I eat a lot of water

First, please remember that donations given Tuesday can be doubled! Regular donations, through the usual website, will be matched dollar-for-dollar, and will go straight to my personal support. There are limited matching funds available, and it’s first come, first serve. Matching starts at 12:00am EST on Tuesday, which is actually 11pm on Monday for those in the Central Time Zone. So try to donate Monday night starting at 11pm or early Tuesday morning. For issues or questions, I’ll be available at an online chat room.

In a previous post, I explained how I was going to limit my household water use to 75 L, an amount per person similar to what’s used to design small rural water systems. Here’s what I learned:

Day 0: I attempted to measure my normal daily use, but I kept forgetting to jot down each time I used water. It’s an effort just to be aware of my use! Let’s try again…

Day 1: Succeeded in measuring my water use. Total: 100 gal, or 380 L. That’s exactly U.S. average, but it’s abnormally high for me in Bolivia; I did laundry, cleaning, lots of cooking, and took a long shower.

 Day 2: Attempted to limit my use to 75 L (20 gal). Didn’t quite make it; my use was 23 gal. I didn’t flush every time, the shower was only running 2 minutes, and I didn’t do laundry or cleaning.

So here’s what I take away. First: I can limit my water use dramatically, but wouldn’t be able to sustain it for more than a couple days.

Second, I learned that household water use alone is not the big problem- it’s our Water Footprint. My Water Footprint is not just the water I use from the tap, but also the water that was used to produce the things I consume. E.g. if I drink a cup of water from a stream, the Water Footprint is a cup. If I drink a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, my Water Footprint is more than a cup; it includes a portion of the water that irrigated the orange tree. For a cup of bottled water, my Water Footprint includes water used in the bottling plant and used to extract oil from the earth and turn it into diesel fuel for transportation. For a better explanation, I like the WSJ’s article about this issue.


So how does this relate to my experiment? I cut my household water use by 77% percent,  but it turns out that household use is only a sliver of my overall Water Footprint.

Screen shot 2013-12-01 at 23.39.49

My hard work limiting my water use could have been replaced by just eating two fewer bites of beef, a food with one of the highest Water Footprints. So, though it’s still worth it to use less water in the house, by changing my diet or transportation I more effectively do my part to avoid future water shortages, especially in Bolivia.

National Geographic has a fun Water Footprint Calculator– how do you compare to the average? The concept of a Water Footprint is new to me- had you heard about this before?

Giving Thanks and Giving: Double Your Impact by Donating Monday Night

Thanksgiving, a day for giving thanks. This I give to you:

Thank you for supporting me. For cheering me when times have been hard and for reminding me of the purpose of my work, for checking in and catching up.  Thank you for foregoing spending so that you can donate each month. For each prayer, which furthers God’s beautiful work in Bolivia. Thank you on a personal level, on behalf of families in the towns Konani, Kenco, Carani, and Los Eucaliptos, and on behalf of kids like David in the video below.

My coworker talking with David, who was orphaned at 4 and lives independently. He lives in one of many communities without a local water source in which we will work this next year.

Now I invite you to give. As an act of thanksgiving for all that you’ve been given, would you consider helping more Bolivian families have clean water? If you donate on December 3, the donation can be matched. There are limited matching funds, so try to give right at 12:00am EST (which is 11:00pm Monday night, December 2nd, in IL and MN). To donate, go to goo.gl/KErU7 and select my name from the dropdown list. Please email eia.lauren@gmail.com to let me know you donated or if you have any questions.

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I’m grateful for your support. What’s more, your support is necessary. Many communities in Bolivia don’t have access to basic resources, and I want to be able to serve in even more of them. With your commitment to donate and get matching funds, and my commitment to serve in even more communities, together we can more than double our impact this holiday season. Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Hit the Ground, Conserve Water

I had a great time in the U.S.; at the end of this post are various photos. But first, let me tell you about my crazy first week back in Bolivia, and something crazy I’m doing this weekend that you can do too!

After my last trip to the U.S., when I returned to Bolivia I wrote in my blog post that I “hit the ground running” in January. I was wrong. This time, I actually did that. On my first day back, I hit the ground. Literally. I slipped in the rain then had to get X-rays on my wrist. I also ran a 10k (organized to promote water conservation), 4 days after arriving to 12,000 ft of elevation.  Fortunately, I made it through without hitting the ground while I was running.


