Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So Long, Soylent Green: revolutionary food economics with Aquaponics engineer Travis Hughey

I recently got the opportunity to interview Travis Hughey, inventor of the Barrel-ponics system of food production. It is an Aquaponics system geared towards low capital requirements and minimal environmental impact. Travis gives us his thoughts on engineering, missionary work, and much more...




JMZ: Hello Travis, welcome to my blog! Let's begin with the basics, how did you first get interested in the concept of Aquaponics?

TH: That's a long story that began with a keen interest in fish and the water even as a child. I attended Oral Roberts University as a biology major in hopes to some day become a marine biologist. God had other plans though and as such I was not able to continue my education through a formal setting. He had another curriculum in store for me that spanned the acquisition of several skills (metal fabrication, marine mechanic, etc.) and took a few decades to bring to pass. While these seem unrelated to the subject the skills learned in these professions transferred very nicely into the skills needed for fish-keeping. For example, metal fabrication taught me about basic engineering of structures, Marine mechanics involves everything from plumbing, electrical, hydraulics, electronics, fiberglass/epoxy fabrication, chemistry, etc.. All skills that come in handy when keeping things flowing in an aquaculture program. As far as the aquaponics in particular, it all started with the purchase of a greenhouse from a local school that was getting out of teaching horticulture. I was wanting to do something unique in it and looked into hydroponics only to discover the spent nutrient solution is considered hazardous waste so I looked into doing something else and stumbled upon the term "aquaponics". Since this was the combination of fish culture and hydroponics it really perked my interest and I began researching the subject which ultimately led to attending a aquaponics seminar and building our first system back in 2003.







JMZ: So at what point did you start using the term 'Barrel-ponics'?

TH: They say necessity is the mother of invention and such is the case here. Remember the mention of an aquaponic seminar in the previous post? There was a presenter there named Frank McNeely who was showing photo's of his system using bath tubs as growbeds. This fellow was a master at "using what you have" and I really connected with the whole idea of re-purposing things. I don't look at things like most people and usually ask myself "How can I use this in some other application?". As it turned out I had about 40 plastic barrels at my home to use for various projects but had already started building a large growbed mold to make the growbeds from fiberglass (I had experience with the material from boat work). On the way home, however, I got to thinking about how to use these barrels as growbeds and reduce the expense of building my first aquaponics system. My wife and I discussed how to use them and I believe God inspired the creativity on how to build an aquaponics system using barrels as growbeds. Several details had to be worked out such as how to properly support them and create a drain system that would completely empty the beds between cycles. I own a sawmill so making the timbers and such to support the weight was no problem. I built in self starting siphons to make sure when the beds were flooded they would drain completely leaving no chance for any anaerobic areas in the growbeds. These growbeds also had other advantages such as low cost (I already had them) and the surface area (from which planting densities are derived) to volume of gravel works out very nicely for plant production. Basically this is where Barrel-Ponics was born but the term had not been coined yet. That came with the invention of the small system the Barrel-Ponics Manual details. I wanted a unique name that would give that small system an identity of it's own. Even though I believed it would be somewhat popular, little did I know it would catch on as it has.







JMZ: You took this specialized Aquaponics format to Africa. What did you accomplish there?

