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Laura Vietti
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July 2007
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Laura Vietti [userpic]
Opal Project Proposal

Hi All,

June flew buy! I have some good photos for you all but I forgot the connecting cable to my external harddrive so I couldnt post them today. What I do have is my project proposal that Im going to paste here. Ive been trying to figure out if this opal poject is a good idea, if it will work, and find people to work with. The next step is to go to peace corps. and give them this project proposal, of which they will say yes go ahead or no, find another project. Im a little worried they will say no to this becasue its so far away from my site and because theres been a few problems with peace corps and the opals in the past. But hopefully, as you will read, the idea is too good to miss and they will let me do it. So here it is.

Project Plan
Laura Vietti, PAM Hondu-9


Introduction

This is a revised version of my original Project Plan and I feel I first need to explain how I came upon the project and provide justification for why I want to do a project so far away from my designated site.
I’m a geologist and am highly interested/ passionate about rocks. I had heard from tourists that there are opal mines in Honduras, and naturally I wanted to visit them, but I didn’t have any more information. Several months later I was at a Pace Corps. gathering and I mentioned Honduran opal to another volunteer and they told me that the mines are actually located near another PCV´s site. I quickly identified that it was Erandique, Lempira, the site of Ryan. I made plans with her for a visit and went to Erandique a few weeks later.
In Erandique I purchased some opal, but more importantly I talked to the locals about what they are doing with it. The general consensus was that they are selling it in its natural form in Erandique.
My site is adjacent to a very popular tourist destination of Copán Ruinas and I knew there would be a market for Honduran opal and asked one of the miners if he would like help developing contacts in Copán Ruinas to sell the opal, of which he enthusiastically said yes.
The next step I made in pursuing the opal project was to make sure there was an interest in Copán as well to sell opal. I spent several days talking to both tourists and store owners about the opal, opal products,. and potential prices.
I learned that tourists have a slight interest in buying raw (uncut unpolished) opal, but would much rather buy (at a higher price too) opal products such as figurines or jewelry. However, I found very few artisans who knew how to work with the opal, but are interested in learning. This led me to the conclusion that there is a group of interested, trainable people who want to learn how to work with the opal in Copán Ruinas and in Erandique.
Thus, I propose this project of developing products and a market of Honduran opal in Erandique, Lempira and Copán Ruinas, Copán. My site is currently Santa Rita, Copán and I never was intended to work in the actual towns, but because I am very close to the already volunteer saturated Copán Ruinas, I will be close to one of the proposed project areas. I intend to spend much time in Erandique as well, but I can stay at the other volunteer’s house.

