We just returned from a week of in-service training. This training is sometimes called ‘Reconnect’ since it occurs around four months after you first move into your community and it gives you a chance to review your training in light of your experience.
Volunteers are in highly varied communities, even though they may be in the same sector, such as Community Economic Development (ours), Envirnomental Health (the other half of Group 64, which is the 64th group to be stationed in Panama). Some communities are small, some Latino, some indigenous, some farming, some fishing, most are rural but some are urban, and the like. We were able to hear some interesting stories during the first part of the training. These stories we exchanged during lunches and breaks.
Catherine B. lives in a Gnobe community. Her main living quarters are on the second floor but it’s hot so she often reads or writes on the ground floor. Gnobe children and sometimes adults come and stare at her. I think they are trying to understand her by observing what she does. You don’t do much when you read and since they can not read they must be quite puzzled why someone would stare at a rectangular object for hours on end.
Kids sometimes take her food. They do not consider it stealing. For them everything is shared so they are sharing. She has tried asking them not to ‘share’ with her in that way, but they must wonder why if she can come to their house and eat why can’t they go to hers. The fact that she is not home when they share and they are home when she shares does not seem to be a relevant distinction.
B and K, a couple, lived in a Gnobe community at first but several problems caused them to request a site change. They had a lot of trouble with intestinal disorders. This is common in indigenous sites as they sometimes do not have access to clean, safe water. Parasites and bacterial infections are common. I think the final straw came when they both ended up in the hospital, along with our sector chief who had come for a visit, which the sector chiefs all after about 3 months after you have been in site. The problems probably stemmed from either using contaminated water or dirty hands.
S. built his house with the help of his father, the locals who cut down the trees and sawed them into logs all with a chain saw. Some of his buds walked the 1 1/2 hours from the last chiva stop (a chiva is a pickup truck with a canvas roof over the bed and maybe some seats) to his community. They helped install a water catchment system. The water is as clean as your roof. This is an improvement over what everyone else in the community does, which is drink from the stream. I imagine they sometimes have intestinal problems.
In addition to hearing about the experiences of others, there were reviews of various training topics, such as Project Management, Strategic and Operational Planning, Business Planning and the like. The other half of our group had sessions on water treatment or siting, and other matters relating to environmental health. As you can tell from the stories above, their activities are very important.