Caserio Panhux, a very small community of about 350 people, is located in central Guatemala. Many members of the community are indigenous Pokomchi. The community is one of many in the municipality, San Cristobal Verapaz, and is located 17 kilometers from the town center, an hour and a half by public transportation. This community does not have access to potable water and the women have to travel very far to existing water sources.

Water is not easily accessible; to improve the quality of life for the residents of Caserio Panhux, rainwater harvesting systems are being implemented in the community. This system ensures that clean water can be used all year round for essential daily tasks such as cooking, consumption, and hygiene so as to reduce the risk of waterborne diseases.


NC State’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders Guatemala Water Source and Treatment team (GWS) has partnered with the community of Caserio Panhux since October 25, 2016, after Caserio Panhux expressed their need for an easily accessible water source. The local NGO, Centro Comunitario Educativo Pokomchí, and the main contact, Sucely Icao Lem, have been very responsive. In March of 2017, a team of seven students and one mentor traveled to Caserio Panhux for an assessment trip to speak with the community firsthand and listen to their needs. Originally, 52 households expressed a need for clean, accessible water, however this has increased to 60 due to the expansion of the community. Aside from catchment systems added in previous implementation trips, they currently rely on local springs that are sporadically spread throughout the community and tested positive for an array of harmful bacteria. For these reasons, the project team and community members decided during the assessment trip that rainwater catchment systems would be best to meet the need. The team then transitioned from the assessment phase to implementation. The team had two implementation trips, one of which in August 2018, the second in December 2018. From here, the GWS team planned to travel again in August 2019.

Spanning ten days, the GWS team and the community of Caserio Panhux constructed 16 rainwater catchment systems on 16 households from August 8th, 2018 until August 18th, 2019. The community aided in the implementation and helped devise solutions to problems that came up during construction. The systems themselves are made of locally sourced materials and consist of filters within gutters along the roofs of the houses that feed into a 2500 L storage tank. The storage tank rests on a square base of wood, dirt, and gravel. The team returned to the United States on August 18th, just a few days before a new semester of classes at NC State. However, work still needs to be done, and the GWS team is eager to return for a final implementation trip. The current plan is to travel for another round of implementation in Summer 2020.

The Project

In March of 2017, during NC State’s spring break, seven students and one international development mentor from EWB-USA traveled to Guatemala for the first face-to-face contact with the community. They conducted assessments of the community’s current water supply and storage, and the main road leading into the community.The team aimed to find the optimal location for the water catchment system where it will collect an adequate supply of water for the community and be protected from possible contaminants. Measurements were taken so the team can decide on the placement of an updated storage tank, and eventually produce digital renderings of the project to show the community before the implementation trip. Lastly, the team assessed the condition of the main road with intent to either widen or otherwise improve the state of the road and ease travel within the community.Working in conjunction with our local partner NGO, the Centro Comunitario Educativo Pokomchi (CeCEP), to provide the community with water catchment systems will bring both tangible and intangible benefits to the residents. This water collection system will improve the quality and quantity of potable water throughout the duration of the year. Implementation of this system will also familiarize students with reproducible technology that can be implemented and improved in their homes and other regions.To strengthen this effort, we will maintain an open dialogue with the community about the operation and prevalent usage of such water systems while taking advantage of the in-region commitment and resources of CeCEP to provide ongoing support that continues beyond the duration of our trips.

Spanning ten days, the GWS team and the community of Caserio Panhux constructed 14 rainwater catchment systems on 14 households from August 11th until August 21st. During this time, the team stayed with generous host families located in San Cristbal, about a 50 minute drive through winding roads from Caserio Panhux. Daily, the team would arrive around 7 AM and begin a long day of construction. The community took part too, and would work with the team all day, often coming up with solutions better than their own. The systems themselves consisted of locally sourced materials, and included running gutters along the roofs of the houses and having those feed into a 2500 L storage tank resting on a square base of wood, dirt, and gravel, with sets of filters in between. In part, the systems seemed like a simple idea, but many challenges arose and the team had to adapt quickly and effectively. In the end, the GWS team and community were able to overcome all challenges, such as late deliveries and dead drill batteries, to reach their goal on completing 14 systems. The implementation trip culminated with a thank you feast organized by the community of Caserio Panhux, which included music, food, and laughs with everyone. The team returned on the evening of August 21st, just before a new semester of classes at NC State.

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The team and community constructed 20 more rainwater catchment systems during the second implementation trip in December 2018. New first flush systems were implemented on both the current 20 houses and the 14 houses from the previous trip to be more effective and user-friendly. The team also visited the houses that would receive systems on the next trip to better prepare for the following implementation.

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16 more systems were completed on the most recent implementation trip in August 2019. Since nine of the homes set to receive systems had plant roofs, these systems were instead completed on side structures with lamina roofs to ensure equal access to water for all members of the community. In addition, time was spent interviewing the women whose families had received rainwater catchment systems on the previous implementation trips to assess their effectiveness and impact. These conversations also allowed the team the opportunity to evaluate what modifications will need to be done on the existing systems during the last implementation trip such as adding extra gutter supports or using different brackets to ensure that each system continues functioning properly upon the project’s completion.

The team plans to have one more implementation trip in which the last 10 rainwater catchment systems will be constructed. Modifications will be made on the previously completed systems as noted during the August 2019 implementation trip. Further interviews will be conducted with the owners of the latest systems in order to continue receiving feedback on their efficacy. Additionally, water quality testing will be completed to ensure the safety of the existing systems and to evaluate the improvement in water quality provided by the rainwater catchment systems. Finally, one year from the final implementation trip, a monitoring team will travel to Caserio Panhux to assess each system’s continued function and whether the needs of the community are still being met.

Meet the Team

See our 2017 GWS video and travel book below to learn more about this project!