TH: The work in Africa has made advancements but has also had setbacks. A stark reality I have noticed in any development work is the simple fact that if the locals have no personal investment in a project it will most likely ultimately fail. The reason is simple and has to do with basic human nature. If a person is not personally invested (has something tangible to lose) they simply have no strong motivation to see a project through, and in fact, have more of a motivation to allow it to fail somewhat to keep the funds flowing, knowing full well the donor will not want to see it fail. After all, he is invested!! That being said, the first project I did in Kenya was a donor funded project. It all started out fine and looked like the technology would take hold. They even reconfigured the parts I built while there to make it "their own". This is exactly what I had hoped would happen but unfortunately the situation was to be short lived. It is currently not in use to my knowledge. The hardware I designed and built, did in fact function properly and the students at the school did grow plants in it. While it was going it drew people from all over Kenya to see this thing in operation. The problem was multifaceted though, beginning with putting tilapia in the system in a location that simply did not get warm enough for the tilapia to grow well. The tilapia were shipped in from a distance while just down the road was a hatchery that had catfish and trout. They would have been a much better choice. The second was mis-allocation of some of the hardware. Voltage converters were purchased to operate the system. These converters were rated at 100 watts max which was plenty to operate the system that needed only 40 watts. The converters were pulled off the Barrel-Ponics system and used to operate music equipment in the chapel and were burnt out in the process. The people there were instructed that these were to be used for the Barrel-Ponics system only before I left, but obviously they did not do as instructed. Once again, easy come, easy go. There was also the issue of the person who was in charge of the system asked to leave the school because of other "mismanagement" issues. To my knowledge the parts have been taken by a local pastor but have not yet been rebuilt into a working system. The best example of what can be done though is by a group of 4 young men who downloaded the Barrel-Ponics Manual and pooled their money to build it themselves with no outside funding and using local materials. I am very proud of these guys for their work as they are of the system they built and are growing beans and fish. There is also a pastor in Nairobi that has dug a tilapia pond near his church as well as an orphanage in Rongo that is now growing tilapia (I seeded them with fingerling's while there) in ponds they dug themselves and are also making bricks to fund the work they are doing there. This is,in my opinion, real success as they are not dependant on my resources and are learning to manage God's creation in a way that honors Him. I am not even needed in the equation there. Very cool, if you ask me.


JMZ: Travis, how does your faith relate to your work with Aquaponics?

TH: It was a result of my first short term missions trip to Togo, W. Africa that inspired me to do more than simply take a "vacation with purpose". I wanted to do something that would really impact communities beyond the scope of the average "missions" trip. Further trips to Togo and Kenya only solidified the belief that to break the cycle of poverty, people themselves had to be empowered to manage their environment rather than depending on outsiders to bring in the goods. God has given all of us resources that if we manage them in a way that pleases Him, He will prosper us. This was part of the motivation to design a system that could be built anywhere without the need for electronic timers, micro-processors, etc. After being in a developing nation and seeing the challenges people face to simply survive, I was faced with the fact that we must put flesh and bone on the message we preach about Christ (James 1:22-25, 2:14-18). There is an old saying, "It's hard to hear the good news above the rumbling of an empty stomach". For instance, Jesus not only taught about the principles of the Kingdom of God, He demonstrated it in also meeting peoples immediate physical needs. If you were sick, you were healed, if hungry, you were fed. He not only did this Himself, He empowered people to go beyond the act of simply receiving (being dependent) and charged them to go and follow His example (Mark 16:15-18). Aquaponics is simply a tool that God can use to help meet the daily food needs of people with limited space and water. It actually teaches us to be good stewards of Gods resources and as such, we will receive His blessings. If people have a direct relationship with God and He is blessing the work of their hands we are basically out of the picture and not a temptation for dependence. This is what it means to be free. Dependence on others is bondage (Jer. 17:5-10), Christ came to set us free (Luke 4:17-21) and with that freedom comes empowerment to live a life that is full and free of any kind of bondage (John 8:1-11). It is in this freedom that we can glorify God (1 Cor. 6:20). If anyone wants to read a bit more on this perspective you can read the documents from my website here: http://www.fastonline.org/content/blogsection/7/31/








JMZ: What advice do you have for someone with little capital who wants to set up their own Aquaponics farm?

TH: START SLOW!!! Build a small system and expand on what you have learned. As with any technology, there is a learning curve. Aquaponics is no different. You have to learn two discliplines at the same time, aquaculture and hydroponics. It is not all that hard, it just takes patience. This is where the beauty of starting small comes in. If you have a failure you have not mortgaged the farm and as such you have the resource to try again. This is one of the really cool things about the Barrel-Ponics system. It is small enough to learn on, yet large enough to actually grow a good bit of produce and a few fish for the table. While it's not optimized for production (remember it is a training tool for future bigger things), it is capable of growing some herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.... Once again, start slow and build on success. On that note I would suggest beginning with a known model of success (Barrel-Ponics) and make changes from that. I hear people all the time who have never built a system designing their own thing from the beginning with no experience whatsoever in what they are doing. Hedge yourself to success and use an already existing successful model (Barrel-Ponics).


JMZ: Thanks Travis!


