As a Project Manager on BlueWave’s Solar Development team, Matthew Parlon often finds himself in communities throughout Massachusetts talking solar. Whether it’s presenting a plan for a new solar project to a local planning board or walking the property of a prospective solar site, Matt is BlueWave’s man-on-the-ground and our projects couldn’t be built without him.
Recently, however, Matt found himself far away from the Massachusetts communities he’s so accustomed to. And well outside the world of solar.
2,000 miles away
Last Spring, Matt and three of his friends traveled to Honduras on a service trip with ACTS Honduras, an organization on a mission to promote sustainable programs for health, education, agriculture, and economic development in Honduras. The goal of the trip was to update a water distribution system in a rural farming village named Ocotal. Now over 40 years old, the village’s water system had deteriorated from erosion and was beginning to experience hydraulic failure. A once-reliable water source with steady pressure became a slow, contaminated trickle. In fact, the flow had decreased so much that during recent dry seasons, Ocotal’s water supply sometimes dropped by as much as 75%, falling well below the World Health Organization's estimation of what is needed to sustain the daily potable water supply for the community.
But an outdated water system is only part of the water problem in Ocotal. In recent years, Honduras has also been the victim of unprecedented droughts. The worst of these droughts came last year during the 2018-2019 rainy season where the country actually saw a drastic decrease in rainfall during the rainy season instead of the ~300% increase that’s expected. The 2018 drought resulted in the yields of Honduras’ main crop, coffee, diminishing by 50% and severely impacted the health and livelihoods of farmers and rural communities throughout the region.
Matt was well aware of the struggles that Hondurans have been facing and saw his trip as an opportunity to use his experience as an engineer to make a lasting impact. Locals from Ocotal had actually tried to rebuild the water system once before, but despite their ingenuity and hard work, they had failed to complete the system due to various engineering issues. So Matt was recruited by his good friend Brandon Hornak to provide some guidance around the tank construction while Brandon would manage the water transmission line. Brandon Hornak, currently working at Build Health International, has traveled to Honduras on multiple occasions for the construction of water distribution systems. He oversaw this trip and managed the team's funding and logistics.
Before the group's arrival, some of Ocotal’s locals had identified a clean water supply that was located 3 miles away from the village. The source, however, was divided among two “eyes” which were separated by about fifty feet of dense jungle. Matt and the rest of the team were tasked with finding a way to individually filter these source eyes through several layers of sand and gravel before combining them into a single stream closer to town. Once combined and filtered, the single stream would flow into a 200-gallon holding tank made out of brick before eventually being transported in pipes to the town 3-miles away.
Matt and the team spent eight days in the Honduran heat with two local masons and nearly thirty Ocotal residents to combine the eyes and build the storage tank. The project required an all-around group effort and many locals took time away from their jobs to ensure that the project could be built in an efficient manner. Matt was able to put his experience as a project and land developer to use and oversaw much of the construction. Since the group was short on time, Matt ensured that each day was used effectively and worked to develop a critical development plan.
Although Matt felt like he only played a small part in the overall project, he still found the work rewarding and meaningful. He felt like he gained a valuable perspective on climate change and the different ways it’s affecting communities all over the world.
“Living in New England, we’re fortunate enough to be in one of the most climate-change resilient areas on earth. We receive all the benefits of modern industrialism with hardly any of the negative side effects. But the Honduran farmers, who hardly receive any of these benefits, are bearing the costs. Crops that have always grown in certain regions are no longer doing so. We are well equipped to make changes in the U.S., but I wanted to travel so that I could better understand the problems. Once you understand the problem, you can more effectively make a solution.”
Droughts in Honduras a reminder that climate change is here
Honduras’ drought serves as a reminder that the impacts of climate change are already being felt, and those impacts are far-reaching and varied. Increasingly we’re seeing that climate change is having a disproportionately negative effect on less developed countries. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has recognized Honduras as one of the countries that will suffer the most from climate change over the next decade. Due to its geolocation, Honduras is especially susceptible to natural disasters like floods and droughts which are predicted to drastically increase in frequency as the impacts of climate change escalate. This increase has the potential to be particularly devastating for the over 30% of the Honduran population that works in agriculture.
While Matt recognizes there is still much to be done in our fight to protect the planet, he has rejoined his like-minded coworkers at the BlueWave office with a deeper understanding of how climate change is impacting different communities around the world. “We get to use solar in Massachusetts to clean up our energy grid and to help people who are economically struggling via lease payments on their land. But it’s important to keep our work in perspective so we can understand why what we do is globally important too—why our efforts to combat climate change affect communities far beyond the ones we live in.” Matt is taking a newfound inspiration into 2020 to help Massachusetts and the world achieve its clean energy and climate goals.
Check out this link to learn more about the Ocotal water project and other work being done by ACTS Honduras to help create sustainable communities in Honduras.
BlueWave is on a mission to revolutionize access to clean energy. That’s an ambitious goal, but a necessary one if we’re going to achieve our global sustainable energy goals. But while much of the clean energy movement is focused on energy future, we also need to address the ways our climate crisis is already affecting communities around the world today. With increased temperatures and climatic events like floods, droughts, hurricanes, and fires, we are moving into a new era of rampant, widespread impacts. Clean energy is just one of many steps we need to take as a global community. Matt’s trip to Honduras is a reminder that we need to be holistic in our fight to protect our planet.