Sometimes being the only one in the field has its disadvantages. Due to the scope of the work I’m required to cover a large geographical area and it is hard for me to do a lot in a day when I have to be in two places that are far away from one another, or when I have to travel far for a meeting or to give a charla. However that’s when building relationships comes to the forefront of my job. Establishing working relationships within the communities and getting community members to do tasks within the community to advance our projects is fundamental in two ways: 1. It allows me to focus on other tasks trusting that the community is taking charge and 2. This is the goal of all development work, that is to say that the community becomes responsible for their own development. In Peace Corps they said that the ideal situation in development work is to work yourself out of a job. Working with and empowering community members so that they eventually are the ones who do everything is the dream result of any development worker. This is the very definition of sustainable development. This has been the objective of building our network of clinics in Costa Arriba. The fact that the chlorine charla comes from the medical personnel within those communities builds the sense of ownership and personal connection between the clinic and the community. This is important in creating longevity for the educational material and so that it remains in circulation long after we have left the area. The Self-Solving Initiative was born from this idea as well. We hope that people take an interest in solving the problems within their community and this way they take ownership of the solution. The idea is that we are simply there to be a catalyst for change and a guiding hand in any sort of technical or methodological problems they may face in the formation of their solution. We are hoping that our efforts will produce lasting positive changes in the rural communities of Colón.
This month two of our new clinics in Cacique and San Antonio have begun to give chlorine charlas. So far they have reached 63 people from the surrounding area. We have ordered three large banners with the chlorine instructions printed on them to hang in clinics in Costa Arriba so that there is always a visual aid available for both personnel and patients. We are awaiting results from the clinics in La Guaira and Portobelo, but we hope to receive attendance lists soon. This network of clinics has expanded our outreach and assured sustainability of the education and in the long run the health of community members in Costa Arriba, Colón.
On February 6th I met with six community representatives from the Costa Arriba region. The representatives are from the communities of Cuango, Nombre de Dios, Palmira, Palenque, Viento Frío, and Playa Chiquita. This was a chance for me to meet the political figures of these communities and establish a relationship with them for future projects or charlas. Representatives are good sources for organizational and monetary support since they are the ones who manage the community project budgets and are often the ones who hear about their communities’ problems. With them I hope to connect to local water committees in order to give them charlas and train them in problem solving with design thinking and develop solutions together for the potable water systems in their communities. This will also give me a medium through which to broadcast information and data gather from the AGUA COLÓN project with INDICASAT, our Panamanian government partner.
We have begun sampling in Costa Arriba in our project with INDICASAT called AGUA COLÓN. On February 15th I went to gather water samples from three wells in the Santa Isabel district in Colón. The wells belong to the communities of Viento Frío, Palenque, and Miramar. They were all built by a company call Open Blue, which is a organic fish farming business in Colón, Panamá. They built these wells out of a part of their budget which is dedicated to community development of the area. They will be another great ally in community project development, and we hope to collaborate with them in the future. Our sampling trip served as an exploratory trip as well. We got to get a lay of the land and map out an idea of how we want to carry out subsequent trips and how we want to develop the project from sampling to community education and transparency. I have another sampling trip planned for the 13th of March. I will be hiking with a water committee member to the Palenque spring source to examine the aqueduct line and get a sample from the source to test its quality. This will give us a bigger picture of the water situation in Palenque.
As we continue to accelerate as an organization, these relationships we build and maintain will become ever more important and decisive in the success or failure of our projects. Hopefully our work in educating the community members leads to these very members taking ownership of their problems and uniting to come up with solutions on their own. Hopefully no outside influence will be needed to push them in the right direction and they can be left alone to their own devices. This is our goal in Future Scientist and forever will be for all development workers worldwide.