TH: Joshua, Thank you so much for shining the light on our work. God Bless, Travis W. Hughey











For a free copy of the Barrel-Ponics Manual please visit Travis' website here:
http://www.fastonline.org/content/view/15/29/


Travis also was featured in a recent New York Times article on Aquaponics:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/garden/18aqua.html


You can contact Travis via email : kenyahugheys -at -yahoo.com


images copyright Travis Hughey 2010

Friday, July 24, 2009

Updates, Phoenix Arizona and much more...

Hello everyone. I haven't updated my blog in a while so I thought I would give my readers and friends a short update on my current activities. As many of you are aware the housing market has literally flipped over. So I thought it was a good time to make an investment in the central Phoenix area. I like the area because it is 1) diverse, 2) young productive people live there, 3) undervalued, 4) new facilities like Phoenix Light Rail system. So this blog will inevitably be more Phoenix centric from here on in, but you can also expect the typical quality of writing you've seen here in the past. I'm also working on a small project with some people around here, I will explain in more detail if it develops.

Last month has been quite an adventure, driving around the state of Arizona looking for a good living situation. South East Arizona is particularly nice in terms of natural settings, but the Phoenix area had more to offer from a commercial and cultural perspective. Also the relative values were far lower. A plot of land outside of Bisbee was a comparable price to that of a fully functional home in walking distance of the Phoenix city center. It's hard to say whats going to happen next in the markets (I believe drastic inflation), but for me it was a good buy because I enjoy Arizona and now I can live here inexpensively and pursue the wide range of intellectual interests that I have.

As for Phoenix itself, I think it is an American city with many possibilities. Although it has been around for a very long time, it really did not begin to develop until the 60s. I would guess this might have had something to do with the development of modern A/C technology. It has recently gained the honor of being America's 5th largest city. It has a good university system with excellent research efforts. It has just begun to seriously develop municipal services such as a light rail system. In addition, it is only an hour away from some of the most breathtaking nature this country has to offer. Its greatest deficiency is its job market, but that is not a hard problem to remedy- It just takes a critical mass of voters and those young professionals are moving here.






Thanks for following everyone, and stay tuned!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Take A Load Off Fannie

I can remember with crystal clarity at least a dozen people tell me with a straight face, "Real Estate Never Goes Down" as little as 2 years ago. Not only does it indeed go down, but we are now in the biggest financial mess this country has been in since the Great Depression.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Russia Rising?

"We live in an epoch changing time. The end of the millennium, the end of the century, the end of the ideological era. It is all global border-lines, challenging us to just so global answers, large-scale reflections. However, within the smaller cycle of our Russian social life the obvious *volte-face* is taking place. It is going to be quite comparable with perestroika and “democratization” in its significance and consequences. In the ideological sense, perestroika was the transitional period from late Soviet, nominally socialist society, to the liberal and democratic model. The term “post-perestroika” has been applied to the description of that political, ideological and cultural model, which appeared after the radical break with the Soviet past and the establishment of the western capitalist market system in Russia." - A. Dugin

A brilliant photo of Alexander Dugin speaking at a Russian Nationalist rally in '07:



"Alexander Dugin, the leader of the Eurasian Movement, speaks during a rally of Russian nationalist groups in central Moscow, Sunday, April 8, 2007, with a billboard in the background. Several hundred young supporters of Russian nationalist groups rallied under heavy guard in downtown Moscow Sunday, calling for the resurrection of the Soviet empire."

www.daylife.com/photo/04szfz4fXL0V0

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Video on Free Software and the Third World

An interesting documentary on free software use in Third World economies.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Alan Dayley : Phoenix Linux Users Group


Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Alan Dayley of Phoenix Linux Users Group. Alan had some very interesting things to say from both a Arizona perspective, and from the perspective of someone who helps manage a Linux Users Group.



JMZ: Alan, welcome to my blog! First off, I'd like to thank you for doing this and for all the effort you've put into fostering a Linux community in the Phoenix area. Our readers would like to know a bit more about you, how and why did you first start using Linux?


