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Summer 2014 Blog - Narayan Gopinathan

Narayan Gopinathan is spending the summer at blueEnergy in Nicaragua

July 24, 2014

My last two weeks in Bluefields went really well. My second-to-last week I used Google Fusion Tables to make the map of the biosand filters that were sponsored by a certain French company, Adour-Garonne, and encode data about the filters so when a point on the map is clicked you can see the data and a picture of the family with their filter. The map will be set to the donor so they can see the impact that their money has had. It will also be used internally at blueEnergy so employees can see the locations and find the filters more easily.

Screenshot of final map

Screenshot of the final map

new infobox

New infobox

After finishing the map, I spent my last week making a user guide to creating and using the map, so future employees of blueEnergy can continue to update the map with new data about the filters and make similar maps about different projects in the future.

Front cover of guide

Front cover of guide

The last Thursday I went to one of the communities near Bluefields to install a solar panel. We went early in the morning, putting our equipment on a taxi, then a boat, then a bus, until we got to the community of Rocky Point. We attached the panel to a pole and put it up next to the person’s house. Then we installed some wiring and lightbulbs, as well as batteries so the system could be used at night. It was my first experience with electrical wiring and although I cut myself with the wire strippers it was definitely a good experience.

On Friday I gave a presentation to almost all of blueEnergy on the work I had done. I explained the map and the guide and why it’s important for the donors to see the impact of their money. It went well and was a fitting end to my work at blueEnergy. 4

The last Saturday here a bunch of blueEnergy people went to the beach at El Bluff. It was great fun as the weather was great and we had the beach to ourselves. It was a great end to my time in Bluefields.

El Bluff

El Bluff

I had a great experience here. The work I did fit me exactly – it is the type of work I would like to do in the future. The people of blueEnergy are wonderful smart people who really care about making the world a better place, and some of the friendships I made here will last a lifetime. I think it was the best summer of my life.

July 6, 2014

As my sixth week in Bluefields draws to a close I feel that my last week here was my most productive. I have almost finished my house visits to collect data, so I will have the next two weeks to build my map and write my guide to using it.

Last week, apart from house visits, I spent my time researching different software platforms we could use to build a map of the filters in Bluefields. I researched GeoCommons, an open-source web-based platform that allows users to import data from Microsoft Excel; Google FusionTables, an application of Google Drive that allows you to make charts and maps and analyze data; and Google Earth, commonly known as a program that lets you explore the earth with a less well-known ability to integrate data from spreadsheets allowing users to make their own maps. I gave a presentation to Guillaume, the head of blueEnergy Nicaragua, and he decided that for the time being we will use Google Fusion Tables because of the advantages of standardization – since all blueEnergy employees are given Google accounts it will be easier to use. An interesting thing I learned while doing the research is the existence of OpenStreetMaps – it is a website that maps the world, similar to Google Maps, but built and edited by normal people akin to Wikipedia. It is more detailed and accurate than Google Maps, not only in the remote regions of the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region but even in Berkeley – I definitely learned about places near campus by looking at it!

Locations of Filters in Bluefields

Locations of Filters

Last weekend we made a weekend trip to Wawashang and Kahka Creek, two remote communities to the north of Bluefields. Like most of the rural Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region, these communities have no road access – Wawashang is only accessible by panga, as the small passenger boats here are known. Kahka Creek is even more remote: after getting off the panga at Pueblo Nuevo, we had to hike for the better part of an hour uphill through mud to get to the eco-lodge where we would spend the night. Despite the remoteness the eco-lodge in Kahka Creek was quite comfortable and well equipped.


This weekend the other Cal Energy Corps students and I stayed in Bluefields to catch up on work – I had to upload data from my house visits into Google Spreadsheets, and pictures of the filters onto Picasa. Next weekend Katrina and I will travel to install a solar panel system in Rocky Point, another rural community here, which should be exciting. That will be our last weekend trip. Until next time!

June 21, 2014

GLP and Mathias

The five Global Leadership Program (GLP) fellows along with blueEnergy founder Mathias Craig. The Global Leadership Program is an education program run by blueEnergy with which the Cal Energy Corps works; alongside the four Cal Energy Corps interns there is one more GLP fellow, Sam (between me and Katrina).

It has been almost four weeks since I arrived in Bluefields and I have gotten into the routine of being here. I have been going to numerous houses with Jorge, a local employee of blueEnergy, and checking on people’s filters and taking the GPS coordinates of their houses so we can make a map of the statuses of the filters. Although I usually don’t get much time to talk to the people whose houses I visit – usually Jorge and I simply ask the questions about their usage of the filter and their stoves, take some pictures and GPS coordinates, and leave – it still is interesting to see how normal people live here.

Jorge and Me

Jorge & Me during a house visit


A family with their biosand filter. The filters work by having the water percolate through a layer of sand, with predatory bacteria on it that can eat E. coli and other dangerous bacteria.

My project is to make a map of all blueEnergy’s filters in Bluefields along with a guide on how to use and update the map, so after I leave blueEnergy can continue to update the map as the situation on the ground changes. The map will be integrated with a database so blueEnergy can have accurate and up-to-date information about their filters in people’s houses. I am excited to gain experience using geographic information systems (GIS)  – partly because I have always liked maps and geography, but also because these are useful skills to have in the job market or when doing research. I imagine I will use some sort of GIS applications when I am in graduate school, so it is good to gain GIS experience sooner rather than later.

Last weekend we went to Pearl Lagoon and Kahkabila, which are communities to the north of Bluefields in the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS), or Autonomous Region of the Southern Atlantic, which is the region of Nicaragua that we are in.


The view from our guest house in Pearl Lagoon.

Since there is no road connecting Bluefields to Pearl Lagoon, we had to go by panga, which is a modest-sized outboard-powered boat.  We saw some beautiful scenery as we went through inland waterways surrounded by mangroves. Pearl Lagoon refers both to the town and the lagoon, which is beautiful and warm and shallow – the beach in Kahkabila was the best beach I have ever seen. The only (slight) problem is that on the boat ride back our boat ran out of gas in Bluefields Bay! We were quickly rescued by another boat with gas and were never in any danger.

I have to transfer the GPS data from the GPS to my computer now, so until next time!

June 5th, 2014

It has been almost two weeks since we got to Bluefields, and things are going well. The first weekend we watched a boat race on Saturday and went to the beach at El Bluff on the Caribbean Sea on Sunday. (Bluefields does not directly border the Sea, only Bluefields Bay.)The week after that was fun as every weekday we got a lecture from Mathias on some interesting topic –global issues, the history of Nicaragua, history of blueEnergy, leadership principles. I really enjoyed hearing Mathias’ take on philosophy, complex social issues, and time management principles of leadership, because he has successfully built this NGO from nothing into something that makes a real difference in this town.

The four of us (me, Katrina, Kareem, and Giana) are going to stay here for two months, but a good amount of people come here to spend a year after college, gaining experience in the world of NGOs. I might consider coming here to do that – I probably will not get into as many grad schools if I apply directly, and this is a great place to gain experience in the real world. I might spend a year or two here, and then apply to PhD programs.

This week we started work – we have been going to local people’s houses checking their water filtration systems, taking samples, and seeing how their filters are functioning. Monday we just read about how to collect samples and how a bioSand filtration system works. Tuesday we went to many people’s houses and collected samples, and set them to incubate to see what bacteria might grow. Wednesday morning we analyzed the samples and in the afternoon we went with a blueEnergy employee around the city to test more people’s filtration systems, which we continued on Thursday.

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