In the middle of an extensive pastureland in eastern Tucuman, the main building that stands out for several kilometers is the Carlos Vergara School, which, with 120 students, is the only one in the rural area Ranchillos Viejos. In this educational institution, a group of four students of the secondary Bernabé Araoz, located in the capital of Tucumán, break into a class with a bottomless water drum, cotton, sand, stones, maps of the province and cards. Under the watchful eye of their peers, they set out to put together a homemade water filter and alert them to the harmful effects of arsenic they consume, without knowing, daily.
This scene is repeated regularly in this and other schools in the area thanks to the educational project “An Invisible Enemy” that has been carried out since the beginning of 2018 by Professor Fernanda Daniela Galero with her 4th year students.
one of the winners of the 12th edition of the
Community Education Award of the La Nación Foundation. “As a teacher it is very inspiring to see how the children assume the role of solidarity educators, because they help their peers and make visible a very serious problem that is practically unknown, hence the name of the project,” says Galero.
The objective of this initiative is to inform students of rural schools in eastern Tucuman about the contamination of water with arsenic and its harmful effects on health through informative talks given by the students themselves. In addition, they are explained how to purify the water through a filter and pasteurizer that they can make themselves easily and economically. “We do not want to just point out that they were drinking contaminated water, we bring them a practical solution,” says the teacher, 38 years old.
Fernanda and her students go through rural schools in Tucumán with their homemade water filter
Arsenic is a metalloid of natural origin present in the earth's crust and which contaminates both groundwater and surface water. Jorge, director of the Environmental Engineering Center of the ITBA, explains that it can become very harmful if consumed for more than 10 years, with the possibility of generating a disease called Regional Chronic Endemic Hydroarsenicism (Hacre), which in turn can derive in gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, chronic bronchitis, warts, skin damage and even cancer.
According to the teacher, these diseases are very present in eastern Tucuman, where the level of arsenic in water ranges from 10 to 50 micrograms per liter. Although this number conforms to the parameters of the National Food Code, it exceeds the value determined strictly 10 years ago by the World Health Organization (WHO) of a maximum of 10 micrograms per liter. At the time, several water cooperatives in the country filed a writ of amparo to suspend this requirement for a time.
Stripeikis believes that the name of the Galero project is appropriate, due to the characteristics of this metalloid. “Arsenic causes diseases and does not give any warning, until it is too late, because it has no smell or color, one can drink a glass of crystalline water and contain a high level of arsenic, the only way to detect it is by doing a test “explains Stripeikis.
The project had two stages of preparation: the first, in 2017, when Fernanda successfully built a homemade solar-based pasteurizer with her students. Using a wooden box, aluminum foil, black paint, a glass lid and taking advantage of the sun's rays, they managed to pasteurize up to four liters of water in less than three hours.
The second stage occurred when, conversing with his colleagues at the Bernabé Aráoz, the teacher Diego Lucero, who also taught at the School of Los Herreras, located in the department of Loyal, 75 km from San Miguel, told him about the marked problem they have with arsenic in the water. “In rural areas, a lot of water is taken from the well and in its great majority, these are very superficial,” warns Galero.
The challenge for Fernanda and her students was to find a way to clean solid impurities from the water easily, effectively and economically so that students from rural institutions in the region could apply it in their homes. After much research, they managed to find a homemade filter that, in a way, emulates what happens in nature, where water is purified naturally by going through different types of materials.
This is composed of elements that are easily achieved: the container of a drum with the bottom cut and turned, and introducing, in different quantities, cotton, stones, gravel, activated carbon, coarse and fine sand.
After extracting a sample from the area of Loyal, they purified it with the homemade filter and, later, with the pasteurizer, making the arsenic level drop to 2.5 micrograms per liter. “With a cheap and homemade method, we managed to make contaminated water, practically pure water and that does not represent any danger to health. We had achieved what we were looking for,” he says.
Since then and throughout the school year, they visited the Herrera and Vergara rural schools, located 30 km from San Miguel. For the communication to be more effective they decided that the fourth year students themselves would give the talks to their peers. “We did not want the kids to see the presentation as another class, but we wanted to get their attention by doing something different.” All my students participate in the project, but there are four, two men and two women, who give the talks “, clarifies Fernanda .
Mónica Yuliana Júarez, 16, is one of the visible faces of the project and one of the students who had the most participation. “At first I was nervous about giving presentations, because I am not a teacher and they are almost the same age, but I realized that I was alerting them of something that affects them, helping them to improve their lives,” Monica recalls.
Meanwhile, Luciana Brizuela (15), a student of Carlos Vergara and neighbor of Ranchillos Viejos, appreciates the dedication of Monica and her classmates. “It's great to meet other guys and take into account the rural areas,” says Luciana. In their school, teachers also incorporated new habits, promoting the cultivation and irrigation of a school garden with purified water, to avoid contamination of food.
Fernanda highlights the change that the project generated in her students, it does not only happen in academics. “In addition to joining more as a group, they acquired values such as empathy and camaraderie, which makes them work harder when they work There are some who told me that thanks to the project they want to dedicate themselves to teaching. huge for me, “concludes Galero. Within their next objectives, they are expanding the number of sponsored schools and presenting the filter in different science fairs.
A prize for innovation
La Nación Foundation launched the 13th edition of the
Community Education Award, aimed at recognizing the achievements of schools across the country that develop innovative strategies to improve the educational quality of students in situations of socio-economic vulnerability. The winning institutions will have a prize of 250,000 pesos, and the special mentions will reach the sum of 50,000 pesos. In addition, in both cases they will receive training and dissemination. More information: