Overview of MANOS’s May 2013 Research in Chaguite, Nicaragua

Brooke Huffman '15

Brooke Huffman ’15

Overview of MANOS’s May 2013 Research in Chaguite, Nicaragua

by Brooke Huffman


No MANOS trip is exactly the same. Unlike our annual team trip over spring break that centers around providing medical care, summer and winter trips tend to focus on community capacity building, project-specific tasks, and independent research projects. Most of our time during these auxilary trips is spent in the community of Chaguite, which is part of the larger microregion of Cuje where we hold our clinic in the spring.

In May of 2013, our team (Brooke Huffman ‘15, Kristina Ripley ‘15, Roni Nagle ‘16, Thomas Northrup ‘16, Chrissy Sherman ‘14, and Lester Chavez ‘14) set out with some pretty high goals for our summer research. We had three focal areas:

  1. Social Network Analysis- piloting an SNA study that intends to show changes in interpersonal relationships over time due to our community capacity building efforts.
  2. Mapping Chaguite’s natural and manmade resources, and learning about how they are constructed and used in the community.
  3. Engaging the community in conversations about how, with MANOS’s support, we can best increase access to clean water.
Chaguite, MANOS GPS Data Collection May 2013. (Click for Larger View)

Chaguite, MANOS GPS Data Collection May 2013. (Click for Larger View)


I will focus here on the mapping aspect of the research, to which I devoted most of my time and energy before and during the trip.

Previous efforts of MANOS to map Cuje and Chaguite specifically were expansive, but were based upon unreliable and incomplete data. After taking courses in Geology and Environmental Science, I came to believe we could learn so much more about the community if we understood the underlying geography and distribution of resources in the region. Using the team’s Garmin eTrex 20 GPS receiver, we would need to collect coordinates describing the location of every latrine, cistern, and water source at each house in Chaguite. Paired with our tracks of paths within the community and house/building locations, we could create a relatively comprehensive map of community resources.

Before leaving campus, Thomas and I learned the basics of GPS point collection from Pablo Yanez and Carrie Dolan. Geology Professor Greg Hancock also provided guidance on measuring elevation and how to best understand the community’s groundwater table. The direction and velocity of groundwater flow in the community could have large implications for understanding and managing water contamination. Previous research by MANOS team members has revealed that Chaguite’s communal water sources have tested positive for fecal coliform in the past, and therefore would like to have a better sense of latrine location relative to water sources and to know the direction of groundwater flow. To gather the necessary data, we would need to take a GPS waypoint at each latrine and measure the water table level of each well (to the best of our ability). However, due to the limitations of our GPS technology, both Professor Hancock and Mr.Yáñez warned that elevation data would likely be inaccurate.

Thomas Northrup '16

Thomas Northrup ’16

Mapping the Community – Thomas Northrup

You may think it’s really easy, if not a little time consuming, to walk around a mountain and collect GPS data points of various water sources. I am here to tell you that it’s far from the relaxing hike you may be imagining. We arrive at someone’s house after an exhausting near-vertical climb up a hill, hotter than you ever thought possible, and sweating up a storm. Then, I usually launched into an explanation, in my best Spanish, that we are from MANOS and how we hope to be able to ask a few questions about water sources if they had time. The community members of Chaguite always met us with smiles– which I later began to suspect were concealing laughter at the image of us trying to keep up as they led us to various water sources through the mountainous terrain– and a willingness to answer our survey questions.

We would ask various questions about their access to water, including what water sources they relied on for various tasks like washing, cooking, drinking, etc. We also asked about their latrines, what they may use to treat them and what precautions they take to ensure that waste doesn’t spill onto their land. If a well, creek, or pozito (a sort of natural cistern that is formed by water dripping through soil into a circle formed by rocks) was a water source they relied on, we would follow that person– usually a woman wearing flip flops who could probably climb Mount Everest without any problem– down a steep path to that  source.

At each water source, after catching our breaths, we would take a data point using a Garmin Etrex 20 GPS, coding each type of water source in the GPS with a different letter and series of numbers afterwards. If the source was a well or pozito, we would also measure the depth of it while trying, of course, to avoid the bees that sometimes resided there. We repeated this process every day, and in the evenings we would upload the points that we had collected into Garmin Basecamp in order to visually represent the data.

In the evenings we would also code all of the data we had collected through the questions we had posed to each household, or else visually collectected (as was the case with questions like “what materials were used to construct the roof?” or “what material is the latrine base made of?”), into an excel spreadsheet.

Roni Nagle '16

Roni Nagle ’16

Social Network Analysis – Roni Nagle

Many assume that residents of marginalized communities are in constant communication, that they are collaborating and working together in order to improve each other’s and their own lives. What we found in Nicaragua was a stark contrast to this generalization. Initially we performed a series of ethnographic interviews asking about the primary concerns of the community and people responded similarly most saying their main concern was water nutrition and or the environmental degradation, but they did not know if other in their community experienced the same problem. As MANOS believes in investing only in resources that will facilitate the development of further resources, a main focus of the project became investing in communication.

In order to do so, the MANOS project began social network analysis research. The methodology includes performing a series of household interviews and using the data from those interviews to identify communication networks within the community. The MANOS approach seeks to identify organic communication networks to facilitate the development of social infrastructure within the community. When we first partnered with the community of Chaguite, we used social network analysis in our descriptive research. The identified social networks and organization that stemmed from the analysis was readily taken up by the community and used to form the five collaborative focus groups that exist today.

During May of 2013, the focus of our social network analysis focused not only community description but also an initial round of data collection to be used in order to measure a change in communication networks throughout our partnership. We piloted a social network interview protocol on both men and women in the community in order to ensure that our questions ask what we intend them to. On our upcoming trip in May 2014 we plan to perform a full population study using the reviewed protocol, developing a full social network of the community of Chaguite.

Chrissy Sherman '14

Chrissy Sherman ’14

Plans for Data Analysis – Chrissy Sherman

Now that we are back in the United States, we will be using ArcMap to do most of our analysis, and will be especially careful to create files that we can actually continue working on at future dates and (something our team has struggled with a remarkable amount).   To date, our map will have all known households, some of the major paths (though certainly not all), creeks, cisterns, wells, ‘pozos’, latrines and attribute data about the amount of livestock at each household; the type of the latrine and the way the latrine is cleaned; water sanitation methods at each household; whether each water source is seasonal or permanent; and the number of meetings that each household has attended in the past three years. We also have ‘diagnostic’ data conducted by the community, about the overall needs of each Focus Group. The first two pieces of information will be most valuable to us after the EWB engineers collect elevation data, to we can identify the land that is above (and furthest from) land with a lot of fecal contamination in the hopes that the groundwater isn’t as contaminated there.  With the information we already have though, the biggest things we want to analyze are: walking distances to nearest water source (for both the wet and dry season); ‘selectivity’ of certain water sources (to what extent people are walking further to get water, because closer sources of water are restricted to certain individuals or groups, especially with regards to one well in the community that has seemed contentious); water sanitation levels between households and between focus groups; and aggregated assessments of each focus groups overall water access (based on average walking distance and number of households with resources to clean their water).  This will help inform overall water access needs and how they might differ across the community, and see how it compares to the assessment the community conducted through household interviews.

Another one of our major goals is to provide a clear map of households and existing water resources to the community, so they can use it in their own discussions about project ideas. This will help them ensure that project ideas best draw on those existing resources and that they also involve as much of the community as is possible.  We also hope that this map will help them facilitate conversations with any other NGOs that come to the community to offer their assistance.