Students at the Portobelo Colegio, together with Dr. Amador Goodridge, have been monitoring coliform bacteria in their drinking water system using donated test kits. Their results show that while bacterial levels are quite high in the source stream (D) and in the first storage tank (C), filtration (B), but especially chlorination (A), significantly reduce the bacterial concentrations to almost nothing.
It seems like bacteria actually grow better in the storage tank, probably because it's warmer than the stream, but filtration and chlorination together are quite effective at treating the water. While it's difficult to assess other pathogens, coliform bacteria help us estimate the over all effect the installed water treatment system is having at the colegio.
“I’ll do it,” I said, setting down my second beer. Gautham had been lamenting that, if they didn’t find another trip leader soon, they would have to cancel the next Future Scientist trip. All through grad school I had watch from the sidelines as Richard and Gautham grew their non-profit. Now they needed help and I dove right in without really thinking what I was signing up for … might have been the second beer talking.
The next few months were a mad dash of planning and prep work. I met Rabi, another of Gautham’s friends. Her expertise in water quality, the focus of this year’s trip, would be an asset in Panama. Despite her crazy work load as a fifth-year grad student, she couldn’t pass up on the adventure either. We collected a group of ambitious students and headed to Portobelo.
But as soon as we arrived, we realized the project we had designed needed to be modified to better serve the community. What was intended to be a project focused primarily on teaching water quality testing with only a minor water treatment component turned into a project almost entirely aimed at providing the community with water chlorination kits and extensive hands-on outreach. We revamped the schedule nightly, which did not go unnoticed by our students, waiting patiently for us to let them know what to expect next. But the planning we had done helped us think on our feet and we came away with a project that focused far more on community outreach than originally planned.
Jessica teaches the local students how to assemble over 200 water chlorination kits that were distributed, along with hands-on training, to the community of Portobelo.
Every day our group of Americanos went out into the community of Portobelo, to learn, to teach, but mostly to talk. Everyone was so welcoming. They grew accustomed to us trekking back and forth to our dorm in Guinea, spouting “Buenas” as we passed, stuffing our faces at La Fonda Ida. It was eye opening to stay in such a beautiful place, with a community that lives without some of the most basic infrastructure we take for granted every day in America. But what they do with what they have is awe-inspiring, like Wilfredo’s spectacular farm behind the colegio where he teaches argopecuario and environmentalism.
I’m so glad I volunteered as a trip leader. From this experience, I’ve learned I love teaching. This summer, I’ll travel to Bogotá, Columbia to teach a course at the Universidad de los Andes and I plan to pursue a professorship in a teaching focused institution this fall. So if you get a chance to work with Future Scientist, don’t think about it too hard. Just say you’ll do it. You’ll thank me later.
- Jessica Allen
Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, San Francisco