I was in Copan Ruinas, Honduras for about two weeks. I connected with Deborah, the founder of El Camino a la Superacion (The Walk To Overcome), via Couchsurfing when I was in Mexico.
El Camino a la Superacion is a cooperative composed of indigenous Mayan women and their families. They make artistic goods and they are sold in the store in Copan Ruinas. In many cases, due to impossibly high start-up costs for machines or materials, members of the cooperative work in the store, which doubles as a studio. Customers can see the members creating the goods by hand.
It’s completely Fairtrade. The members choose how much they want to receive for their products, and the final price to the consumer is determined from there.
The artist receives 30% of each sale (which again, is an amount the artist sets upfront). If the artist uses his/her own materials, then he/she gets an additional 25% of the sale. If the artist uses materials supplied by the studio, then the studio receives that 25%. The person in the store selling the product receives a 25% commission (which if the artist creates product in the studio, he or she is there to sell his/her own items!). Finally, the studio keeps 20% of each sale for rent, overhead, and upkeep.
Deborah has wanted a website for a long time. She set up a Yahoo Group back in the day, and now has a Facebook page dedicated to the organization. But a website was a different animal.
The website would give the organization more visibility and most importantly she’d like to open up the market for her goods to the world.
I am still not great with building websites. But I (used to) use an off the shelf solution via www.flavors.me for my personal site AdamPervez.com. I thought their companion e-commerce site www.Goodsie.com might be perfect for what Deborah was looking for.
I built the shell of the site and did some of the back-end work. Now she has taken over the process of building up the store and tweaking its appearance. You can check out the site here, but if you check in October/November 2011 please realize it’s still a work in progress 🙂
She can sell smaller items that are not too expensive to ship to the US or elsewhere from here in Honduras. The online store can help offset the high costs of the studio, which until now has yet to be self-sustaining. Given the percentage breakdown explained above, clearly the more that’s sold, the more income the artist and the studio receive. It’s a win-win situation!
Almost immediately after Deborah and I connected, she hit me with a barrage of questions regarding batteries, solar panels, inverters, and other stuff I have almost no idea about despite my degree in electrical AND COMPUTER engineering 🙂 I focused on the computer side of things..
So I kind of had to tell her I had no idea and I trusted her judgement on whatever she bought. She wanted to set up a solar panel kit she brought to Honduras from the US.
The solar panel idea came about because:
- Many surrounding villages are not connected to the electricity grid
- People use car batteries as their source of power
- To recharge these batteries (which are very heavy if you aren’t familiar), men must strap them to their backs and walk up and down the mountains to bring them to the city. At 2 or 3 hours each way, plus at least an hour to recharge it, it takes nearly a full day to accomplish this simple task.
Deborah wants to put a solar panel kit in some of the surrounding villages. It can charge the flashlights, cell phones, and car batteries for the village during the day, and offer light at night.
With today’s low-power LEDs, a light can be charged and work a couple hours at night for several nights. This kit may not completely remove the need for men to carry the batteries into town for recharging, but it will certainly minimize the need and improve quality of life!
It took almost the entire two weeks I was here for the wooden platform on the roof to get constructed so we could install the panels. I busted out my high school trigonometry and factored in the angle of the roof, the angle of the panels’ housing, and the direction they had to face to come up with a solution for installation. In the end, we needed them to face south at an angle of 19 degrees. Doing nothing set the 33 degree angle housing against a 9 degree roof leaving us at a 24 degree angle to the south. For proof of concept, this is more than sufficient!
The carpenter installed the wooden housing, Charlie, a French volunteer who has been helping paint the studio, and I hoisted the panels up onto the roof, and I set up the system.
To prove the panels were working, I connected the included DC lights and they worked. LET THERE BE LIGHT!
The battery to be recharged was dead, so I connected the battery to the system and let it charge for a few minutes. Then I brought in the DC to AC inverter to confirm that the battery could power up a normal light bulb. DONE!
So everything was working and now all that needed to be done was…to leave it alone. We let the panels charge the battery under the partly-cloudy skies and I’ve tested it regularly. It works perfectly and the concept has been proven.
Below are six pictures telling the story of setting up the panel!
It’s hard to explain how awesome it was when, at 10:30am after only two hours of work, everything was up and running properly.
The next day, leaders from two villages came to the studio so I could teach them how to set the panels up. They were really bright, asked good questions, and impressed with how easy it is to get up and running with this system. One of them will collect the panels I installed in December and set them up in his village. It’s possible this simple system will eliminate the need for inhabitants to carry their car batteries into the city to recharge. Extremely exciting!!
Even more exciting, these guys will then teach the next group how to install the panels and then they’ll teach the next group and so on.
Volunteering here was wonderful. It was perfect, actually. I came with two objectives in mind and was able to accomplish both. And I can’t tell you how many times Deborah has thanked me for the help I’ve provided.
It’s not about the thank yous, but it definitely feels good that I’ve been able to help her and the members out in a meaningful way. And that’s what The Happy Nomad Tour is all about.