As many of you know we raised a little over $2500 for Operation Safe Drinking Water thanks to the generous donations of nearly 30 different families, friends, colleagues and even a few donors we have never met. Due to these efforts we were able to install two water catchment systems and buy school supplies and medical kits for the school.
On the morning of the installation (June 28, 2012) we woke to strong rains and heavy storms. It was ironic given that we were on our way to help children and families who were being surrounded by water from the downpour of rain but had not a drop of clean water to drink. We headed out none-the-less along with Justin’s Dad, Wellington Lee.
We set-out at 8:30 AM on our first of many boat rides to get to and from the installation site. It poured rain and we were all quite wet on our first leg from Red Frog beach to Bocas Town. Then it was a wait for our host from Operation Safe Drinking Water, Joe Bass, in Bocas Town while the rain kept pouring. Then on to our next boat taxi to Almirante – another wet ride!
Once we arrived at the school work quickly began to install the tanks. We unloaded the trucks, delivered all the supplies and had a tour of the school and met some of the children. Miraflores school has 141 students aged 4-15. My limited Spanish allowed me to have a few conversations with the teachers, principal and students.
While we chatted and toured around the school (which also serves as a community meeting area including a chapel and sheltered area for gatherings) Dave and Morgan quickly started installing the first tank (Operation Safe Drinking Water tank #105). This tank would be in addition to the current tank the school had which was inadequate for the high needs of the school and community and needed repairs. These tanks combined would provide about 1200 gallons of water for the school and village for drinking water, cooking and for bathing (many children had scabs and sores due to unclean water – most of the water they bathe in is full of parasites and bacteria).
We spent most of our time talking with the children and even had a wonderful time sharing Stella and Sebby’s coloring books, pencils and crayons we had brought to keep them occupied with the other children. Joe, the CEO of Operation Safe Drinking Water, said he’d never seen the children so excited and would encourage other groups to bring coloring books/pencils, etc. along during the installation to engage more fully with the children. (I was given a huge stack of their coloring book pages throughout the day – they were so proud – I complimented them as much as I could in my limited Spanish!).
We were later presented with a scroll signed by all the students thanking us for the installation as well as a hand made “mola” cross body satchel (you can see me wearing it in a few pictures).
It was nice to meet all the children, teachers and community and learn more about the struggles they face on a daily basis – many of which will be cured by the simple act of having clean water to drink. It is reported that on any given day an average of 75% of students are absent from school due to sickness from the lack of clean water (dysentery, skin issues, etc.). Once tanks are installed the absentee rate drops to almost 10%, or less – a huge improvement. Joe and Operation Safe Drinking Water hope to have hard figures from schools they are working with this year.
While we enjoyed the children, Dave and Morgan and the rest of the team and fathers got started on the second tank (Operation Safe Drinking Water Tank #106) which would be installed near the kitchen so that there would be clean water to cook lunch each day for the children – for many children, their only meal of the day. This tank would provide 600 gallons of clean drinking water. Joe reported that he had visited many schools in the past where there were rice and lentils stacked floor to ceiling but unable to be cooked due to a lack of clean water. This tank will be vital in providing a warm meal for each child each day.
It was also interesting to note that the school had its own recycling program – take note – if a small village in Panama can recycle – so can you!
It was also interesting to see the older kids pitching in to clean the school and help the younger children out.
We also spent quite some time writing the names of everyone who had donated to the cause on the tanks and where they were from. We had donations from the US, Canada and England – a great amount of giving and this community was very thankful.
We ended our day with some more pictures and Stella and Sebby passing out some lollipops to the kids.
If you are planning a trip or vacation to a third world country I highly recommend taking on a small project like this to give a little bit back to communities that need a lot. Small gestures like installing water catchment systems so that there is clean water to drink directly impacts the lives of so many. There are numerous organizations around the world where you can volunteer your time or resources (even in your own backyard).
If you are coming to Panama and would like to help out with Operation Safe Drinking Water I would highly recommend the hands on experience.
If you are interested in learning more about how water catchment systems work you can learn more here.
Thanks again to all our generous donors. We couldn’t have done this without you!