The ETAP, APLV's Water Technician School

The ETAP (Escuela Técnica de Agua Potable in Spanish, or Potable Water Technical School) is a cornerstone of APLV's sustainability program.  APLV Nicaragua trains its own water technicians, turning out a new class of eight or so local experts every two years or so. These technicians come from rural, agricultural areas all over Nicaragua. They grew up in the very villages that they'll be developing water systems for, and lived the life of the communities where they serve.

The ETAP started with a class of five students in the mid-1990's (see the history of the ETAP), and is typically a program of slightly more than two years. APLV advertises through the municipalities and NGOs all over Nicaragua to attract the cream of the crop of graduating high school seniors. Applicants must be high school graduates, be from rural areas, and have scarce financial resources. Eight students are accepted into each two-year program.

We were delighted to be able to spend an afternoon with the current class of 7 students who are just finishing up their program and wanted to share a little bit about them. They've spent just over two years studying and will complete their classwork in March, 2012, after which they'll spend a few months in the field working on APLV projects.

The six young men and one woman told much the same story of how they arrived at the school. Each was from a rural, agricultural area and finished high school successfully, but had few options to go forward with education because there was no money available. Each had the skills to manage cattle or raise beans, knew how to use a horse to do whatever was needed, and was completely ready for a life of agriculture, near the family, in a fairly sheltered and yet challenging world, but wanted to do something more. They had to send the school a letter of application, and then, having passed that round in the selection process, had to travel all the way to Rio Blanco for the entrance examination. For most, this was the most significant travel of their lives. And of course, once they were accepted, it meant coming to Rio Blanco and living in the dormitory accommodations of the school for two years. Can you imagine being the single woman in that dormitory? She says it was one of the primary challenges.

The academic rigor is striking - These students attend class from 8-12am and 2-5pm five days each week, for more than two years.  The school's intent is all about mastery, not just exposure to the material, and they study social organization, mathematics (through trigonometry, calculus, and many water-oriented specialties), computer use, surveying, health, environmental topics, physics, hydraulics, and quite a selection of other topics. The end goal, of course, is to be able to design and lead implementation of a water project in a rural community. They have to be able to use Autocad and specialty water design software alongside the more mundane Microsoft Word and Excel, have to be understand how to organize a community to construct a water project and how to write reports about it.

Of course, it's not just the academic rigor that makes this amazing. The students live communally, after a lifetime of living in the shelter of an extended family. They share cooking and cleaning duties in the school/dormitory, plan the food budget and buy the food, overall have to create a completely new life together.

Each student's tuition for the 2+ year program is about US$8000, but the program is free (financially) to the students. Donors in the US and Europe fund them through donations to APLV.
After 2 years of studying in the school, the students go into the field  for a 4 month internship.  After finishing the internship, they will look for jobs with APLV, other NGOs operating in Nicaragua, or municipal governments.  As you'd expect, the ETAP is the key source of water technicians at APLV. All the water technicians (and many people filling other positions) are graduates of the school.

ETAP not only teaches the students about water systems, but also health, sanitation, environment protects, and project management. The students can design and build latrines, hanging bridges, sub terrain piping systems. They understand community organization, writing reports for donors, and even penmanship. Former students we interviewed said that every single topic covered in the school was of value to them.

Alberto de Diego Gómez, a Spanish civil engineer and architect, is the professor at the school for the current in-progress sixth class.

To learn more about the ETAP, read the ETAP Presentation and the October 2011 Status Report.  Both are also attached below in French and Spanish. In addition, read the AWRI Article Drinking Water Access in the Developing World: The Case for ETAP, a Special Technical School.