June 2014: Where there is a will, there is a way – Tojquia Update

How have the 35 Large Fog Collectors (LFCs) held up in Tojquia after another dry season? This is the question I recently sought to answer. Though we at FogQuest remain committed to our projects, we approach ongoing operation and maintenance issues with a little apprehension. The task of caring for a collector cannot rest with a development agency or charity, such as ourselves, the onus is on the beneficiaries to “take ownership” of the technology for themselves. But, many issues might prevent adequate maintenance, such as a lack of access to parts or tools, a lack of time or knowledge in undertaking these tasks. Sometimes the locals have little control over some of these issues. The one we worry most about, however, is a lack of will.

I am full of questions. Did the collectors remain functional? Has the mesh remained taut despite strong winds? Do the troughs have leaks? Ultimately, does the community continue to support this technology? Tell me everything, I inquired of one particular community leader named Lázaro. Integral to our efforts from the very first build in 2006, Lázaro serves as a broker of sorts, a community coordinator. He plays a vital role by encouraging participation and leading by example. He ensures the villagers come together to support each other with maintenance tasks.

Lázaro, a community leader in Tojquia

Specifically, he tells me the collectors are “magníficos” (magnificent) – his word! He shared with me how the collectors have provided enough water during the dry season that nearly no trips to faraway watering holes were necessary. The household tanks were almost always full of fog water, he stated. Everyone continues to be happy with the LFCs. Some nets have needed minor sewing, others trough repairs, but all of them – all 35 systems – are in good working condition. In fact, he recently got together with some neighbours to complete cable tightening (a maintenance task) on a particularly remote collector. The collector he referred to belongs to a very elderly couple who are unable to do this task for themselves.

Repairs are a team effort!
Repairs are a team effort!

In Tojquia, Fernanda and I have worked very hard to teach maintenance techniques and instill a sense of confidence in the villagers. We have insisted that they can, and should, take care of this technology so that it can last them a long time. Working in collaboration with each other, getting over differences, and finding solutions together through dialogue is the only way the community can develop. We always emphasize these points during our short field stints, but, these ideas are not so easily taught. Instead, they need to be made part of the local culture. They need to be accepted beliefs by the villagers and put into practice. Fortunately, for yet another dry season, the villagers have done just that. They have addressed the technical needs of the collectors, have done so collaboratively, and have realized the direct benefits to their families. Since the first collectors were installed in 2006, they have been cared for and are functional in Tojquia. The will persists, the way is there.

Though my calls sometimes start with a few nervous questions, I know the most unsettling one of all awaits me at the end of the conversation. When I speak with any villager, inevitably they will ask: “When will FogQuest come visit us again?” Help us continue to expand fog collection technology more widely and impact even more communities such as Tojquia. A donation to FogQuest today can make this happen.

– Melissa Rosato