Juggling

Wow, life has been busy!  I’ve definitely adopted the “work hard, play hard” attitude this summer and haven’t had much time to sit, write and reflect.  I plan to write more posts about specific aspects of my time and activities here in Cambodia but don’t have the time right now.  But, I thought I’d list and briefly discuss what I’ve been up to lately.

At iDE, I’ve been finishing up the design of a pilot program that is starting in August. The pilot will test if consumer demand for fecal sludge management (FSM)-solutions can be stimulated if they can easily see how full their latrine pits are.  This study is right up my research alley and has been very interesting to dive into!  The data we gather over the next year will be very instructive for many organizations around the world working in FSM.  I’ll provide more details in a later post.

I’ve also been helping to design an ultra-low-cost latrine shelter for those latrine owners that have already purchased their latrine (squat pad, plumbing and pit) but don’t have the money to purchase a permanent shelter just yet.  I’ve managed to design a durable shelter that costs $20 (materials and installation included), should last 3 years, and provides good privacy, protection from the elements, and ease of use.  I’ll post pictures and more details in a later post.  This project has tapped some of my somewhat dormant mechanical-engineering skills, which has been fun and rewarding.  Designing for ultra-low cost really changes the design process and makes you think out of the box!

Outside of iDE, I’ve been working hard on my PhD research focus and plan.  I’m really excited to dive into how FSM and behavior interact.  There is a big trend in development towards using positives, like aspiration (e.g., wanting something pretty/functional/durable), to improve the successes of development projects as opposed to using negatives, such as shame (e.g., CLTS).  So, I’ve decided to focus my research on how perception, value and aspiration affect the uptake of FSM solutions in rural households.  In my reading for this pilot program at iDE, I’ve become aware that behavior is a major hurdle for FSM.  Particularly, people’s perception of waste and its dangers (e.g., “waste isn’t dangerous”), how people value different things (e.g., affordability, health benefits/risks, ease of use, durability), and what people aspire to achieve (e.g., temporary vs. permanent solutions, aesthetics vs. functionality, social benefits vs. health benefits) have been shown to drastically affect the uptake of FSM solutions.  I’m in the middle of sussing out the details of my research plan (the devil is always in the details!), but I will likely be working closely with iDE going forward, which I’m really excited about.

Also, my work with Engineers Without Borders in India on our housing and water projects continues.  We’ve been running into high-level financial problems with the housing project due to higher-than-expected labor costs, but things are getting resolved, and construction is proceeding.  I’m happy with the quality of the 6 houses we’ve already built and am looking forward to ramping up the next round of construction to finish up this project by the end of the year.  We are also in the middle of the detailed design of a reverse-osmosis water treatment system for the water project, which will supply clean drinking and cooking water to 500 people by the end of the year.  We have a lot to do still, but achieving our goal is in sight!

In the “play hard” department, I’ve been travelling like a fiend on the weekends.  I’ve managed to visit Oudong, Kratie, Ratanakiri, Kep, Kampong Chhnang, Sihanoukville, and Koh Rong Sanloem over the past 6 weekends.  Buses have been my friend, as you might imagine.  I’m also planning to squeeze in a trip to either Mondulkiri or Kampot this weekend.  So, I will have managed to see many places within a 1-day drive around Phnom Penh by the time I leave.  Jennifer and I are also planning to hit Battambong and Siem Reap in northern Cambodia after my practicum is over on our way to Thailand.  I’ve been wanting to post pictures, but my Internet connection isn’t too fast.  I’ll try to before heading to Thailand.

So, lots of learning, contributing to an excellent organization, travelling and developing good relationships.  It’s been a great experience and a lot of fun, particularly in interacting with the locals.  However, it has been hard being away from home for so long though: wife, dogs, house…  Cambodia is great but so is Colorado.

More soon.  Let the adventure continue.

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