Part A: Project Background- Site Perspective

Site Profile:
Erandique, Lempira is a large pueblo located an hour south of the main road between Gracias and La Esperanza. The town is large and spread out, with roughly 3000 people (vague guess). There are three main parks, each with a large church. Erandique is removed from most modern towns, although it has both electricity and water, and as a result it isn’t very influenced by the more rapid paced moving North Americanized Culture. Erandique has several pulpurias, a few general stores, a hotel, one comedor, and one internet provider. There also exists a coffee cooperative. Erandique´s main source of income seems to come from small farming as well as brick production.
The environment of the Erandique region is a dry tropical pine forest with a very mild climate. The area is mountainous and the main rock type is volcanic ash derived. As a result of the ash, roads are extremely difficult to manage during the wet season, soils are quickly washed away, and more importantly there is the presence of opals in the rock.
Opal is a form of silicate rock with a very similar chemical formula to quartz. Opal differs from quartz because the silica atoms and molecules are arranged in a very different manner, and water molecules are locked with in the molecules. Precious opal (meaning it displays color like the rainbow) forms when the molecules align in a distinct set pattern and when light reflects off the molecular arrangement it is diffracted into separate colors based on their wavelengths (very similar to how light is separated into specific color bands after is passes through a prism.) Thus, each color the opal displays is dependant on how the opals molecules are arranged.
There are many types of opal in the world, most derive from volcanic hydrothermal fluids, and the mines near Erandique produce two types. The first type is a white clear colored, highly colorful opal. This opal occurs as tiny nodules or as white veins criss-crossing the host volcanic basalt. White opal, however, is more common in the world, The Australian Opal mines being the most famous.
The second type of opal found in Erandique´s mine is much rarer and in fact can only be found in Honduras. This opal is black matrix opal and is formed when there is no space for the opalescent volcanic hydrothermal fluids to go so it is forced to reside in the tiny rock pores with in the black volcanic basalt. As a result, the black matrix opal appears as a black rock that sparkles with all colors. Black matrix opal can be found in other parts of the world, but Honduras is the only location where the opal has so intensely saturated the original basalt that individual opal grains cannot be distinguished.
There are several opal mines near Erandique, and in fact the entire Opalaca mountain range is littered with opal localities, but the main opal mine under Erandique´s jurisdiction is called the Tablon mine internationally, or locally known as the Gualguire. The Gualguire mine is owned by the Erandique municipality and all residents have the right to work in the mines.
There was a previous volunteer in Erandique who was working on a similar project that I propose. He advised the town of Erandique not to sell the mine to a mining company in the USA. Erandique followed his advise and didn´t sell, keeping the mine locally owned. The mine company in the USA felt it was the PCV´s fault for being refused the purchase of the mine and in turn sued Peace Corps. Peace Corps. decided to administratively separate the volunteer to avoid a large lawsuit (this information is not fact, but what volunteers and community members have told me.)
Currently there is no company working with the opal mines, or in the process of negotiations (according to the municipality.) The locals are left with very little instruction on how to mine, market, and create products using the opal.
There are no protected areas with in the region, but the opals are a non-renewable natural resource that should be cared for and used efficiently. The area is extremely poor (one of the poorest in Honduras) and any revenue to subsidize their farming will help their quality of life. Also, training on better mining, non-destructive environmental practices would be highly beneficial when the mining process is still technically undeveloped like it is now, to prevent problems later on.
Aside for Erandique, I plan to work in Copán Ruinas, specifically in the development of artisan products. Copán Ruinas is a major tourist destination and thousands of tourists come to visit the town and Mayan Ruins a year. Copán Ruinas has a large number of souvenir shops frequently visited by the tourists, including a jewelry store. The majority of souvenirs are not Honduran produced and come from Guatemala. There is a need for Honduran derived products. After an intensive study of the shops and artisans I have identified several people who are familiar with Honduran opal, but don’t know how to get it, or how to work with it, but are very interested in both.

Problem Analyses/Causes
The main problem I have identified is the missed opportunity and inutilization of the Honduran opal, and lack of marketing knowledge. The people of Erandique know what opal looks like, and they know that some people will pay money for it, but they mine it with out very much knowledge of how rare and special the stone is. Currently, only a very few percentage (about 10 people) of the Erandique population work in the mines. This is in part due to that mining opal is very labor intensive, tedious work. The miners then sell the opal from their house to the occasional tourist who travels the long distance to Erandique (7 hours on 4 different busses), and they sell the opal in its natural uncut/ unpolished form, usually in glass jars filled with water (water increases the light diffraction making opals show more color reflections.)
The current price of the opals sold in this manor is 20-50 lempira a piece (generally 5 cm cubed) or for 100 lempira a bottle. I’ve looked on the internet and found that the Honduran opal should be sold for $10-500 a carat for the black matrix opal or $10-1500 a carat for the white. There is also a store in Tegucigalpa that sells small cut and polished black matrix opal for $30-40 and $80 for a small figurine. As one can see, buying opal for $2 can quickly generate a profit of $40, all on one small stone. The necessary steps though to achieve this profit are to 1) cut and polish the stone to a desirable product, and 2) then to find a place and market where people are willing to pay these prices ( Copán Ruinas, San Pedro Sula, Roatan, and Tegucigalpa.) The people of Erandique don’t know how to do either, and this is the problem.
Another problem is that by nature, mining is a destructive process to the environment. The current mining processes involve pounding a deep small hole into the ground and dynamiting the hole with the goal of removing rocks covering the deeper laying opal.
Luckily, this process is done on a small scale and not too much damage has been done. I estimate 2km square area has been affected but over time and with more destructive mining techniques, more damage will occur. There is very little knowledge among the miners about how destructive mining is to the environment, and no reforming is practiced, this is a problem

Problem Statement
Precious Honduran opal is being mined on a small-scale near Erandique. Lempira, and has the potential to generate a good source of income for local artisans and miners, greatly needed to improve their quality of life. The locals, however, have no knowledge of how to create desirable opal products, or of how and where to sell the opals; here in lies the problem because without this knowledge they cannot generate a profit from the opal. Mining by nature is environmentally destructive, and the Erandique miners are unaware of its affects and how to mine in an environmentally friendly manner.

