It’s been over a year since I began working for Future Scientist and over a year meeting and collaborating with the people of Colón. In all that time I have become acquainted with the many problems that the Colón population faces in Costa Arriba. Water system infrastructure failures, poor water system administration, mediocre to utter lack of waste management as well as access to waste management services, poverty, substandard medical care and access to health clinics, and lack of economic opportunities are a handful of the problems that communities face in the isolated extremes of Costa Arriba. To the date we have done three project design seminars in three communities: Portobelo, Nombre de Dios, and Palenque. In Portobelo we did it for the high school students and in Nombre de Dios and Palenque we did it for the community members, all in the hopes that they would use the tools and methodologies taught in order to carry out a self proposed project for the betterment of their respective communities. The seminar in Palenque was carried out on April 24th and I had a more intimate group that participated. 5 of the 6 members of the Palenque Water Committee were trained in sustainable project design. It was nice having a smaller dedicated group of adults who were in a position that they volunteered for in order to do projects so I thought they would be the greatest benefactors of a seminar like our design thinking seminar.
Despite the water committee being made up of older adults, they were great participants and were great in the activities. They paid attention, asked questions, and showed enthusiasm in the material. I went through all the subject matter that I have in the design charla so as to not leave anything out for the committee. They responded positively to the activities that are great for breaking up the monotony and creating hands-on connections between the material and its usefulness. Having a smaller more focused group had its advantages in that it allowed me to focus on a specific group of leaders in the community and give them the tools to develop their ideas into tangible projects.
Due to their time in the community and as the acting committee they were able to share a litany of problems that they have seen with the administration of the water system as well as the infrastructural problems that have come up over the history of the aqueduct. The administrative problems reflected on them as they mentioned that there has never been consequences for not paying their monthly water bill so people owe the water committee from months to even years back. This is a huge problem for a water committee if they want to be self-sustainable. If the committee has no funds to use to do projects or maintenance, how will they ever get anything done? This is the vicious cycle I see in these communities where nobody pays their water bill since they figure why pay if the water isn’t the most reliable; then the water committee has no funds in order to improve or repair the system, then the system gets worse and it creates less of an incentive to pay among community members and the cycle just continues to turn and feed itself. The solution they came up with for this problem was to create a better system of consequence for not paying the monthly water bill. The idea was to install valves on the water line to every house so that if the house did not pay there was a valve for which to cut water to their house until they paid. Another solution they came up with was a complete restructuring of the tube network within the town in order to create a better system of distribution and management of water payment defaults among community members. The truth is a lot of these problems and solutions don’t have so much to do with the actual water system rather the social and economic constructs of these communities that causes people to not trust their organizations and neighbors and in the end not pay for things that benefit the entire community and common good instead of the individual.
I am hoping that I can have more interactions with other water committees in Costa Arriba similar to the one I have had with the committee in Palenque. They are a group of genuinely concerned community members who want to see their work through and for the benefit of all, despite the difficulties that are presented. I will continue to work with them and together we will try to implement their solutions and maybe try a few of my own ideas for the betterment of their water system. There are other water committees that are in need of education and I am working on contacting them. We hope for the fruits of education to grow from our efforts with these communties and create a better future for its members.