And figuratively, I fulfilled the idiom by traveling 4 times to Konani: 8 bus rides, 2 flat tires, many long, uncomfortable hours… and 20 meters of tubing installed under the new road! This construction was supposed to have happened before I left, then the day after I left, but then some of the work got so postponed that I was already back to oversee it! These delays are usually frustrating but this time worked out in my favor.


The municipality (county) government contributed the use of the backhoe and operator, free of charge, for the excavation.

placing tubes

Installing the casing, or protective outer tube, for the water line that will pass through later.

As for this weekend, I’ll be “fasting” from excessive water use. Last year, during Engineers In Action’s “We Fast So They Can Drink” fundraiser, I fasted and also limited my household water use. I invite you to read about that interesting experience in my blog post “It’s my plumbing’s fault I failed“. This weekend is take two; on Saturday and Sunday I will limit my water use to 75 liters (20 gallons) each day. Will you consider joining me?

  • See if you can use only 20 gal/day; here’s a simple table I made called “Counting Water Use” that makes it easy to keep track. I recommend counting on a normal day, then trying to limit it, for comparison. (If that link doesn’t work, try this one or email me.)
  • Or, you could simply count the number of times you use running water, and come back and post about your experience.
  • This weekend, consider fasting and/or praying for Bolivia, for these projects, and for my ministry.
  • Consider sponsoring me during this “fast” or becoming a monthly supporter.

And with that, here’s what I was up to in the U.S.

IMG_2037Went to a conference about water technologies for developing countries. I learned a lot from the 200+ experts from around the world and gave a presentation on applying “asset-based” development practices to water projects.


There was also a day of hands-on training, where I helped operate a small drill rig and learn a manual well-drilling method.

wedding pic

Was in my friend’s wedding. What a party- congratulations Damian and Annalise Hume!

w gretchen better

Went to Minneapolis and met with many friends and supporters.

apple picking

My sister and brother came home for a weekend and we all went apple picking.


Some of the month I worked more than full time, between fundraising and communicating back to Bolivia. But I did find a couple days to relax.


Yesterday I arrived on U.S. soil! As I walked off the plane in Washington, D.C., I realized it was my first moment in my country since January. I took deep breaths, as tears threatened to accompany me on my walk to customs. The strength of the emotion surprised me! I hadn’t reflected much about my upcoming trip to the U.S.. Though I am excited to see family and friends, more of my thoughts so far had been about everything in Bolivia that I didn’t want to leave behind for a month.

For example, my dance group, ADAF-Bolivia, has their yearly show next weekend. It’s in Teatro Municipal, the oldest and arguably the nicest theater in the nation. I had a great time rehearsing cha-cha, samba, the Bolivian folkloric dances Tinku and Llameradas, and dance pieces about quinoa, the Amazon, and Incan history. It was disappointing to realize I wouldn’t be able to be perform.


Moreover, this coming week is when the first tubes will be installed for an improved water system in Konani.  I transfered the responsibility to my co-worker, and I’m really excited that we’ll get to install these casings, an outer tube for protecting the water line, to go beneath the new paved road. But it’s still disappointing that after a year working towards this moment, I can’t be there!


After a year in Bolivia, my current life is there. My thoughts about leaving have been mostly about how hard it is going to be to drop everything for a month. That’s why I was surprised I became emotional just to be on U.S. soil again.

But of course! It’s my home. Even though Bolivia is my home right now, in a way, as well. And so I begin this month in the U.S., pondering about what “home” even means.

I’m at a conference now, trying to contain excited squeals when I tasted raspberries and blueberries for the first time in 9 months, and the great hummus they had at the welcome reception. Because of course those are normal things here, as are a hundred choices of gum at the gas station, showering with drinking water, and most people having newish cars. These things of “home” welcome me and comfort me, with some making me slightly uncomfortable at the same time.

But I settle in, for what is sure to be an incredible month. First, an International Water Conference in Oklahoma City, where I’m an invited speaker.


Then, to Idaho for the wedding of one of my very best friends. And how sweet it will be to have all our friends reunited there! Then, to Chicago and Minneapolis where I will get to catch up with and be refreshed in the presence of family and many friends. I’ll soon set dates for events in October and look forward to seeing many of you there! Until then!

