class of students in the near future, but not before evaluating the employment opportunities of the graduates. We are considering bringing students from another region to Rio Blanco to train and then return home to work on water development.


Hurricane Mitch Update

As we reported in our last newsletter, Nicaragua was hit hard by Hurricane Mitch in November 1998. The damage was all the more devastating because it occurred in a country without the financial resources to respond- Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Americas (Haiti is the poorest). Near the site of our very first project in San Dionisio the Rio Grande de Matagalpa, normally a small river as it passes through town, rose 26 meters (85 feet) and carried whole sections of reinforced concrete road bridges several hundred meters downstream. The losses were huge and included fertile land, crops, houses, bridges and power and communication lines. At a national level the hurricane affected numerous water systems, causing a setback in the construction of new projects as the National Rural Water Directive (DAR) and international aid organizations have had to concentrate their efforts on existing system reconstruction and rehabilitation. The impact of the hurricane on existing systems shows the importance of building local technical capacity to respond to such situations.

The only APLV project which was seriously affected was Cerro Grande (completed in 1991). This project is located on steep slopes near the small town of San Ramon. We received a $5,000 donation from CUSO (Canadian University Services Overseas) to partially fund the reconstruction/rehabilitation of this system. We will be rebuilding the system this year and are using the occasion to increase the water supply (which had fallen over the years) by harnessing an additional spring.

Two New Projects Underway

An event such as Mitch temporarily opens donors’ purses to repair the damage, but for those villages which never had a drinking water system it is harder to find funding. Agua Para La Vida's two other main undertakings this year deal with such communities: Wilikon, a community of 414 with barely enough relief to allow a gravity system; and Santa Rita, 100 km east of Rio Blanco in the township of Siuna. Santa Rita is the largest project we have undertaken to date, with a current population of 1600 that is expected to double rapidly. Due to the large size of the project and correspondingly large budget, we plan to carry out this project in stages.

Community Health Survey

Gregoria and Lilliam, our health and hygiene educators, have completed a first cycle of surveys concerning the mortality and morbidity of infants and children in the communities with which we deal and the impact on these statistics of both the presence of safe drinking water and of the APLV hygiene program. We are currently working on writing up the results of this study, but one of the incidental findings was that an appreciable fraction of the campesino children of these communities suffer from malnutrition. These deprived children generally belong to families who own either very little or no land. We are investigating the potential of organizing supplementary meals for the youngest children who need them most.

Health and Nutrition Program Update

by Lilliam Obando and Gregoria Espinoza

Our work with the rural communities has been a beautiful experience since we are sharing knowledge and learning side-by-side with the members of the communities in which we work. The relationships we have developed within the communities are ones of closeness and trust.

One of our main priorities has been our educational work with children. By helping children form and develop better habits, the health of the communities will improve in the future. We are currently working with 3500 school age children and some 240 nursery school children in 5 food kitchen programs. Another priority group that we have is the women since they are the main caregivers to the children and do the majority of the household chores.

During the past three years we feel we have achieved some positive results in terms of health and hygiene in the communities:

Our work in health promotion is both rewarding and difficult. We are hoping to change values and habits, and that can only be achieved over the long term.

Muchas saludes,

Lilliam Obando y Gregoria Espinoza



Reflections on La Ponzoña

By Josh Briemberg

It has been a long, arduous road but the La Ponzoña water and latrine project has been completed and inauguration is scheduled for Friday, July 2nd, 1999.

Since becoming part of the Agua Para La Vida team in Nicaragua three years ago, I have been part of nine project inaugurations. It is always rewarding to share the pride and celebration of such monumental accomplishments with the community. But in this sense, the La Ponzoña project inauguration is the longest coming and on a personal level it will be easily one of the most rewarding.

The project itself is relatively small in scale, serving 25 severely marginalized families living along the road at the entrance to Rio Blanco. The material cost of the project was correspondingly small, just under $8,000, yet completing this project took three full years of persistence by a core group within the community and the unfailing support of Agua Para La Vida. At some point along the way I made a definite decision that I was not going to leave Rio Blanco before doing all I could to make this project possible.

One of my first assignments when I arrived in Rio Blanco was to attend a meeting where the community of La Ponzoña presented their request for the study and design of a potable water project to alleviate one of the principal obstacles of this community. I set out with a group from the community led by Enma Reyes and Feliciana Zeledon. Over the next few weeks we climbed up and down searching for springs in the steep slopes that surround La Ponzoña.

More than seven potential spring supplies were identified, and flow studies and surveying were conducted. The flow rate of the very first spring identified was measured by engineering technician in training Juan Romero using his rubber boot because he had forgotten to take a plastic bucket on the trip. A major obstacle faced by this community, as in many of the communities we work with, was the legal and/or financial means to obtain rights to the spring water from the land owners where the springs were located.

One spring owner after the next rejected the appeals of the provisional community water committee. The committee sought the support of the municipality, church leaders, the European Community-sponsored development group in Rio Blanco, all to no avail. At the forefront of the community in the pre-project stage and until completion were Enma Reyes and Feliciana Zeledon. These two women persisted in the search for a solution to the obstacles faced by the project.

As a result of the failure to obtain legal rights to any of the proposed springs, funding from Water For People that had been approved in 1997 for the proposed project by had to be redirected by APLV to an alternate project in the community of Wanawas. This was a serious setback to the project. But the community persisted and two adequate springs were located in early 1998 where the owners were willing to cede water rights (one with legal documents and the other only verbally) to the community. The completely revised project proposal was ultimately approved for funding at the end of 1998 and construction began.


Due to the topographic conditions of the community - it is located on a steep mile-long slope - APLV had to design two separate water systems. The upper system could only support public tapstands due to a shortage of water supply from the spring. The lower system was designed to compensate for this shortage by providing a public wash station for use by the people from the upper section. This physical separation of the two water systems should have been another obstacle to the community in project execution but the strength and continuing determination of Enma Reyes and Doña Feliciana made a unified community effort possible.

In the end, the La Ponzoña project represents the persistence and struggle of a group of marginalized families and the success of Agua Para La Vida’s continual local presence and flexible approach to finding and supporting appropriate and adequate solutions in response to a community’s demonstrated interest and participation.

All The Best to John Niewoehner

In his role as Program Manager for Water for People (WFP), John Niewoehner was very supportive of APLV’s work. He worked hard to coordinate sponsorship from local WFP chapters for several APLV water projects as well as scholarships for APLV students. He visited Rio Blanco in 1998 to see our work firsthand and has been a great help in spreading the APLV story. He left his post with WFP in April to work on a water and sanitation project in Lhasa, Tibet.

New Office Location in Rio Blanco

After more than three years cramped into one undivided office which served as classroom and communal workspace, we have relocated to a larger space under an agreement with the Rio Blanco Mayor. Come down and visit!

Thanks once again for your on-going support!

Peace and Good Health,






Charlie Huizenga Gilles Corcos










Agua Para La Vida

5464 Shafter Avenue

Oakland, CA 94618













q $25 Material cost for drinking water for one person
q $50 Material cost of 500 seedlings for reforestation
q $100 Material cost of a latrine for a family
q $200 Sponsorship for one APLV technical student for one month
q $300 Material cost for drinking water for an entire family
q Other    
City,Statee Zip