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.
October was a month dedicated to hygiene and science. On the 15th and 16th I celebrated Global Handwashing Day with the students at the elementary school in Portobelo. On the 19th Future Scientist brought the students to the SENACYT held science fair in Albrook Mall. On the 24th I attended a Smithsonian Institute science charla in the elementary school. On the 1st of November I went to Nombre de Dios to meet with my counterpart Aníbal to discuss projects and charlas that we could do in the community. We hope to collaborate more in Nombre de Dios and by this extend our outreach further up coast.
Global Handwashing Day is a day celebrated worldwide on the basic, but most important, habit in hygiene, handwashing! I thought it was a good idea to do this charla with the elementary students since I believed them to be more responsive to the charla. They would also become my megaphones in hygiene as I believed they would spread the message at home when asked what they did at school that day. I did the charla about nine times as I went classroom to classroom talking to each grade level and group within the school. I began every charla the same. I walked in and said good morning to the students and we did an activity. I asked them to stand up and shake their fellow students’ hands and say their name and favorite food. I too walked around the room shaking hands and saying my name and favorite food, however I had applied a special gel that doesn’t show on hands unless shined with an UV light. Once everyone had shaken hands and said their favorite food they all sat down. I proceeded to show them my hands and asked them if they looked clean. They all responded that yes they did. I then took out my UV light and showed them again and asked what they thought. With faces of shock and surprise they responded with a resounding no. I then asked them to look at their own hands and tell me if they were clean or not. Some said yes and some said no. I then walked around the room and shined the light on their hands and they were all shocked to see that the gel on my hands had spread to theirs. This was their lesson in that although our hands may look clean to the naked eye, it isn’t always the case. I then wrote on the board why, when, and how we should wash our hands. They all gave me the right answers which told me they knew very well the importance of washing their hands, they just sometimes needed some reinforcement. After the quick lecture we then went to our second activity, finger painting. I made signs out of poster paper that said “We Promise to Protect Our Health” and the students had to put their handprints on the paper. We hung the posters in the classrooms as a daily reminder to the students to wash their hands, and wash them well. After they made their handprints I sent them to the bathroom with a bar of soap to wash their hands so that they were squeaky clean for the rest of the day, or until they got dirty again.
That following Friday the 19th 10 high school students, Wilfredo, and I went to the SENACYT Science Fair in the Wyndham Hotel Albrook in Panama City. Students from all over Panama and from other countries in Latin America were invited to present their science projects. Projects in biology, technology, ecology, chemistry, sociology, and many other sciences were presented in the fair. We all walked around the conference room floor asking questions, receiving pamphlets, and conversing with the presenters. There were hands on presentations of astrology and virtual reality. The students, Wilfredo and I had a lot of fun and learned a lot from all the presenters. After visiting the fair for a few hours we spent a little more than an hour in Albrook. We let the kids do some shopping, check out some of their favorite stores, and we all had lunch in the food court. With full bellies and full brains we parted ways. The kids all expressed how much fun they had and how much they learned during their short time in the fair. I hope that next year we can bring a student team to present in the fair and represent Colón.
On the 24th I was invited by Karina Hassell of the Smithsonian Institute to attend a science charla that they were giving to the elementary school children. The education program is called Q?rioso busito. The Smithsonian uses a van to bring science lessons to students in the metro area and Colón. On the 24th they were teaching the 4th graders about ants and the social dynamic of their colonies. The students were able to observe an ant frozen in a plastic cube with a magnifying glass, play a game as the individual roles in the colony (soldier, worker, cultivator, queen) and work together as the ants do, learn ant anatomy, learn ants role in the environment, and much more. It is a very cool program and I hope to continue to collaborate with them and connect the Q?rioso busito to more schools.