13000 Words’ Worth of Pictures

It has been quite some time since my last post, so I have a lot to share.  From a road trip across salt deserts with my family, visiting a community that walks marathons to get water, and celebrating the Soltice with 2,000 Aymarans… it would take a lot of words to explain, so it’s probably better said through pictures.


A professional surveyer from the U.S. came all the way to Bolivia to do a week-long training for the Engineers In Action staff.


I visited a community on the border with Peru, called Carani, that requested help from the church in improving their water infrastructure. This is a contaminated spring that currently serves as a drinking water source for these 30 families.

I ran some tests on the spring water, and found high levels of contamination. In the 1 mL sample above, each red dot represents the presence of bacteria that is harmful to humans.


A science writer from the Rotary International newsletter, visiting my project Konani to do a story on the history of bringing water to this community.


Following a request from the engineers desiging the project in Konani, I built simple Electrical Depth Sounder from local materials, to facilitate the testing of deep water wells.


When the Missouri-based Engineers Without Borders team came to work on their project in the south of Bolivia, I travelled with them to help with translation. The team and the community are like extended family to each other. Everyone had a great time working together to put in the water lines; even the kids in the community pitched in!


My whole family got to visit, and we got to visit the Salt Flats (above), Lake Titicaca, and see a tradional parade in La Paz. It was so sweet to have all of us together, and for them to see where I live!


My brother had such a good time that he decided to stay four more weeks in Bolivia! We were on a walk and saw a family working in their field. We asked what they were doing, and they invited us to join! These are sun-dried and freeze-dried potates called Chuños, and we stepped on them to remove the skins.


The Aymaran New Year is the winter solstice (June 21, summer solstice in the N hemisphere). To say goodbye to the old, dying sun of the past year, my brother, Mariel (my roommate and co-worker), and I had a lovely evening overlooking the lake.


Along with thousands of Aymarans, we woke up before dawn to welcome the sun of the new year. We all hiked up to the sacred Horca del Inca, or Incan Gallows, which is actually a pre-Incan astronomical observatory and ritual site.


As the first rays crest the horizon, we welcome the new sun’s energy by greeting it with the “personal horizons” created by our hands.


On the horizontal rock beam towards the left of the picture, there is a dot of light. The suns’ rays shine through a natural key-hole in one rock and onto this beam, only on the morning of the winter solstice. The belief is that if the sun is unblocked by clouds at this moment, there will be a good harvest that year. Guess I can look forward to more great quinoa, chuños, and choclo (a large-grain corn) in the market this year!


There had been rumors that CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on the Bolivian president’s airplane, so many countries wouldn’t let the plane land. In response, 4th of July celebrations were canceled in Bolivia. But I still got to share the holiday with the young adult group at my church, with fireworks, sparklers, and red white and blue deserts.

6 months already! And some news

Dear friends and family, today I invite you to celebrate with me; it’s World Water Day, and it’s been 6 months since I arrived in Bolivia!

Last weekend I went to visit a project site, and for me it seemed like a normal community visit. We took photos to document river erosion, analyzed cracks in a water tank, talked to a pastor about how the biosand water filters are working for the orphanage and community, and played for a few minutes with the kids at the orphanage.

My co-workers and I found a fitting place for engineers to have lunch: atop a water tank! Fun fact: most days, I have a 2-3 hour  lunch break.

My co-workers and I found a fitting place for engineers to have lunch: atop a water tank! Fun fact: most days, I have a 2-3 hour lunch break.

Measuring slope of a pipe with an iPhone app. Engineers-In-Action!

Measuring slope of a pipe with an iPhone app.

I had heard about this orphanage from my friend Carrie or “Mama Carolina” as the kids call her, a missionary who started the orphanage. Many of the kids had experienced sexual or other abuse, and had to be removed from their natural families. Some have learning or physical disabilities. The kids grow up in this picturesque rural orphanage until they move to another orphanage in the city to go to school and re-integrate into city life. Separating the older kids also protects the younger ones, as children who’ve been abused, sadly, are more likely to abuse other kids.

Yet like I said, to me this seemed like a normal project visit. I’ve learned hard things on other project visits too, and my friends here work for an organization that fights for justice in cases of child sexual abuse so it’s no news to me that these things happen. For my newer co-worker, however, our trip to the water project at the orphanage was her first like this. For her it was far from “normal”, hearing about the kids’ pasts, the orphanage’s miniscule water supply, and the kids saying, “take us with you”!

