It’s surprising how fast time flies by as another month has past since Future Scientist returned to Portobelo! The past 30 days have been filled with holidays here in Panama but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get things done. Overall month 2 has been almost entirely focused on the charlas that Heidi began in her first month of work but now with a focus on health centers in Portobelo and hopefully beyond. There are two clinics in Portobelo, one for people registered within Panama’s social health care system and one for anyone. In the mornings the waiting rooms are filled with patients and Heidi has been able to reach about 50 adults directly and based on reported household size this information is now available to almost 200 more people. We were also able to meet with a nurse from the health center in Maria Chiquita, the next biggest town in Portobelo’s district and are planning to start charlas in January when they return to their normal schedule. These talks are especially important right now as there have been soaking rains almost every day during the month of December so far. During these rainy periods the water in the streams, and therefore the water being delivered to people’s homes becomes visibly dirty, so much so that often the local authorities turn off the municipal water so that people will not be able to use water with this level of contamination.
Separately we are slowly starting to work on more hands-on projects as well. Heidi was able to observe a community member actually applying chlorine to a small aqueduct system in the Guinea neighborhood of Portobelo recently, which is exciting. Luis, the man who worked on this and in general maintains the system, said that it is the first time in about a year that they have had access to chlorine tablets. MINSA, the local ministry of health also came by this month to do their bi-annual testing of water sources in the area and Heidi brought them to the high school to test the water there and see the school’s filtration and chlorination system so they might be more motivated to help the school in the future. Additionally the first steps were made on a small project to upgrade the school’s water intake structure. A new tube was installed with a low-tech filter but as we are in middle of what has been a very rainy season we will be waiting until drier weather starts to build a wall. [Sorry for the poor photo quality. As you can see, it was wet!]
Finally, in a separate category of work led by intern Lauren McDonnell, Future Scientist has plans to start a small farmer’s market in Portobelo’s town square. While talking to nurses at the local clinics, Heidi and Lauren discovered that some of the most common health concerns in the area are actually chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. To try and combat this in future generations Lauren had the idea to start a farmer’s market to encourage greater consumption of fruits, vegetables and lean protein while improving market access for small farmers. Ideally the market would involve vendors who come by in cars to sell their produce, local farmers and families with small plots of land who may not have previously had a place to sell their surplus goods, and high school students who could sell vegetables and eggs that are part of the agricultural program’s production. Though still in the early stages, we hope this market will be a success, stay tuned!