AD: Thank you for the invitation, Josh. I started really learning about Linux in April of 2000. I had heard of Linux and knew it only as "another version of Unix." I was a mostly happy Microsoft OS user and developer. In April 2000 I started a new job. One of my new co-workers mentioned that we should start using Linux as a testing platform for the company products. He "knew of" a Linux user group meeting somewhere in Mesa. That May (or maybe June) I went to my first PLUG East Side Meeting and walked away with a boxed set of SuSE Linux 6.4 as a door prize.



Install Fest 2002



For the next few months I dual-booted the family computer, doing my real work, like email and so on, in Windows 98 and booting to Linux to play around and learn. At some point I realized that I was not really learning Linux very well by playing. That is when I simply determined to do everything in Linux. If I didn't know how to do something in Linux, I'd force myself to learn how. In January 2002 we migrated the whole family to Linux and have not gone back. The funny part of the story is that the friend and co-worker that pointed me toward Linux is not a regular Linux user, even today. Nor do we use it as much at work as I would like. In fact, at work I am mostly a Microsoft OS user too. But at home and whenever I can, I use Linux and other FS/OSS software. I use it for the freedom and the "tinkerability." As a programmer, I like to dig into the code, though I don't do it much in practice. As an administrator of my family's computers, I like that I don't need to worry about viruses and many of the other attack vectors out on the Internet. I appreciate that my kids can use Linux or Mac or PCs equally well and know concepts like "word processing" instead of just a specific application like "Word" I really like that I don't have to worry about licenses and forking out money to get the functionality I need.

JMZ: I think the 'tinkerability' factor is probably the most attractive aspect of using Open Source for most. This tends to draw in hobbyists who want to learn the principles of computer science or operating systems, the hobby crowd, and also attracts a segment I will call 'power users', who need to get more out of a system than the closed source , ahem *brand X*, platform does not offer. ;) The latter group are looking for superior performance and enhanced market options. Do you think that PLUG is more for the 'garage tinkerers' (the ham radio enthusiasts of today), or for the power user types?

AD: My perception is that most members of plug are into tinkering rather than being power users. The line here is also very blurred but I think most PLUG users would rather understand how things work and have a stable, tailored solution instead of high performance. For example, many PLUG members will brag about how their personal workstation or server is on hardware that is more than 5-years-old. Power users don't brag about old hardware! Still, tinkering around and getting great performance out of old hardware is a powerful thing. So, does that make everyone a power user? ;^) That's how the distinction between tinkering is blurry for me.

JMZ: So why do you put so much into PLUG?


AD: Fostering the Linux community in the Phoenix area comes naturally to me. I enjoy it and get a great deal out of it. I appreciate the thanks but also know I get more than I put in so it doesn't usually feel like a sacrifice.

JMZ: I think one of the reasons you stand out amongst the leadership of PLUG is you like to keep things light, and most importantly: *fun*. PLUG is very much a hobbyist group, but some including myself express a desire to have an organization more devoted to career development. What do you think limits PLUG from operating in this way? Do these two groups antagonize one another, or do they overlap?

AD: Fun is important to me in everything I do. Of course I find Linux/FS/OSS particularly interesting and fun, so the attitude bleeds over into the people part of the group. PLUG can be both hobbyist and "professional," if that is what we make it. However, over the years I have noticed the reality that those desirous to do career development rarely come to meetings. Probably because they have used up their available free time developing their careers. This is not to say that those who do participate in PLUG don't work on their careers, but that they find the interaction of the group valuable in more ways than just applying to their jobs. I personally have used a great deal of what I learn in the group on the job. Everything from understanding of different licenses to tools and applications that are available. For example, it's hard to deploy a solution when one is ignorant of its existence. PLUG interaction exposes me to solutions that I may not need now but may come up later. I have a hard time defining the difference between hobbyist and career development when it comes to personal interaction within the group. We recently had a presentation on using the GNU screen utility (http://www.gnu.org/software/screen/), very handy for a hobbyist or professional. Would it have been a career development presentation if the person talking had worn a tie? I think the content of the email discussions and meetings already apply to both audiences. The manner of presentation is definitely hobbyist and so sometimes feels like it's not career focused.

JMZ: Who do you think are the top 5 contributors @ PLUG?


AD: Only five? It's hard to narrow it down that much.

- The Steering Committee: I will count this group as one. They do regular, sometime mundane work to keep things going. They jump to the front to do presentations when there isn't any other. They start things and fix things.