So I’ve had some food for thought:

Is it bad that I have become so used to poverty and injustices that I’m hardly surprised by them? Am I jaded, desensitized, numb?

Or to the contrary, is it good that I was just seeing them as kids- high energy, sometimes annoying, fun, beautiful, kids- rather than seeing them as defined by their “disabilities” or their past?

Or, are both things true somehow? When exposed to bad things like poverty or abuse, can I maintain an uncomfortability, remembering that bad things that are “normal” don’t have to be? Yet while I realize that not all is right, can I still look at each person and community as good, full, wonderful, seeing them for who they are rather than for what they lack?

I explored a similar tension when I wrote an abstract to present at a water conference later this year. Traditional aid and development see a community as lacking, and outsiders come in to fulfill the needs. A method I’ve studied called Asset-Based Community Development says that the necessary resources to sustainably meet a community’s needs are found primarily within the community. Most development experts recognize asset-based approaches as best practices, yet most water and engineering projects are still “needs-based”. I’ve realized I’m passionate about encouraging engineering development projects to become more sustainable by relying on emerging research and methodology in other  related disciplines. (Surprise! Lauren likes interdisciplinary work!) 🙂

Yet the tension is here: in technology/infrastructure projects more often than other development projects, the resources must come from outside the community. E.g. most small towns that need a bridge don’t have a structural engineer. But that’s okay! Maybe it would be arrogant to assume that any single, isolated town or city has everything they need. I believe the answer to our world’s problems lie not in social reorganization or physical structures, but in Christ! “He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107). In addition, maybe working together and accepting that we need each other makes the world a better place, just as much as a sustainable water system!

We have some exciting new things going on; I’m now the coordinator for a research project between a U.S. and a Bolivian university to create wind pumps for irrigation, we’ve gotten connected to a network of water well experts in the U.S. willing to advise our projects, a “well” of resources if I may 🙂 and I’m in discussions with the Department of Rural Development (the Bolivian Methodist ministry that my work is under) to do a holistic development project where they’d focus on increasing quinoa production and seeking organic certification, and a yet-to-be-recruited engineering team would look at potable water, irrigation, silos for grain storage, and review a design for llama stables. In addition, Rotary-Bolivia has committed to help fund my project in Konani and many other Engineers In Action projects.

And now for the news: I write to tell you that I’ve now committed to more than one year in Bolivia; right now I’m thinking more like two years. It would be premature to leave my work earlier, and I feel nothing but peace about staying for this time.

Personally, here are some things on the horizon:

-My family is visiting in late May! All four of them will come for over a week, and I could not be more excited.

-Unfortunately one of my roommates who has been like a lifeline for me is returning to the U.S.. Praying for what God has next in terms of community.

-Continuing to learn and grow in humility, giving up self-will and pride, and seeing my own brokenness so that I can better see God’s immense love.

-Spending Easter with the small local church I’ve gotten connected to, including a hike on Good Friday to where we’ll hold baptisms, have lunch, and play soccer. They have an active young adult group, and I’m helping with the free English classes they’re offering to 60 neighborhood kids (picture on below).


Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, support, and friendship. I would love to hear from you. May you be blessed!

In Peace and Joy,


A friend visited, and we got to bike on the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” and visit beautiful sites.

A friend visited recently, and we got to bike on the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” and visit beautiful sites. More pictures in the facebook album.

Festivals! Alasitas and Carnaval


On the morning of January 24th, vendors set up stands all over the city with miniature versions of everything. At 11:45am, the plazas get more and more crowded as business people, families, friends buy small versions of what they would like to be blessed with that year, and tradition is that at the stroke of noon, you get your purchases blessed by someone like a shaman.

With the hopes of traveling, one buys a mini passport. To have abundant money, one buys small paper bills that say they’re from the “Bank of the Future”, and keeps some in the wallet all year long.

To give a friend good luck in the the romance department, buy a small hen statue for a guy or a rooster for a girl. This festival goes on for three weeks, and the main area seems like its own city!


Here are some other fun Alasitas: mini food boxes, Image

(like a good engineer, giving a sense of scale by placing the purple pen) 🙂

Miniature tools and materials for people building/fixing a house, or in the construction business. Ruben, our office director, got some for the Engineers In Action office:


You can get a diploma:Image

Or get “married” here:


And to top it off, there are full-size versions 🙂 of food and games. Here is Ruben and Mariel, my new roommate, co-worker, and friend:



Then to Carnaval! The Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia has been named a UNESCO “Masterpiece” of culture.

