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Circular Sanitation System for Tzanchaj - we are almost there!

Dear Friends of Tui’k Ruch’Lew,

Thank you for supporting our “From Poop to Fuel'' program! Your contribution helps make it possible for TRL to introduce this new technology to the indigenous community of Tzu’tujil Maya -- empowering them to take direct action to protect their beautiful Lake Atitlan.

Let me share the progress on this project with you. In the last months, we have developed the implementation strategy together with volunteers around the world. The brains behind the implementation strategy include:

  • an anthropologist from France,

  • a social scientist from the United Kingdom,

  • a chemical engineer from Venezuela (currently living in the Philippines),

  • three students form the University of Virginia with a major in Global Development Studies, and

  • myself.

Since December 2020, we are meeting weekly to discuss the sustainable implementation of a fixed-dome biodigester in the context of Tz’utujil Maya culture. Cultural sensitivity and appropriation is key when it comes to introducing new technology for community development that is in line with the environmental and climate Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

We know that the provision of a biodigester system alone will not help the community to transform and to increase their resilience. We want the community to be part of the change. We want the community to take ownership of the project. We want the community to be proud of co-creating a system to treat blackwater and organic waste in the community of Tzanchaj. In order to get the community involved, we first need to develop capacity building workshops for the community.

The technical implementation is a piece of cake, as technical problems are solvable. The social aspects must be considered and nurtured at the same time.

Santiago Atitlan has a brutal history that has left the indigenous community traumatized by the Genocide where civilians - especially those of Maya origin - have been killed as part of the counter-insurgency operations during the 1960-1996. In addition, the continuing systemic oppression that Tz’utujil Maya experience even after the peace agreement between the Guatemalan government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit, makes community change very challenging.

Our approach is to engage the local community and conduct workshops to discuss the social and environmental impacts of the lack of sanitation and solid waste management in the village of Tzanchaj in Santiago Atitlan. At Tui'k Ruch' Lew we believe that knowledge is power.

Thus far we have developed five capacity building workshops for the parents of the David LaMotte school, where the biodigester will be built in November of this year.

  1. The first workshop is about identifying the environmental problems related to wastewater. Using a playful and visual approach, we will assess the current sanitation situation of families and the dangers associated with the discharge of human excreta into the soil and water bodies. In the summary, the facilitator will use culturally appropriate visuals to explain the health risks associated with untreated human excreta.

  2. The second workshop provides information on the health risks associated with untreated wastewater and shows an alternative - a fixed dome biodigester. This workshop is accompanied by hands-on activities around biogas. Special attention is paid to the simple construction with local materials and the resulting products: Biogas for cooking in the school, Solid and liquid fertiliser for the school garden.

  3. In the third workshop, the community members can observe the construction of the biogas plant in the school and ask their remaining questions of the experts.

  4. The fourth workshop deals with the operation of the biogas plant, where the community learns how simply a biodigester works.

  5. In the fifth workshop, the permaculture garden is designed together with the children and their parents.

In addition to the workshops around the biodigester, we also strive to bring the little ones of the school closer to environmental topics and to bring some fun into the rather stressful daily pandemic school routine. The boys and girls painted their favourite flowers and animals with watercolours. What a lovely day for young and old. My personal favorite was the chicken, painted by Isai.


Update on the timeline

The construction of the biodigester will take place in November. This gives us another 3 months to raise money for the project. So far we have raised about 60% of the funds needed for this project.

We are grateful for your support. If you would like to fund us further, please share our Global Giving campaign “From Poop to Fuel” with your friends and family so that we can realise the model in the community in Tzanchaj that we hope can be replicated to address this issue on a greater scale. Your contribution is direct environmental action to protect Lake Atitlan from further fecal pollution.


Best wishes,

Jessica and the Tui’k Ruch’Lew team






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