As October came to a close, I made plans to go to Nombre de Dios to meet again with my counterpart Aníbal there. On the 1st I went to go visit him and discuss future projects. We had a long productive day of conversation and seeing the water storage tanks in the community that are in need of renovation. Two of the main tanks (both 58,000 cubic liters) to the whole town need a new layer of cement infuse with a water sealant to cover cracks and small holes in the tanks. After the sealant is spread on he also wanted to paint them if the money allowed. There were a pair of unconnected biosand filters that he wanted to refill and reconnect as well. And finally he wanted to replace another tank that served the community as an emergency system that has a capacity of about 13,000 liters with a new tank with a capacity of 27,000 liters of water. In organizational matters he’d like charlas done on the importance of paying for water and how the whole community must participate for the well being of the water system. He says this is a major problem in the maintenance and the advancement of the water systems. Some people don’t pay the monthly $2.00 for water and so when something is broken or stops working they sometimes don’t have enough to fix it or solve the problem. If everyone participated they’d always have enough money and then some to do the water projects Aníbal and the committee wish to do.
Although I’ll be spending a lot of time in Nombre de Dios I will not neglect those in Portobelo that may need my help. We will still be working there but since we wish to expand a little we will be beginning a focus further up coast. We hope to help those who are interested in helping themselves and through science education and charlas, we will achieve it.
The last few months have been busy ones for Future Scientist. Since April we have completed two major projects: constructing a dam for stream water catchment and the Design for Impact Charla Series and Competition. We constructed the dam for Jacoba Urriola Solis High School in April. In May we focused on our interaction with Nombre de Dios, another community farther up the coast we wish to extend to in the future. In June we connected the dam source to the school to finally provide it potable water as the emergency system in case the town water system doesn’t work as well as began the 11 week charla series. From June 14th to August 23rd we ran the charla series on a weekly basis with the final project competition on the 23rd of August. After the end of the charla series it was time for us to look back on all we had done the past several months, analyze our impact and approach, and regroup for more projects.
Last month the board of directors and I met to discuss all we had done and look ahead to future projects and initiatives. After our conversation, we realized we wanted to re-tailor our focus on our target audience and benefactors. For example, our website and promotional material is all in English. In the near future this will change. We are working on making the website bilingual in order to reach out to our Latin American supporters, donors, and benefactors, not to mention the communities we actively strive to help. It is only natural that we make this change as well, since we have worked so much in Latin America. I have begun writing my Facebook posts in both English and Spanish. We recently filmed video of our work and commentary from students and staff in both English and Spanish. This improvement is to connect us more intimately with the very people we are trying to help, opening the doors for their active participation and collaboration in community projects.
Going off this point, we recently carried out an informal survey to gauge interest in a digital creation space for community projects. We want community members to feel like there is a creative space for their ideas to become reality when confronting problems they wish to solve in their communities. We found that the teachers were more interested in this proposition in order to have a space to share extra material for their classes and in order to bolster classes with other subjects such as sexual education, something that is lacking in Panamanian schools. There are certain impediments to this idea, such as lack of internet infrastructure in Costa Arriba and unequal access to internet among families. We’d also like to do this survey in Nombre de Dios to see if other communities would be interested in this idea.
In this time of restructuring and refocusing on our why and for whom we are working we are coming up with new ideas for impact and new projects to pursue in the coming months, especially for summer when construction is easiest. If our donor community and our followers have any thoughts on suggestions, please feel free to write on the Facebook group page. All ideas are welcome as we look ahead to create a greater influence in the Costa Arriba region of Colón, Panamá.
Los últimos meses nos han mantenido ocupados aquí en Futuro Científico. Desde abril hemos realizado dos proyectos sólidos: la toma de agua de la represa y La serie de charlas de diseño de impacto y competencia. En abril construimos la represa para el Centro Educativo Jacoba Urriola Solís. En mayo nos enfocamos en nuestra interacción con Nombre de Dios, otra comunidad más costa arriba a la que quisiéramos extender en el futuro. En junio conectamos la toma de la represa al colegio para suministrar por fin agua potable como el sistema de emergencia por si el sistema del pueblo se cierre. También comenzamos la serie de charlas de 11 semanas. Del 14 de junio al 23 de agosto realizamos la serie de charlas semanalmente con la competencia del proyecto final el 23 de agosto. Después del fin de la serie de charlas era hora que echáramos una vista hacia atrás a todo lo que habíamos hecho y que reagrupáramos.
