A man, a plan, a Dam: Panama!
Sometimes the best laid plans work out exactly how you want them to work out. This has been the case for our recent water catchment project. From its conception to taking off the cement mold, every piece fell into place when and how it needed to. After pouring the final bit of cement into the mold I almost couldn’t believe that it had been that easy. Only about two months had passed since Heidi and I had found the site for the dam to us building it. For awhile I almost thought we might not get it done…
Saying that everything worked out perfectly doesn’t mean there weren’t obstacles on the way. One problem I constantly faced was the lack of initial support from my main counter parts in the school. I felt that they weren’t on board with the idea of a dam and that they didn’t think the dam would work. They were content with what was already in place, that is to say they didn’t think it was necessary to spend money on another project when the tubes that are already in the stream work fine enough. I tried to explain to them that something a little more permanent and stronger might be better for the future of water safety for the school, but they thought the money I proposed to spend would be wasteful. And from what I had learned in Peace Corps, if the community or the beneficiaries of the project do not believe in the project, it isn’t prudent to continue because there will be no future investment from the community. If there is no future investment, there is no sustainability. While all these negotiations were going on, there was another issue I was concerned about: the weather.
In Panama there are really only two seasons: summer and winter. Winter is the rainy season which are the months from April to November. Summer is the dry season which are the months of December to March. April and May are when it begins to rain, however it isn’t always a heavy rain and it isn’t everyday like the rainfall that is seen in the heart of the rainy season. By contrast, the dry season is just that, dry. 95% of the days in summer are cloudless and rarely, if ever, does it rain. Panamanians know that if you’re going to build, summer is the time to do so. So the problem I faced was that the ideal construction season was coming to a close, and I had little to no moral support from counterparts. Luckily, near the end of the deadline my counterparts and I had struck an accord and I had a semblance of support from them. What I proposed to them was something that Richard had told me. 1. I proposed that the dam would be experimental and that I wouldn’t remove the current emergency system in case the dam failed; 2. If the dam worked we could connect the two sources, both the dam and the tubes, for a more secure system; and 3. They had nothing to lose, if it failed we were back at square one with the old emergency system and if it worked then the school would be that much better off. They assented and gave me the go ahead and their full support. It was all I needed to finally hit the ground running, and I hit it sprinting.
From there all the pieces just seemed to magically fall into place. When I went to the construction materials store to make my construction budget, the owner of the store introduced me to a contractor who lives in Portobelo. I met Napoleón and showed him the dam design and he showed an interest and innate ability to help me with the task ahead. We planned for construction the 16th and 17th of April, with the raining season looming too close for comfort. And even though there was a high chance of rain for the two days of work, we lucked out. The morning of the 16th a little rain fell in the morning, but other than that there was no more rain for the rest of our time working and everything went smoothly.
From my river hike with Heidi to finding the right contractor in town to help with it’s construction, every step of the dam construction planning seemed to just work out (more or less) perfectly. With the support from Wilfredo in the school, Napoleón our resourceful contractor, President Richard Novak and his unique dam design, and all the students that came out for the dam building day, our dam water catchment system was a success. There is still a little more work to do connecting the dam to the water system, but it is safe to say the hardest part is behind us. I am extremely proud of all that was done and all that we will continue to do for the benefit of the students and communities of Costa Arriba.