Secondary celebrations include throwing water balloons, squirting water guns, and shooting foam. This all starts well before Carnaval: here I am a few weeks ago, victim of a drive-by foam shooting: Image

Saturday I went to Oruro with my two roommates and some family/friends of Mariel. The day before, Friday, the city had an extra energy too it. We were preparing for our big journey, a “day trip” of a 24 hours. We bought and prepared lots of food. We got ponchos. We packed our bags. I even tested my various jackets to see which is more waterproof! It felt like we were preparing for battle! I had trouble falling asleep, anticipating the next day, and then we all woke in the silence of the night at 3am to go to the plaza.

Well, I realized I wasn’t Katniss, filming the next Hunger Games movie, when the bus didn’t show until an hour later and we waited in the rain. When something typically Bolivian happens, some of my friends sing a majestic-sounding song… “Bol-i-via!”

By and by we reached Oruro, and as we had gone with the bare-bones travel package, we had to go under the bleachers and climb between people’s feet to get to our seats. Then… it was mesmerizing! A whole day of parade sounds like a lot, but consider that there are many different types of dancing, there’s acting, huge bands, and costumes like I’ve never seen before. Take a look:


(quality versions and more photos available in this album)


There are storys to go along, like the history of slavery in Bolivia:Image

and the fight of good against evil. Image

And then there’s the constant entertainment of actual foam-fights:


And taking pictures with the performers! Image


As the day grew dim, night brought the promise of fire and fireworks in the parade. I started to worry as rainy season lived up to it’s name and a storm drenched the city. But lesson learned: Bolivians don’t let even rain, thunder and lightning “rain on their parade”.

The dancing continued with fire coming out of the top of dancers’s heads, bears dancing in colored fog: Image

And the parade passing through a shower of fireworks:


Finally, we returned to a sleeply La Paz that woke to celebrate again the next day- the next three days, in fact! The dancing continued, the foam fight continued, and I wasn’t even safe right around the corner from my apartment:


The celebrations close with “challa”, or rituals of blessing, on the day before Ash Wednesday. Most store fronts, houses, and cars have been decorated and blessed.


Life returns to normal, but now the new year can really start. Businesses have been blessed, dances and smiles have affected us all, and big desires are carried by tiny reminders.

Back in my Bolivian home

I’m back in Bolivia, after a lovely time in the States with friends and family. I hit the ground running here, visiting Konani my second day back. We made great progress towards a unified management system of the current and future water system! The local church leaders and community leaders will work together to administer and maintain the system. This was a really important step, as there’s no sense in putting in new infrastructure if we’re not absolutely sure it will be maintained well!

Below is the holiday newsletter I sent, somewhat of a summary of my first three months in Bolivia.  I’ll continue to do my main updates here on the blog, with newsletters as supplements every few months.  Next time I’ll post the newsletter here right after I write it 🙂 but if you would also like to get these newsletters by snail mail, shoot me an email at lauren.butler@engineersinaction.com

Lauren's Dec Newsletter

We Fast So They Can Drink

Every year, supporters of Engineers In Action fast for 36 hours and raise money for EIA’s projects. I’ll be fasting this Friday night through Sunday morning, and I invite any to fast along with me, support this work financially, and/or pray for me and for EIA’s work during that time. 

This week I heard that in Konani, the location of my first project, there are a few people who have to limit their water use to only 10 liters/day. In some initial calculations, the goal of our project will be to supply 70 liters/day per person. “How much do I use?” I wondered. A single toilet flush can be 10 L. In the U.S., the average indoor daily use is 350 L/person (source: USGS), and I may be close to that even while living in Bolivia.

So I was inspired, in addition to fasting from food, to LIMIT my water use to 70 L/day, to raise money that will PROVIDE the people in Konani with 70 L/day. I expect this to be eye-opening in many ways, and will share about the experience afterwards.

Thanks for your support. Please consider (1) sponsoring me in this fast, at $5, $10, or even $1 per hour, (2) fasting along with me in solidarity with people living with extreme hunger and with limited access to basic resources like water, and (3) marking in your calendar to pray for me and with me during these days. For spiritual reasons why I’m fasting and some specific prayer points, please visit the prayer  page.