- Alexander Henry deserves special mention for his work to start and keep the monthly Install Fest going for several years now.

- Darrin Chandler: He's actually a "BSD guy" but his participation with the group over the years has been tremendous.

- A member known as "Tuna" has made a large impact recently. (I'm not using his real name because he is a minor.) He started the West Side Stammtisch with fliers and all. He is a knowledgeable contributor to the group at a young age.

JMZ: What kind of people constitute PLUG?


AD: My view of the types of people participating in PLUG is skewed by my own interests in programming. I seek such people out. However, I think most of the members are system administrator or IT people. This would be followed by hobbyists, programmers and then users. The interesting part is that these lines are crossed all the time. I'm a programmer but I know most any system administrator would write rings around me when it comes to any scripting code like Perl. The open nature of FS/OSS defies anyone to remain in a "pigeon hole" somewhere, even socially in face-to-face meetings. So many users are learning programming and hobbyists are learning enterprise class principles. The cross pollination is very strong and easy.


PLUG Meeting.

JMZ: Are there any interesting trends as far as PLUG attendance goes?

AD: PLUG attendance at the meetings has been largely stagnant lately. There has been some growth at the West Side Meeting but we usually have a core group that is almost always attending with additional new comers that stop attending after a few times. I don't have a good handle on reasons for these people who come but don't continue. I have seen more and more people who are not into computers by trade express interest in Linux and PLUG. It could be that the "market" for group members is shifting away from the technically inclined to more people who see computers as a tool rather than something to tinker with. PLUG will have to shift in that direction too gain a following from those people.

JMZ: I know that most are hardware people- but you've got some web developers and the like- whats the view from a leadership position? How do you account for the fact that PLUG is one of the most active Linux organizations in the country? (given that Phoenix is not considered to be a tech center).


AD: The Phoenix area is a great place to live and work because the people tend to be friendly an accepting, at least in my experience. PLUG reflects that, to a large extent. Lately we have had some heated email exchanges, the first in my recollection at such a strong level. That was both a disappointment and highly out of character to the group. Traditionally PLUG has been and still is accommodating and respectful to all comers. I think the openness to participation keeps the group alive. Besides, what else can you do on a summer afternoon when it's too hot to go outside except email and talk about Linux! ;^) The recent opening of offices for major companies that run on Linux and FS/OSS adds to the energy. I have also been involved with several "proprietary" software people who are driving more social interaction between all developers. Events like Desert Code Camp, largely organized by closed software developers, are opening more channels and possibilities for FS/OSS interaction where it would have been previously discounted or ignored. It's exciting to be here as things begin to bubble! The members and Steering Committee that work and make things happen are the biggest reason PLUG stays active. As long as that continues, PLUG will be worthy of participation and be a viable source of interesting information.

JMZ: Alan, what do you see for PLUG in the next year?

AD: In my opinion PLUG is on the edge of amazing things. If the members can push the group into the local consciousness, capitalizing on the increasing main-stream awareness of Linux, exciting things can come about. An example for the opportunity and challenge before the group: For years I have tried to have my father try Linux. Ubuntu CDs and demonstrations were well recieved but unused or triggered no action. He recently went shopping for a small laptop and, to my surprise purchased an Asus Eee PC without MS Windows. I asked him if he was going to get Windows for it. "No," he replied, "if they ship it with Linux and all this software, I'll give it a try. Besides, it looks good." The challenge for PLUG is to draw such people in because a large percentage of new Linux users will be "non-geeks" like my dad. That will require changes to how we address our meeting audience and communicate in the group. We are trying to move in that direction with multiple topics in one meeting to cover all levels of knowledge. We also have a base for a much improved website and online precense to pul in those that expect "Web 2.0" interaction. But all of this takes work and time from volunteers. If it does not happen, I fear PLUG will miss the people we want to reach the most: new users.


JMZ: Any final words?


