Guateca Project: Learn by Adapting Technology to Meet Needs in Guatemalan Mountain Village
Cal Poly College of Science and Mathematics Physics Professor Pete Schwartz
holds a Cal Poly banner atop Mt. Tacana in Guatemala in summer 2011
SAN LUIS OBISPO —For the second summer in a row, some 20 Cal Poly students will head to Guatemala with Physics Professor Pete Schwartz, where they will spend the summer taking classes with 20 Guatemalan students and working together to adapt first-world technologies to the realities of life in the small mountain town of San Pablo, elevation 9,000 feet.
The Guateca Program created by Schwartz aims to develop a new model of collaborative development by bringing American and Guatemalan students together to come up with solutions to challenges present in both communities.
The Guateca summer session in San Pablo is part of Cal Poly’s upper-level Appropriate Technology courses. The classes focus on developing nations and cover economic, resource, energy use and sustainability issues. Students in the classes are encouraged to design and create sustainable technologies such as energy, housing or transportation devices or systems to improve life for people in the developing world, complete with business plans for implementing them abroad.
Schwartz developed the Appropriate Technology courses after a sabbatical with UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. Cal Poly students taking the courses communicate throughout the academic year with college students in San Pablo using the Internet to collaborate on the projects.
A cal Poly student installs donated solar panels on the
Guateca House in San Pablo (Summer 2011)
During In the 8-week Guateca summer school in San Pablo, students from both Cal Poly and San Pablo build and field-test various technologies and sustainable business enterprise ideas. Cal Poly students earn credit for the “Energy Society, and the Environment” course, and also for a Spanish-English language exchange. They can chose to earn a third credit by taking either “Appropriate Technology Design” or “Bilingual Teaching Experience” instructed by Schwartz and other supporting faculty.
Jamie Cignetti (B.S., Business, ’11) started taking Appropriate Technology courses in 2012. She helped build the summer Guateca Program last year, and now serves as the Guateca Program Coordinator. She is developing the program by working with Cal Poly Continuing Education, publicizing the course series and summer Guateca session on campus, meeting with interested students, and communicating with collaborators and San Pablo.
She wants to go on to a full-time career working to develop Social Businesses, an alternative business model developed by Muhammad Yunus in which a company is dedicated to achieving a social goal. “Guateca is the perfect experience for that,” she said.
For summer 2012, Guateca students are working to design better-functioning greenhouses for San Pablo. This could allow residents to extend the growing season for two of the town’s viable crops: roses and tomatoes. They can command a higher price for both in local markets during the cold months.
In summer 2011, the students modified a house in the mountain town with green technologies. Students installed solar panels donated and brought to San Pablo by San Luis Obispo residents Mike and Ana-Louise Emrich, founder of Solarponics. The house was also designed to use as much natural light as possible to illuminate the interior. Cal Poly and San Pablo students also successfully developed a system to use excess heat produced by an indoor wood cook stove to provide hot water for the home’s shower.
Cal Poly and San Pablo students use donated
laptops to complete summer course homework
San Pablo students intend to continue the sustainable technology projects as small businesses. Cignetti predicts that the wood stove chimney water heater adaptation could easily become popular, since most of the homes in San Pablo use indoor wood stoves for cooking all day long.
In addition to designing, building, and testing sustainable technologies, Guateca also served as a cultural exchange and language immersion program.
Last summer, only one student in the Cal Poly group spoke fluent Spanish. She would study Schwartz’s lectures on Power Point and present them in Spanish to the San Pablo students.
“The San Pablo students want to learn English, and we wanted to learn Spanish. We found that living and working in San Pablo was a great way to learn a language in a really short period of time,” Cignetti said.
After eight weeks, the Cal Poly students also saw their own college education and lives in a different light, Cignetti said. “The students in San Pablo are our age, but they have to work much harder to support their families, their communities, and their schooling. They want to be able to support their families and themselves financially – but they’re also concerned about how they impact their local community and can add to it as a whole,” she explained. “That’s something that is often lacking in our culture, I think.”
Cal Poly students’ tuition supports the program and San Pablo provides the setting and community motivation for innovative technology projects. Both the Cal Poly and San Pablo students provide the same thing for each other: an educational opportunity that would otherwise be impossible, said Schwartz.
The Guateca Program is grateful for any donations which aid expanding the program, including construction and classroom materials. They also welcome old laptop computers, which are donated to the school in San Pablo. To find out more about the program, visit its website.
Or the Guateca students’ blog.