priya working

Engineering in Peru: an EWB-UK volunteer Priya continues her experience

EWB-UK volunteer Priya is now settled in Peru. After some time in the bustling city of Cusco working on cooking stoves, she's now experiencing rural life whilst she studies the production of ceramic water filters.

As I write this I am curled up in a hammock, which is tied between a tree and the office roof. The sun is warming my skin while the strong wind forces my hammock to oscillate. Beside me is the small water filter production factory sheltered only by an iron roof, and on my other side lies the kiln used for firing the filters. Ahead of me is a field with sheep and a stump where there used to be a dying tree. In the background I can hear the barks of dogs, the coos of birds, the horns of cars, the wind hitting the trees, and the sounds of tranquil music of an unknown origin. I am surrounded by the beautiful mountainous landscape of the Andes.

From cooking stoves to water filters

As you know from my first blog entry I undertook some pre-trip training with EWB-UK before boarding my plane to Cusco in Peru. On arrival, I was given an orientation and overview of the projects that ProWorld undertakes. I also travelled to the site where the organisation intends to build a new kiln designed to significantly scale-up production of cooking stove tops and water filters in order to build capacity and benefit more people – my job is to plan operations for production at this site.

In order to do this, I moved to Urubamba to study the production process of the ceramic water filters, which currently takes place here. This will allow me to understand any current issues and preempt problems for the new larger kiln that will hopefully be built later this year.

By the time that the kiln is built, I hope to have improved the quality of production, lead-time and throughput in the little factory in Urubamba, and I am currently doing investigations into why a large proportion of filters break during production. However, the whole process takes more than a month, so I will have to be patient whilst awaiting the results of the investigations.  

In addition to carrying out experiments, I’ve been partaking in the manual filter production tasks - smashing, grinding and sieving the clay, preparing the mixture, pressing and finishing the filters.

The less-trodden paths

I’ve also had the opportunity to visit some of the projects that ProWorld works on including their healthy living project – this includes the installation of smoke-reducing cooking stoves, water filters, ecological natural fridges and animal shelters. I even took part in the laborious task of stove-building, while the family whose home I was in stood by and watched my every move.

In addition, I’ve joined the ProWorld team for long and treacherous journeys through the clouds and the mountain-tops in order to distribute the water filters to the beneficiaries living in remote Andean villages.

I’ve also had some time to travel to more touristic areas, and Peru is full of archeology and history – Inca ruins lie at almost every turn. Highlights include hiking to the nearby salt mines of Salineras where carefully crafted rivers direct salt for collection, and trekking to the site of Moray where tiered circular walls were used by the Incas to experiment and find optimum crop growing conditions.

Cultural insight

Throughout my time here, I have been staying with a local family - eating their food, playing their games, and speaking their language. There are always some amusing misunderstandings due to my very intermediate Spanish, but we always manage to share a laugh afterwards.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a party at my host aunt’s house.  Being almost 24, I was placed with the adults who were all over 40, as opposed to the teens who played computer games and watched films in the adjacent room. At first I was left awkwardly trying to interpret the many conversations that were going on around me…and then the drinking began.

This didn’t seem so different to parties in the UK, only it was 5pm. After a few more drinks, all the women started to dance (Peruvian style), while the men continued drinking to their heart’s content. My host aunt eventually dragged me onto the dance floor, and I soon decided that Peruvian parties weren’t so different after all, they just happened earlier in the day. By 8pm, we were on our way home!

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