AD: First, I thank you for this chance to interview. It has been fun. Second, I have found PLUG to be the single most helpful and valuable resource for my own introduction and education in Linux. I encourage all those interested in Linux to participate with your own LUG, where ever that is. And, if you are in the Phoenix area, PLUG would love to hear from you, especially! Lastly, I would deviate a bit from the main thread in this interview and mention freedom of a wider nature. The world's freedom to create and do and share has never been greater than what we have now. It should only get better. But, many of our freedoms are under attempted restriction by industries and government who enjoyed the default restrictions that digital data eliminates. If we don't choose and use our freedom, we will loose it through DRM, draconian copyright laws and other measures. This effects everything from music to engineering to education. The power of a digital world is only just being imagined and we must do what we can to grow it. PLUG certainly strives to do our little part in that effort.

JMZ: Wow, I feel like Im back in the 90s with all this internet optimism! Thank for being on my blog, Alan.





you can also read more of Alan's thoughts at
Freedom Bytes Blog.

for more information on PLUG visit http://plug.phoenix.az.us/

Friday, April 4, 2008

Josh Weiss: Networking The Poor in Guatemala with Partners In Solidarity

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Josh Weiss, who works with Partners in Solidarity. Partners in Solidarity was founded by Matthew Rutman with the vision of bringing computers and technical education to the rural schools and NGO's of the Guatemalan state of Quetzaltenango. The project facilitates the donation of computers, supplied by Next Step Recycling in Eugene, Oregon, to allow for the implementation of laboratories. In partnership with Guatemalan NGO INEPAS, Partners in Solidarity provides sustainable development within the communities of Quetzaltenango, through the dual means of encouraging both computer literacy and community organizing. Josh Weiss, a consultant and technology worker from California, is currently living in Quetzaltenango and working as a volunteer for Partners in Solidarity.


A computer lab built by Partners in Solidarity


JMZ: Can you describe the current state of Guatemala?

JW: I see Guatemala as still reeling from the socioeconomic effects of its 30-plus year Civil War. The Guatemalan Civil War was fought for a variety of reasons, including significantly: a more equitable distribution of land, educating the rural, poor and indigenous, increasing access to health care, encouraging democratic participation and the defeat of the 500 year old patronage farming system. When the civil war ended in 1996, a series of peace accords were signed by the government which promised to address these issues. As the government has been slow in fulfilling its promises, many local and international NGOs have formed to take up the work that addressed in the accords, i.e. building schools, clinics, water treatment centers, monitoring elections, etc. In the Guatemalan Highlands, this includes, for example, the work done by ourselves, Cafe Conciencia and Enlace Quiche. Enlace is a local NGO, funded by USAID, which creates a digital curriculum for teaching Mayan culture and language, as well as training Rural people in technical skills. Incidentally, we use the software created by Enlace on our computers to teach the Kiche language and culture, the predominant indigenous culture in the Quetzaltenango area.


Unloading a Shipment of Recycled Computers from Next Step Recycling in Oregon



JMZ: Do you think the current government regime is stable?

JW: This is a bit of a loaded question. The government IS Stable in the sense that there have been three "democratic elections" since the peace accords were signed, and that all the winners were non military figures. However, what they're doing to better the life of the people we work with, I can't say. There are currently countless problems in the county. Violence is incredibly prevalent: 12 bus drivers were recently murdered in one week by gangs in the capitol, there are lynchings, 26 police officers were kidnapped in the Atlantic port of Puerto Barrios the other day. Malnutrition is high. People are *very* poor. I couldn't believe my eyes last week when I did a school visit. 30 minutes off the main highway to the Pacific Coast, down a dirt road, to a community in the middle of a coffee plantation. I've never seen anything like it and I don't think the kids had ever seen a computer. So id say its "stable-ish".

JMZ: how does your organizations approach differ from others?

JW: I've learned a lot about sustainable development through my work. Basically we function like this: we tell teachers in our department (state) that we have a computer lab project. If they want to participate, they submit a formal application to the organization INEPAS. When INEPAS gets a proposal, they preform a study of the community to make sure that basic necessities, ie nutrition and sanitation, are available within the community. If the community is a good fit for the project, we send along a list of requirements for project participation. If the study shows these factors are lacking, we choose not to work in that community to encourage development in the proper order. Some of the requirements are: building the lab, putting bars on the windows, putting in electricity, having both a security and a maintenance committee, and having a curriculum. Once they do all that, they're requested to contribute 75 Q (About $10) per computer to help with project costs. These costs include the rental for our parts bodega, tech services, curriculum development, container transport and other costs. The contribution is an important part of creating sustainability as it it helps the communities take ownership of the computers. The parents really care, all those committees are volunteer, and let me tell you, seeing a group of twenty or so rural indigenous Mayans who have made the journey to Xela to meet with us and discuss the lab, all discussing their commitment to the lab project for their school (on a work day) is really something. Blows me away every time.