Efforts to Address the Problem
The locals of Erandique are generally not trying to create opal products (such as cut or polished stones for jewelry, jewelry, or figurines,) and are only selling their opal in its natural form in glass bottles from their home. Occasionally someone will travel to the market in San Pedro Sula and Copán Ruinas to sell the opals, but for a very low price. There have also been individual cases where a local has tried to cut opal and polish it, but the result is often still very crudely done, wastes precious opal, and still sold for a very cheap price.
The locals have not developed any type of plan to work with the opals and generally just wait for tourists to buy it and have jewelers in the USA make products.
I plan to address this problem by first creating a way for people using local resources from the tool store to cut and polish opal in a professional fashion. The next step would be to teach the locals how to create opal products and possibly how to sell the opals.
I also plan to work with a group in Copán Ruinas to do the same thing, as well as identify good contacts and store owners who are interested in selling opal in their stores to the tourists.
Some tourists have expressed interest in visiting Erandique to look for opal, I feel that developing a full out ecotourism project in Erandique is too progressive for the current stage of development of the opals and Erandique. I would like to in turn work with a local of Erandique to create a pamphlet or brochure describing how to get to Erandique, contacts of hotels and restaurants, products, and people to visit to buy the opal. This will hopefully make the long trip to Erandique more effortless and more tourists will go, bringing more revenue to Erandique.
In regards to better mining practices, nothing is currently being done, nor are their any plans. I would like to give charlas demonstrating the negative affects of mining on the environment, as well as help develop solutions to better ecologically friendly mining techniques. One final hope is to bring in an engineer to asses the mine to help effecientize the mining and create more opal yield.


Part B: Peace Corps Participation

Project Purpose
Santa Rita is my official site, but was only meant to be a ´central base´ while I worked on the aldeas in the surrounding area. I feel World Vision and other organizations have saturated the area and I am not needed.
However, in Erandique Peace Corps. is needed because there is little or no NGO presence or support in the area, and they need help in development. Some general results I expect from helping the community is a general better utilization of the community’s precious, one of kind resource opal. And, to make the maximum amount of money with it, but at the same time keeping it sustainable and environmentally friendly. I also expect to see more awareness in the mining practices and less destructive techniques.

Goals and Objectives
My goals and objectives are to work with the locals and miners of Erandique to develop and teach them ways to professionally cut and polish opal, create opal jewelry, and create other opal products like figurines. I also intend to help them develop and help sell their opals to an interested market.
I also plan to teach a group of artisans and jewelers in Copán Ruinas, a highly tourist visited destination, how to buy Erandique opal, make opal products, and identify stores willing to buy opal from these groups for a fair price.
Lastly, I would like for more tourists to travel to Erandique to spread revenue to non opal businesses (hotels, pulpurias, comedores), and my objective with the help of a local to create a pamphlet/brochure/map with directions, contracts, and advise on how to travel to Erandique.
In regards to the mine, my objective is to increase environmental awareness and help develop more sustainable ecologically-friendly mining techniques.

Major Volunteer Tasks
- Develop lapidary technology using readily available material in Honduras
o Rock Tumbler
o Grinding Wheel
- Look for funding sources
o Peace Corps
o Organizations developing Honduran handicrafts
o Funding from United States
- Training of myself
o Edwin; how to cut and polish opal
o Augustine: how to create stone carvings
o Gato; how to create jewelry
- Workshops training people in Erandique
o Advertising workshop in Erandique
o A series of workshops
 Develop Interest and show the people whats involved, ask them to start aquiring materials
 How to make the Lapidary equiptment
 How to cut and polish opal using lapidary equiptment
 How to create jewelry and figurines with opal
 Marketing and Selling Opal
- Similar workshops in Copán Ruinas, and potentially Gracias, Lempira
- Develop a tourist pamphlet with
o Direction and instructions of how to get to Erandique
o List of Hotels and places to eat in Erandique
o List of opal products found in Erandique
o Contacts of people who sell opal products
- Give Charla on affects of mining and the environment
- Bring in a mining engineer
o Develop better and more eco-friendly mining techniques
o Help increase mining yield


Its pretty ambitious I know, and if I even do half the stuff I want to I think it would be a really good project. Next time Im in copan with my memory thing ill post all my pics and hopefully i will be able to give you all a verdict on my project. If they say no to it, I dont know what I will do, and theres even a chance i might come home. But I wont think about that for now.

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