El mes pasado la junta directiva y yo tuvimos una reunión para discutir de todo lo que habíamos logrado y mirar hacia adelante a los proyectos y iniciativas futuros. Después de nuestra conversación nos dimos cuenta que queríamos reenfocarnos en nuestro audiencia y beneficiados principales. Por ejemplo, nuestra página web y materia promocional está todo en inglés. En el futuro eso se cambiará. Nosotros estamos trabajando en convertir a la página web a una página bilingüe para alcanzar a nuestros partidarios, donadores, y beneficiados latinoamericanos. Es natural que sirvamos a este demográfico también ya que hemos trabajado tanto en Latinoamérica. Yo he comenzado a escribir mis publicaciones de Facebook en ambos idiomas, el inglés y el español. Recientemente filmamos videos de nuestro trabajo y los comentarios de los estudiantes y docentes sobre nuestro trabajo. Yo hago unos comentarios en inglés y español y los puebleños comparten sus pensamientos también. Esta mejora sirve para conectarnos más íntimamente con la misma gente que estamos tratando de ayudar, abriendo las puertas para su participación y colaboración activa en los proyectos comunitarios.
Siguiendo con este punto llevamos a cabo una encuesta recién para medir el interés de un espacio digital de creación de contenido para proyectos comunitarios. Nosotros queremos que los miembros de la comunidad sienta que hay un espacio creativo para que sus ideas se hagan realidad cuando se enfrentan a los problemas que quieren resolver en sus comunidades. Encontramos que a los docentes les interesaba la propuesta para que pudiesen tener un espacio para compartir contenido extra para sus clases y también para reforzar sus clases con otras materias como la educación sexual, algo que le hace falta al sistema educativo de Panamá. Hay ciertos impedimentos a esta idea, tal como la falta de infraestructura tecnológica en Costa Arriba y acceso desigual al internet entre las familias. Quisiéramos también hacer la encuesta en Nombre de Dios para ver si habría otras comunidades interesadas en la idea.
En esta hora de reestructuración y reenfoque en nuestro porqué y para quién trabajamos estamos generando nuevas ideas para hacer mayor impacto y nuevos proyectos de perseguir en los meses siguientes, especialmente para el verano cuando la construcción es más fácil. Si hay ideas entre nuestra comunidad de donadores y seguidores que se sientan libres de escribírnoslas por nuestra página en Facebook. Sean bienvenidas todas las ideas mientras vemos hacia adelante para tener mayor influencia en la región de Costa Arriba, Colón, Panamá.
In the USA our culture permeates with competition. Most of us grew up with sports being a very integral part of our youth. Many school activities are turned into competitions with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places for best science fair project, highest attendance, summa and cum laude, etc. For US students this often adds a little extra drive and motivation for the student or athlete when participating in their fair or sporting event. We at Future Scientist thought to bring this philosophy to Portobelo to see if the students in Colón would respond in kind. This August we finished the Design For Impact Charla Series and Competition and we were finally able to see the fruits of ours and the students’ labors from the last two and a half months.
It was a busy and exciting month for us in Portobelo. With the last few weeks of the charla series as well as the competition on August 23rd, the students’ ideas were beginning to take form. We came into the month having talked about, generated, and picked ideas for the projects that the students wanted to use as the solution to their problem that had established from the first few weeks. The first charla of the month dealt with the Canvas Business Model. This charla was important in putting the students’ ideas to paper and mapping out what was necessary to make their idea a reality. I pointed out to them that this Business Model could be used beyond the classroom doors and that it is a useful tool for any type of endeavor; be it communal, entrepreneurial, or academic. This tool is also important to seeing how feasible the idea is and to understand what you lack and what you have for the project or start-up. The students worked hard that day drawing up their maps for their projects and I think they gained useful knowledge for inside, and outside, the classroom.