JMZ: so most of the rural Mayans see it as a path to college education?

JW: well, that's about 10 steps ahead I think. It really serves two dual purposes. One is the obvious, introducing kids to computation and the concepts of computers. Whether that's so they can write papers, use the Internet, play games, or find work in the future and yes, it's like literacy tests for voting in the U.S. Black South, they need to know computation to get to university, so at the least it removes that obstacle. University attendance is very rare among our schools, just because it's very expensive, maybe the first born son goes, but all school after elementary costs money, and costs are not only school costs but the transportation costs to get to school, which are really high, especially given the current cost of gas ,which is reflected in bus costs. Purpose two is getting the kids and the parents interested in and proud of their schools, which is huge. There was a Tulane university study done on the effects of our project, which demonstrated that that parents leave their kids in school longer, because they value an education that includes technology. Further, we install software which teaches art, geography, history and indigenous culture, which thoroughly augments the regularly available curricula. These effects are why INEPAS got involved. They developed our sustainable concepts, and administrate the selection of schools.

JMZ: do any of the rural Mayans use the net for business or even political goals? - I'm talking about usage aside from just preparing to become something other than a rural Mayan.

Josh Weiss speaking to a group of Guatemalans

JW: I'd say overwhelmingly, no. There's some interest from some potential donors to train them to use the Internet to sell products as part of getting them online. Mostly what happens now is ONGs in the cities use the internet to sell products FOR the rural population, as Cafe Conciencia above. It's a huge cultural shift (at least in my interpretation) to get people using the internet in that way and certainly one that would be great.

JMZ: coffee is the major export in G. ?

JW: Actually, the number 1 and number 2 income sources for Guatemala respectively are tourism and remittance payments from Guatemalans working abroad. After that, coffee is a large export along with some handicrafts

JMZ: How long has this project been operating?

JW: The project started as an independent organization 6 years ago in 2002. In 2003, the second year of the project, INEPAS got involved, beginning the community involvement aspect of the project. Its now a great partnership between ourselves, Next Step, INEPAS and a local org called Entremundos that provides office, storage and teaching space. As of last year, 2007, we became the official International Computer Placement Program of Next Step Recycling. The involvement of the social organization INEPAS in the Partners in Solidarity project is an important one. They began the sustainable aspects of our project, and will eventually be taking it over to leave it in Guatemalan hands. For them, the project serves not only to build community interest in schools, but to teach the communities about community decision-making and organizing (through the election and organization of committes). Thus, the project serves to teach more than just technology.

JMZ: Any last words regarding your experience in Guatemala? there's a river near XeJW: Its beautiful down here, but in some ways is also pretty shocking. For one example, my mom was here visiting recently, and she noticed things I've stopped noticingla that is literally the town dump for a small rural community. As my mom was looking on in horror, a little kid walked up, smiled right at my mom, and threw a huge bag of garbage in the river, smiled again, and walked away. Its beautiful, shocking, exciting, scary. Shocking and scary because of the story I've just related, and the pervasive top-down cultural and environmental ignorance which allows situations like this to persist. Beautiful, however due to the capacity for change. Just after this story took place, I learned of (and am participating in as a helper and DJ) a festival being put on to clean up this river and raise money to put a garbage collection system in place in Zunil (the town from which the river gets its name).

JMZ: Thanks Josh!



There are many ways to help Partners in Solidarity. For more information on monetary or equipment donations, as well volunteering in Guatemala, please write to Matthew Rutman (psolidarity -at- yahoo.com).
  • INEPAS, which is also a really great Spanish School offering 1-on-1 intensive Spanish courses in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
  • Next Step Recycling, which provides all computers to Partners in Solidarity, among many other great projects.


  • Entremundos, which provides Partners in Solidarity with storage and classroom space, as well as maintaining a database of volunteer opportunities throughout Guatemala.