School Latrines

We are in the midst of our first international project at Las Majadas primary school in the Palajunoj Valley, outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  The locals call Quetzaltenango “Xela” after its indigenous name, Xelajú.  Nearly all schools in the Valley have insufficient sanitation facilities including latrines and hand washing stations, some schools lacking this infrastructure completely.

Our mission, as the Syracuse Professional Chapter, is to plan, evaluate, construct, and maintain the latrines at the Las Majadas school, in addition to constructing additional handwashing stations. The Chapter will act on its vision to improve the quality of life for Guatemalan rural communities through access to adequate sanitation, integrated health education programs, and access to medical services. Improving the school’s infrastructure will encourage students to practice hygienic habits in school, reducing their risk of contracting parasites. The Chapter hopes to meet the needs of the community and empower the people with knowledge and skills by emphasizing community training during construction.

We visited the region and six schools in the Palajunoj Valley in October 2013, and we returned from a second trip in May 2014. The purpose of the second trip was to finalize the Project Partnership Agreement with the community and to collect the remaining technical information needed to move on to the design phase.  The travelers took measurements to map the layout of the school and photographs to document site conditions.  Specific technical tasks completed included further inventorying of the school’s infrastructure, characterizing soil, conducting soil percolation tests, projecting latrine usage, investigating local building regulations, documenting specific materials costs, and mapping out alternative routes for site material delivery.

The existing latrines at the Las Majadas primary school were constructed in a piecemeal fashion, with latrines added when previous ones failed. The school has been unable to provide an adequate number of latrines and handwashing stations for its students. Maintenance has also been a major barrier, as the current unimproved pit latrines provide no ability for reuse. Improved designs will allow the community to maintain these new latrines far into the future.

Currently we are working on developing our Alternatives Analysis Report for installing latrines at Las Majadas. We are comparing ventilated pit latrines, composting latrines, pour flush toilets or a hybrid of the a ventilated pit latrine and composting latrine. Our goal is for project implementation and construction to occur in August 2015. If you’d like to travel and help with construction, we need your regular participation at meetings.

The Las Majadas community supports our work in their community and eagerly anticipates our design.  We are partnered with the local school director, a teacher, interested parents, Primeros Pasos (an NGO operating in the Palajunoj Valley), and a Peace Corps Volunteer in the area.

Engineers Without Borders Syracuse Professionals Chapter