As we got closer to the competition day it was time to begin thinking about more physical models and more serious advances in the development of their projects. The following week was prototyping week. The students whose solutions were more physical built models of their projects. Those who had more service or organizational solutions chose to write storyboards and show how their project would work step by step. I was impressed by the students ability to make these working models with little more than some cardboard, tape, paper, and markers. One group drew a blueprint of an experimental agriculture vehicle to be used by campesinos to plant and harvest more crops more efficiently. The idea was inspired from their agriculture classes and the difficulties they had seen with campesinos and their lack of mobility when planting their crops. Another drew a storyboard about how they will organize the community for weekly trash clean-ups. They illustrated how the community is affected by the constant presence of trash that is thrown in the streets and how it can be easily collected and disposed of properly. The third group made a trash clean-up rewards card to be used in stores and restaurants. The card is much like a punch-out card where for every item purchased and its packaging properly disposed of rewards the user with a sticker or a punch and once a certain amount is accumulated, the user receives a prize or a free item from the store or restaurant. With their prototypes in hand it was time to learn how to sell their ideas and appeal to their audience.
The final week before the competition the students needed to learn how to sell their ideas and to form a solid elevator pitch. They learned the six most important pieces of a good pitch:
They also learned about one of the most useful sales tools in the market: The Golden Circle. This idea comes from Simon Sinek, a now motivational speaker. He argues that people who are inspirational inspire by not selling the “what” but the “why”. They sell their beliefs and personal philosophies, and their products or services are simply an extension of these beliefs and philosophies. The Golden Circle are three inlaying circles. The innermost circle is “why”. Working outward the second circle is “how” and the outermost circle is “what”. He challenges us to begin with “why” and not with “what”. So I challenged the students to do the same. I told them to write down the why, how, and what of their projects and to use that when coming up with their pitches.
Finally the day of competition had arrived. The day before I had brought the school cooks all the food necessary to feed all the participants and judges, and a large portion of the other students in the school. I was hoping the day would go along without a hitch but then the water went out from the Portobelo system. We turned on the emergency dam system we had made but it wasn’t working either. I quickly put on my work clothes and went up to investigate. It turned out that a section of tubing had disconnected and without that water the cooks wouldn’t be able to keep the food going. Luckily I was able to fix it all just in time and the cooks were able to finish lunch. I then rushed to begin the competition. I gathered my judges, one teacher from each degree: agriculture, information technologies, and tourism. The criteria for the judges was the following: level of comprehension of the problem and appropriation, grade of innovation, applicability potential, and effort and motivation. The students arrived with their prototypes and their pitches and so we began. Each of the three groups went and presented their projects. As they presented the judges graded them according to the criteria given with numerical values from 1-10, with comments in each criteria section. After careful deliberation the judges chose the group with the weekly community trash clean-ups. As the winners, the four students won a trip to Panama City to participate in a weekend science fair put on by SENACYT (Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología) called Feria del Ingenio Juvenil (Fair of the Young Genius). They will spend a weekend in the five star hotel where the fair will be held and will present a science project of their choosing, whether it be a new project or the one they worked on for the 11 weeks of the Charla Series. At the end of the competition and the winner announcement I handed out completion certificates to the students who had attended the majority of the charlas. And with that the 11 weeks of our first Design for Impact Charla Series and Competition was over. We have begun looking for more opportunities to continue doing the series in other locations and with other audiences.
This September and October Future Scientist will be doing some self-analysis of who we want to connect with and how. We are beginning a refocus of the mediums through which we want to connect with our two audiences, our donors and the people we are trying to help. We will be assessing potential future projects outside of Portobelo as well as potential future collaborators. We will be investigating becoming a legitimate legal entity in Panama so that our collaboration can be more united with Panamanian institutions. Stay tuned for updates in the weeks to come!
We are more than halfway through the Design For Impact Seminar Series and Competition and we are that much closer to the awaited day of the project presentations. The students have worked hard and there has been great collaboration between group members in developing their community problems and creating their solutions. I believe that they have felt stimulated by the various activities, productivity tools, and lessons presented in the last 8 weeks. I am hoping they are able to apply all they have learned for the competition, which is just a few weeks away.
On August 23rd the students will present their projects in the form of a pitch, as if they were trying to sell their idea as entrepreneurs. There will be a panel of judges to listen to the presentations and they will determine who is the winning group based on certain criteria. There will be a prize for the winning group that will be revealed in the next blog once the competition is over.
