Ecuador ’14 Week 4: Permanent Project and Jungle Home

Hello from Quito! It’s early in the morning and I’m sitting, caffeine-deprived and bleary-eyed, in front of my computer screen. We lost power in most of the house last night, and oddly enough only the seating area has working electricity. While everyone crawls out of bed to get ready to leave (we’re travelling 8 hours by bus and car to get to Guayaquil today), I’ll tell you what we did this week.

the Permanent project

We’ve had two meetings with José Vallejo from the EcoHouse NGO about the design of our permanent house in Ecuador, and what work the society will do on it next year. We’re currently formulating multiple mini-projects for members of the society to tackle, and along with José and three TECHO directors, we visited the existing permanent house developed and built by EcoHouse during the past two years. With a wooden A-shaped roof and glass panels facing the sun, the design looks beautiful and is a promising start to the EcoHouse permanent housing project in Ecuador. As we improve the design, we are keeping in mind that timber and bamboo are unpopular building materials in Ecuador – despite their practicality and durability in earthquakes – and we are therefore looking at concrete-based alternatives.

Photos of the permanent house with José and TECHO

 

While in Quito, we also visited a family living in a TECHO house to conduct interviews and create a case study; this way, people back in Cambridge can get to know a little more about the communities we’re helping in Latin America. We chatted for two hours over bread and fresh lemongrass tea – once I’ve gone through the video footage and typed up the transcript, I’ll let you know more!

Visiting a family living in a TECHO house in northern Quito

 

UN TECHO PARA MOWGLI

We’ve also had multiple EcoHouse—TECHO meetings in order to define our society’s focus for the following year. TECHO Ecuador is preparing to start building houses for impoverished families in the jungle region of El Oriente. The current Ecuador transitional house design, while ideal for the coastal and inland sierra regions, is unsuitable for the hot and humid conditions in the Amazon jungle. Our project is, therefore, to spend a year designing a jungle house for El Oriente – a daunting but exciting task. There are several factors which we have to consider, including the need for improved ventilation, more durable building materials (we’re currently considering plastic and bamboo), and protection from insects and vermin. 

Over the weekend, Alex and Sarah paid a visit to the city of El Coca – which has grown rapidly in recent years because of oil extraction in the region – which is the last major settlement before the suffocating wilderness of the Amazon jungle. Aside from taking a boat across the Amazon River and tasting grilled maggots, they’ve also examined the landscape of the region and the existing housing (interestingly enough, none of which was bamboo), and collected a lot of useful information, photographs and data to help kick off the design process. Archie and Max will be flying to El Coca with two TECHO directors early next week, to learn more about the needs in the region.

Photos of Archie and Sarah exploring the El Oriente jungle region at El Coca, and tasting the aforementioned grilled maggots…

 

Back in Quito, we’ve visited the ‘EcoHouse’, or the Brazil transitional house prototype built by last year’s placement team. We’ve cut out a small window from the panel directly next to the door, and we’ve been carrying out smoke tests to see if this improves the house’s ventilation. The Brazil house design and these ventilation modifications may be something we want to consider for the El Oriente jungle house. 

Raspberry Pi-Ing

A quick update about the Raspberry Pis – we’ve designed a homepage and website interface, and installed Khan Academy Lite. We presented our prototype to two officials, Andrés from SENESCYT and Rubén from Infodesarollo, yesterday morning. We discussed the potential of trying it out with classrooms of children visiting the Interactive Museum of Science in Quito, and forming links with a local university who can develop and track the project’s progress while we’re away. Our plan is to install 2–3 of the Pis in a large ‘infocentro’ (internet access points in rural areas) before we leave, and monitor how people use them over the next few months. We can therefore improve and develop the system further while we’re in Cambridge and roll it out to on a larger scale next summer. 

In other news, last weekend we visited the famous Andean market at Otovalo (where I spent a shameful amount of money on alpaca scarves), and spent a few hours relaxing at the hot springs at Papallacta – and I promise you, soaking in steaming hot water for twenty minutes before leaping head-first into an icy cold pool is tougher than any ice-bucket challenge.

From left to right: Setting up the Raspberry Pi with KA Lite; A murky, misty photo of the hot springs at Papallacta; Browsing souvenirs at Otovalo market; Ready for our 9am Raspberry Pi meeting with a government official

 

In a few hours, we’ll be off to Guayaquil – the biggest city in Ecuador, located on the southwestern coast – where we have three meetings with TECHO, bamboo specialists and architects. These’ll be invaluable for us to begin the jungle house design process. Then, over the weekend, we’re going to go surfing and whale-watching in Puerto Lopez! We’ll be back in Quito on Monday – you’ll hear more from us then!

– Eleni Courea