¡Buenas días a todos y todas! And so starts every charla (short talk) we’ve given here as part of the Future Scientist water education program here in Portobelo, Colon, Panama. Though it’s been a few years since Future Scientist was working here on the ground, we are well remembered by many key community members and stakeholders. Everyone who has worked with us in the past is excited to have us back as a constant presence in Portobelo and interested in what we might be able to do next with the community. Water is still a principal concern for most citizens, but the situation has certainly improved since Future Scientist first arrived in March 2012 and initiated multiple educational program and community projects aimed at improving access to clean water.
After a month of observation, data collection, and needs assessment Future Scientist’s program coordinator and first full time employee, Heidi Rausch, started working with students in the agriculture program at the high school, Colegio Jacobo Urriola Solis. The agriculture students are easiest to work with as their curriculum is uniquely hands-on and the director of their program, Wilfredo Aguilar, is very motivated to improving quality of life for the students at the colegio and within the community. Throughout the month of November, Heidi has given charlas about how to correctly chlorinate water using our simple chlorination kits on a household level to more than 100 students. Some of these are students in the local night school, which is mostly composed of young adult to middle aged women. Based on how many people these students reported that they live with, this information has the potential to reach over 550 people within 27 communities in Portobelo and the surrounding area. A few students seem interested in trying to help conduct outreach efforts within Portobelo and extending out to their home communities. At the end of November, colegio students will be working with Heidi to educate 6th graders in the elementary school and patients at a few of the local health centers.
An additional project that Wilfredo is hoping to complete with help from Heidi and student participation is improving the water source that supplies the high school’s water storage and purification system designed and constructed as a past Future Scientist project. Currently the intake structure for the school’s water is damaged due to water flow and allows significant amounts of dirt and debris to enter the system. The plan is to design and construct a low-profile dam and low cost filter made from the same PVC pipe in which the water is entering the system. We are also working with MINSA (Panamanian Ministry of Health) to try and replace the school’s chlorinator, which had recently broken. In combination with these improvements Wilfredo and Heidi had the idea to try and teach interested students about aqueduct design, construction and maintenance with the hope that they can use this knowledge in their communities. Future Scientist is considering developing the aqueduct program into a major effort to complement chlorination kit outreach. This will enable communities to maintain higher quality water sources and be able to effectively disinfect the water to improve access to clean water.