After a successful reunion with my counter-part Aníbal Villacres in Nombre de Dios, I decided it was time to start setting our sights up coast. There is a lot of project and charla potential in the communities up coast from Portobelo, with the economic situations becoming poorer and need higher. Aníbal expressed to me his interest that I do charlas in Nombre de Dios on project development and water committee/water system organization. We were able to do a project development and design charla in Nombre de Dios on the 23rd and there was a decent showing of people to the charla. Aníbal has also told me he has connections all the way up coast to Cuango, which will be pivotal in getting our foot in the door in these communities.
Bringing the design charla that we did with the high school students in Portobelo to the communities in Costa Arriba is apart of our new program called the Self-Solving Initiative. We want to empower community members with the tools and know-how to confront problems in their community and solve them in a way that encourages teamwork and forward-thinking. Since they are the ones who experience the problem they ought to know the best way to solve it, they just may need the proper methodologies to come up with the solutions constructively. So with the help of Aníbal in Nombre de Dios, we set to organizing the charla for the community. We created flyers to be passed around the town and posted on the community center wall and other key areas around the community. We also promoted that there would be a lunch to provide further enticement to those on the fence about going to the charla. I have found that free food is a great motivator in these small rural towns in Panama (and I guess anywhere for that matter) and it gets people to the front door. So with planning and the news out in town, I was left to gather my supplies for the charla day.
When the charla day arrived I showed up to the community center to a group of 20 or so people. I noticed that most were women and that was of no surprise since it was Friday morning and almost all the men work while the women are at home, and with the prospect of food those women didn’t have to cook lunch that day. My plan was to compact each of the charlas of the 10 that I did in Portobelo to about 30 minute segments so as to make it a day long charla. If I did multiple days I would lose the interest of my audience so I had to take advantage of the day they set aside to attend the seminar. With the community members present and everything in place, I began the seminar.
It was apparent that not everyone present came to hear what I had to say. There were a handful that had simply come for the free snacks and lunch. Their participation was lacking at best. However there was also a handful of community members that remained attentive throughout, despite our ravenous hunger near the end of the seminar. Those are the moments and the people we look for when doing development work. Even if the material touches the creative and productive nerves of one person, it is a success. It takes one person to be two, and two to be four, and so on. I felt that the handful of active participants took those lessons to heart and truly wished to make a difference in their community.
The problem that the participants wanted to solve was the lack of quality medical attention in their region. This is a complicated problem because it requires government action and participation in the community which is often very difficult to achieve in isolated and rural areas like the communities in Costa Arriba. Solutions they came up with were better training of Health Center staff in order to provide more types of health service to the patients of Costa Arriba, an increase in the healthcare budget in order to have more staff on hand in the health centers and clinics, and the construction of more clinics in the region to cater to the amount of patients that arrive. They proposed making petitions in order for the government to take notice to their plight and incite action. However, regardless of the difficulty of the problem and proposed solution, the participants learned the proper tools and instruction on how to take the problems in their lives and create impactful and well thought solutions.
This charla is one of hopefully many to be carried out in Costa Arriba as Future Scientist moves up the coast in order to reach and teach more communities about proper WASH practices and spread the Self-Solving Initiative. All in all it was a successful seminar in Nombre de Dios with the people responding positively to the lessons and told me they left the room having learned something useful. If anything it gave them hope for change in their community and empowered them to be that change that it needs.