The native community of Saint Rose of Huacaria is located in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon, between a lowland tropical rain forest and the cloud forests of the Andean foothills.
From Cuzco, we reached Huacaria by taking an unpaved one-lane dirt road that travels through steep Andean mountain ranges up to an altitude of 13,000 feet, before plummeting down towards the Manu National Park, at sea level.
When Rainforest Flow arrived in Huacaria in 2003, the health of the children was extremely vulnerable. Chronic gastrointestinal illnesses, and respiratory infections were the leading cause of illness and infant death.
Looking further, we learned that just eight of Huacaria’s 22 households had water taps outside their homes. The water system had been built in 1993 by a Peruvian government development project. Water was sourced from a contaminated stream to a water distribution system, then piped to the central village. This system included water filtration tanks, however, they were never finished.
The sanitation in the village was not much better. The only waste disposal in the community was a double closed-pit latrine structure built for school children by an NGO. The waste from these latrines was piped to an open septic hole in the area where children played. Families used open-pit latrines made from rustic materials.
The project provided no technical training for the villagers to teach them how to maintain the water or health education to teach them about the spread of diseases that were a direct result of contamination. Families without water taps continued to gather water in buckets from the polluted river where they routinely bathed, and washed their clothes and dishes, adding to the existing contamination.
Rainforest Flow embarked on a five-year, multicultural indigenous health pilot project in December 2003. Our goal was to improve the health of the Huacaria families, while respecting their cultural and environmental needs. We formed partnerships with the local and regional health and education ministries exchanging information, and working towards common goals.
We implemented multilingual health and hygiene education, including early childhood development, good nutrition and basic hygiene for women, children and families. Weekly classes were held at the village school in partnership with the teachers and monthly classes were held for mothers to improve their overall health and that of their families.
We renovated and expanded the existing water system,using slow sand filtration to purify the water, and brought the water distribution lines throughout the entire village. Slow sand filters have been in existence for over 200 years and naturally remove up to 99.99% of the bacteria from the village water supply.
We used rocks from the local river banks to build a stone sink with an eco-friendly drain at each home and at the village school.
We inspired the families to make an investment in their community. Each family now pay a monthly fee to maintain the water and sanitation systems.
We documented our progress with evidence. Doctors, scientists and anthropologists tracked improvements in health and documented the social impact the water and sanitation systems had on the community. Read the five-year social impact study here.
The people of Huacaria have maintained their water and sanitation system over the past twelve years. The water flows safely throughout the village, the bathrooms are clean, the women are empowered, and daily hygiene practices continue to be a part of every day life. Chronic diarrhea, ongoing debilitating gastrointestinal illnesses, and infant death due to poor hygiene practices, is now something from the past.
These advances are monumental in the history of a native village in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon. This project was our initial indigenous model, as well as ray of hope for the people of the region.
After the water service was in place, we built an eco-friendly bathroom at the schoolhouse, with separate sides for the 70 boys and girls, that attend the school.
We formed village-based water and technical committees and taught the members how to build and maintain the water and sanitation infrastructure. We formed a youth committee and taught them the same thing. The technical committees were soon traveling to other villages in the region to share their knowledge and experience. The committee members developed leadership skills, allowing them to earn a livelihood and provide a continuity of knowledge for the village.
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