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.