How would you help a community to develop in such a way that good health is enjoyed by all, while maintaining a strong cultural identity and the environment is protected? This March the Aalto Lab Mexico team will visit El 20 de Noviembre, a community in Campeche, the southeast of Mexico. At the moment we are all preparing ourselves to make the most of this trip and this is the question we have chosen to guide us to action. We are the Tecnológico de Monterrey team, a node of the Aalto Lab community.
We are seven team members: the senior expert biologist Omar Rojas, architect Alan Rios, plus five students: Huico from architecture, Ale and Tian from industrial design, and Diego and Nayeli who study sustainable development engineering. Each of us is working on different aspects of the challenge, as well as putting it all together to make sense.
In order to approach such a complex development question we divided the project in three general objectives:
- Improve access to good health and healthcare
- Maintain a strong cultural identity
- Preserve the natural environment
Out of these, two specific targets were defined:
- Improve water quality and management
- Promote environmentally friendly economic growth maintaining a strong cultural identity.
The mindset of the Aalto Lab team is to co-design, which means to create solutions together between community members and labbers. This allows us to learn from community members as they also learn from us. At the moment the Tec team, in coordination with the rest of the Aalto Labbers, is working on five different sub-projects:
- Water analysis
- Composting toilets
- Biodiversity diagnosis
- Tourism system planning
- Household Interviews
For us to be able to help improve the health of the community we need to know what are currently the main risk factors. The first one that has been identified is water. Evidence of high concentration of organic matter was found in the water coming from the wells villagers use everyday for washing, cooking and even drinking. So in order to tackle this issue we need to know what causes this pollution, and for this we need to analyze the quality of water for bacteria. Nayeli and Alan, together with the Finnish team, are working on this task and are now preparing the necessary materials for the tests and practicing how to use it in the field. On the other hand, Huico is currently designing the space where we will place composting toilets.
Regarding biodiversity, Omar and Diego are planning a series of walks through the jungle to collect data about services provided by the ecosystem, their status and the risks they face. Once the information is gathered it will be used in three different ways:
- List the ecosystemic services that the tropical forest provides to the people from the community and those outside it.
- Produce a photo book that describes these services with the objective of highlighting the importance of preserving the ecosystem for the local and global community.
- Plan a nature hike for visitors between El 20 and Rio Bec, an archeological site close to the community, in which community members could guide visitors and tell them about the animals and plants they know and how they are related to their traditions.
Sustainable tourism is also one of our key areas of attention. Tian, Ale and Diego are taking the lead of this aspect. Our guiding question here is: How can we use tourism to stimulate economic growth in the community, foster social cohesion and cultivate cultural identity at the same time?, and always keeping environmental impact as low as possible. The idea is to work on two separate aspects of tourism:
- The management of tourism, for which we need to deeply understand how they currently organize themselves to work on the activity. Then we will identify opportunities in which the community could improve their way of managing these activities. Together with the community leaders, we will co-design a system that enhances social cohesion. Measured as the quality of relationships between families, and the way income from tourism is fairly distributed, social cohesion is a must for any activity in the community.
- The second aspect is the experience of the visitors, and how the community members could improve it to create an experience that they enjoy as much as the tourists.
We are currently at the stage of synthesizing research about the first two aspects and planning interviews.
Finally, household interviews are being planned at the moment by Nayeli and Alan. Ideally we would like to cover all families of the community if possible. The questions we ask would cover general aspects about people’ lives in El 20. This information will then be used for planning the implementation of composting toilets, to estimate the number of visitors they could receive and gather general information regarding community member’s perception about the current Aalto Lab project. Aside from the information collected, the interviews will work as an invitation for families to form part of the project.
Although time for planning never seems to be enough, we are ready and excited to go to El 20 in a couple of weeks. The mix of cultural backgrounds, Mexico city, Monterrey, Helsinki, and people from the community will provide an extremely enriching experience. After all we hope to contribute to general knowledge about development.