Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Although I left Guatemala over a year ago, I am happy to learn the the men of San Lucas, Uspantan, continued using the skills learned building with tires. These are photos of small retaining walls and stairs supporting the work of footbridges built by Bridges to Prosperity, a US based NPO/NGO.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The first day of tire construction exceeded expectations of all involved. Ten workers packed over 30 tires on the first work day while we had predicted that the first few days would be a bit slower. The next morning an unexpected puddle was discovered in one of the trenches. Construction was put on hold until a geologist and an engineer could visit the site. We had to find out if the water would pose a problem for the project.

Through asking these questions we were informed that the bigger problem was the Polochic fault which incidentally runs through San Lucas. Experts anticipate a large quake on this fault which would lead to a catastrophic collapse of the tire wall. Needless to say, we will not build a wall. The workers immediately started removing the tires while new plans were engineered.
The pooling water turned out to be a spring. Pressure from the waterlogged upper hill is causing the lower hill to collapse. Therefore, we are in the process of digging a well and connecting it to a house while also building extensive drainage. These modifications will extend the life of the existing hills and reduce the risk of collapse.

Without the generous donations I received from the United States, we wouldn’t have had enough funds to make these changes. So, I thank all the donors again for supporting this project. With over 700 tires waiting to be used, trained masons are eager to use this simple technology in San Lucas. Plans are underway to use some of the tires to build 1 meter tall retaining walls along the main road in town to prevent dirt from washing into the street during the raining season. This will serve as a visual reminder of what is possible to do with the remaining tires and used tires that can be collected in the future from surrounding urban areas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We Broke Ground!

On Monday, January 11th, local masons began to excavate two trenches above the upper wall. Tomorrow we plan on packing our first tire to officially kick off our construction.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gumption and gut feelings

The team of experts involved in the planning of the tire wall has grown over the last two weeks. Geologist Axel Gutierrez of Coban, architect Ericka Temple and Construction Assistant Aaron Colvin of Long Way Home, Inc. met with local masons and members of Uspantan´s Planning Office last Tuesday.

Ericka had been back in the states for a few months and the moment I found out she was back in Guatemala I arranged a meeting with all involved to work out any kinks in our plan.

Axel´s analysis of the soil has proven invaluable. Axel and Ericka determined that the lower wall is sturdy and would remain intact if a French drainage system was built in conjunction with two terraced upper walls. The upper wall is made of a very fine clay which becomes heavy with rainfall and weak in the dry season. Stabilizing the upper area will prevent the lower wall from collapsing.

Axel will also be participating in next week´s 5 day training session in San Juan Comalapa in order to advise during the construction of our wall in January. I will accompany 3 local mason´s and Denis from the Planing Office for the week. We leave Sunday morning and will return on Friday the 18th.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Developments

It has been over a month since I started this blog. We have been incredibly busy collecting tires and the internet has been too inconsistent to update. Many developments have occurred in the last month.

First I would like to thank all of the donations that have come in. I won´t know until Friday how much money there is so far. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Used tires are in high demand and we are going to start purchasing tires at 5 q a pop in order to compete with mining companies and road construction who need to burn the tires to break boulders.

Community members volunteer 2 or 3 times a week driving around Quiche picking up tires. The community is wonderful to work with and very responsive to the project.

A geologist friend, Axel Gutierrez, has offered his help as well. He came to Uspantan two weeks ago to analyze the stability of the existing walls. One earthquake fault lies within 400 meters of the school and a second fault lies north, one kilometer. Therefore, we are planning to add more drainage and build two smaller walls on a neighboring property to get the job done well.

Above the first wall, water accumulates in a small pond. During the rainy season, this could pose a potential hazard for collapse. Therefore, I am arranging for an architect to visit the site next week to modify our plans. The town lacks potable water and I am hoping that we can trap rain water and runoff and somehow purify it and solve two problems at once. I am in the process of researching various options and have civil engineers coming to visit next week as well.

Ok, back to work!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Newspaper Article

As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the Environmental Education program in rural Guatemala, I arrived as a teacher. Little did I know that I would soon be leaving as an expert in used tires. I arrived to teach classes on the first day of school and was shown a daunting seven meter dirt wall that made me fear for my life. Not only does Guatemala sit on three tectonic plates but my town, Uspantan, has three major faults running through it. I had reason to be scared. I wondered how could I effectively teach and how the students could learn when we were well aware that the slightest tremor or heavy rain would cause a landslide that would wipe us out.
Upon further inquiry, I was saddened to learn that the community member´s request for a retaining wall had been denied for almost a decade due to a lack of financial resources. Of Guatemala´s 333 municipalities, I happen to live in one of the poorest. At that moment I realized that I had to figure out how to build a retaining wall. After researching alternative construction methods inspired by film The Garbage Warrior, I suggested building the wall out of used tires and dirt.
After we got past the initial, and expected, confusion and doubt, the community decided they wanted to do this project. I have learned more about tires than I thought possible. Although used truck and tractor tires are in abundance here, they are difficult to collect. Apparently boulders are a lot easier to break if they are hot and used tires are the item of choice to heat up the rock in order to speed up the mining and excavation process for road construction. As you can imagine, the environmental implications are unimaginable. Building this retaining wall with tires will serve as a model for future projects in the area, allowing for people to see the benefits of alternative construction materials and recycling while educating them on the environmental hazards of burning tires.
Piedmonters and Guatemalans have an essential common goal: provide students with a safe learning environment. Currently, Haven´s students are being bussed to Emeryville while an earthquake safe school is built. But here in Guatemala classes are cancelled during the rainy season and days of learning are lost forever. The difference is money and this underserved community has found an economical alternative to expensive cement blocks.
This project is being funded by USAID, the Municipality of Uspantan, and you, the generous readers. The tax deductable money you donate is the final component of this urgently needed wall. Construction is set to begin December 15. Any extra funds raised will be used to fill the scantily stocked shelves of the local library. Checks can be made out to Friends of Guatemala and sent to PO Box 33018 Washington DC, 20033. IMPORTANT: make sure to put on the memo line KELLY LYMAN CAT II, otherwise the money will not get to me. You can follow the project´s progress at