We began July with week 4 of the Seminar Series. This was the week where the students focused on their problem and began to develop it in order to have a clear idea as to what exactly is the problem they wish to solve. The tool they were taught to develop their problem is called The Problem Tree. The tree is a representation of their problem. The roots represent the origins or the causes of the problem. The trunk represents the central problem. It can be looked at as the central problem statement. That is to say, “Due to (root of problem) this happens (trunk).”. Finally the branches and the leaves represent the consequences and effects of the problem. What is the problem causing in their community or society? The students made their trees on poster paper and it helped them greatly in really breaking down the task at hand. Up next was another tool called the 3 H’s. This was another empathy tool that forces the students to figuratively put themselves in the body of the person affected by the problem they wish to solve. The 3 H’s stand for Head, Hand, and Heart. The 3 H’s ask you to think about what does the affected person think? (Head), what does the affected person do? (Hand), and what does the affected person feel? (Heart). Using this tool you get an idea of where need may be and where the need is you can better understand what you need to solve.
Week 5 we continued developing our problem and from there create a “problem statement”. It was time to enter the second step in the Design Thinking process: define. Using all the information they had gathered using their empathy tools, the students had to create their “point of view” and “problem statement”. The point of view identifies the user/affected person, what they need, and why they need what they need. These three bits of information are then made into a problem statement, which serves as the definition of your problem. This definition is useful in guiding you to the proper solution that truly solves the problem; you’ve recognized your user/person affected, what they specifically need, and why they need it or why it satisfies their necessity. This is what transitions us to the third step of the Design Thinking process: brainstorming ideas.
The students were now entering the solution stage of the charla series. Here they were to start coming up with ideas for solutions to their newly defined problem from the week prior. However before they started the actual brainstorm the students had a few more lessons to learn, as well as an activity. The activity for the day was the Marshmallow Tower. The rules were simple. The students had to build the tallest tower of spaghetti noodles with the marshmallow at its top point. The materials to build the tower were 20 noodles, 1 meter of thick string, 1 meter of tape, and 1 marshmallow. The students impressed me. They did a lot better than we did during our weekend in the workshop in Santiago, Veraguas. One group built the ideal tower and won the little competition. I gave them the rest of the bag of marshmallows as their prize. The lessons I wanted them to take from the activity were to: 1. Not to fear failure. Even if a task seems impossible the worst failure was never having tried in the first place. 2. To fall in love with the problem. Confronting a problem is an opportunity to grow intellectually and maybe make a real change to the situation, whatever it may be. 3. To let their creative mind, as well as their analytical one, flow. Taking on problems we realize our power to think about and solve problems. I wanted them to realize the importance of working with the problem and that it holds an equal or even greater weight than the solution. The final tool of the day was the last problem solving tool, the Experiential Script. This script is the hour to hour of the day of the user/affected person of the problem that you wish to solve. The script serves to find what are called “spaces of action” and to have a better picture of the need of the person. Week 6 being over the students were prepared for the following week when they would finally start churning out their ideas.
The charla for Week 7 was a little heavier in regard to the amount of material that I taught to the students. Right off the bat the students did their idea brainstorming. In 15 minutes they were to come up with as many ideas of possible solutions to their problem. After coming up with their solutions they were to categorize and sub-categorize the solutions in order to organize and eliminate solutions that had too much in common and narrow their selection. After all this they were to choose the solution they wished to carry onto the next stage of the process: prototyping. After their selection I wanted to teach them about externalities. This lesson was to open their eyes to the possible consequences, be they positive or negative, to their solutions. After contemplating possible externalities to their solutions they were to play the devil’s advocate and describe their ideas to another group and the other group was to give constructive criticism for any problem they saw in the solution. This activity closed Week 7 and we look now to the end of the charla series here in August.
An update on the school emergency source and the dam. In July we worked a lot on finding a solid tube configuration from the dam intake to about 15 feet downriver. This configuration focuses on using the rock bed where the dam is placed to protect the tubes from strong flooding and use the west side of the stream to keep the tubes safe from a strong water flow. Students accompanied me every day I went up to the source and slowly but surely Wilfredo and the students are becoming the real caretakers of the dam and the source.