April 2010

Medical translations

April 27, 2010

A team of Army Reserve (Southern Command) doctors, dentists, nurses and support staff flew to Panama last week to conduct free clinics in the Cocle Province, about 8 hours by bus from our house. Two weeks ago 4 or 5 other volunteers assisted in the translations. This past week there were fewer so I went then instead.

I worked with the optometrist and the dentists. The former needed assistance with the distance exams. The biggest challenge was hearing the people talk, as many of them spoke in very soft voices, mumble, or both. Some of them tried to tell me about their vision problems, thinking I needed to know, but the test told us what we were looking for.

Working with the dentists gave me a close up view of the dental problems here. As there are relatively few dentists and the vast majority of the people do not have the money to pay, most people do not get preventative care. On this trip the dentists could only do exams and extractions since they did not have a complete set-up so cleanings and fillings were out of the question.

I interviewed people as they came in to find out what the problems were. I looked in a lot of scary mouths. Decay is common, caused by a high sugar diet (causing type 2 diabetes as well) and lack of care, leading to large cavities, pain, and the loss of teeth.

There were many with serious bone loss for lack of brushing and regular cleanings, and no one here uses floss, all leading to plaque and the development of dental pockets where bacteria grow, eating away at the bone. This gum loss produces snaggly teeth that decay, break and just plain fall out for lack of anything to hold onto. I know all this because I inherited a proclivity for all of these problems.

On the last evening the mayor of Penonome gave a party for the soldiers, to which they invited us. A Panamanian woman invited me to dance with her, which was a lot of fun. We did a salsa of sorts, and then I danced with another woman and we did the merengue. They were both good dancers.

Appasac withdraws from the enviromental association.

April 27, 2010 — garypeg

April 22nd, 2010

Further developments have complicated the situation regarding our local agro-environmental group, APAASAC. Last week representatives of ADATA visited just after a meeting with EISA (Electron Investment SA), a company building one of the hydro-electric projects in the province.

Representatives from EISA, whose project is called the Pando-Monte-Lirio, were there to talk about the donations they are considering for projects in Santa Clara. These projects, proposed by the community, are submitted in writing and then reviewed by the company. Many local communities are participating.

The largest among those submitted in Santa Clara include a sum for replacing the water pipes. The regional government paid for a portion of the project, now completed, and this donation would finish the job. There is also a request for money to buy prizes for a raffle to support the newly reconstituted health committee, and a request to purchase some trash cans for locations where people congregate, two bus stops, a small shopping area and the central park. They also talked about the training programs they will be offering in self-esteem and various health topics, including sexuality. These donations are not a requirement of their contract but it is common for projects such as these to offer them.

Without much doubt the companies figure they will enjoy more support from the community. Especially In a charged environment like this one, they have to be thinking this way.

EISA was there also to talk about reforestation. They are legally required to plant 12 trees for every 1 they remove. Therefore they are looking for sources of trees to reforest the areas they clear to install the 10 foot diameter pipes to channel the river into the turbines. The reforestation is still under study to determine the number of trees and other aspects of the plan, they explained. Our group is interested in the project for the income and to insure the job is done properly.

ADATA representatives arrived just as the other meeting was ending. It was an icy moment – Adata parked their truck so as to prevent the EISA truck from leaving so I feared a confrontation. Adata and EISA had all met weeks before when EISA learned, if had not already, that at least some members of Adata opposed the projects. What I did not know at that point is that Demaris and Jorge were already working on getting written commitments from ADATA members.

After asking Jorge to move the truck, which he did in a tongue in cheek sort of way, EISA departed. Demaris and Jorge came in. They said that they were not opposed to hydroelectric projects but they were opposed to the lack of an environmental impact study of all 12 or so projects on the river and the 90-10 rule which allows the company to take up to 90% of the water. This includes not just the river but the water basin, they explained. What might the impact be on water supplies for the human population, and the fauna and flora? This is unknown, but in an area highly dependent on agriculture, it is important to find out, they argued.

They then read the letter that all members of ADATA except APPASAC
had already signed.

Lito then said that he for one felt they had to accept the donations that benefited the community. His brother Anel said that they were all opposed to the mining projects, and remained committed to the environment. After all, he noted, they are one of few organic farmers in the area. He explained that they were not negotiating with EISA, just conversing with them, although that made it clear they would consider negotiating with them.

Demaris then read the letter of withdrawal from Adata they had prepared for APPASAC. She explained that they could not appear to be working against the hydroelectric projects and then having a member who is negotiating with them.

Much to my surprise Anel signed right then and there. As far as I knew there had been no meeting with APAASAC members, no vote taken and no notice of the pending event.

It was a sad moment, the consequences not considered with care as far as I can tell, with no moment given to questions of procedure. The moment gave me the feeling that had I done my job, it would have made a difference if not in the outcome, which is their’s to choose, but in the method.

Subsequently I discussed the situation with our sector director and as I thought, we must not participate in anything anyone is doing on any level with the hydro-electric projects now that the situation here is politicized. At our next meeting I will inform APPASAC.

My current projects

April 5, 2010 — garypeg

One main project is the importation of 200 refurbished computers into Panama. There are at least two non-profit organizations in the U.S. that accept donations and then ship to sites in the US and abroad. Both have worked with the Peace Corps before. Nephew Nic in fact worked with some of the computers one of the organizations sent to el Salvador. There are three of us woApril 27, 2010 — garypegrking on the project together with our sector director. I investigated the organizations and wrote the proposal, which eventually became a one page proposal to several potential funders after the sector director worked it over. He did a very good job on his end.

Then another volunteer, who is an experienced fund raiser, will work on the proposal in greater detail and she and I will hash is out and present it to the sector director. A third volunteer will arrange whatever training we are going to provide to end users. This is a $25,000-30,000 project.

Here’s a bit of the proposal, which is still being developed:

“While rural Panamanians have increasing access to cellular technology, poverty greatly limits their access to computers. The Peace Corps proposes to help reduce the disparity between those who can take advantage of the benefits of the information age and those who cannot, by providing computers and training to the economically disadvantaged in third world countries.

While the Panamanian government has made scattered efforts to help youth enter the information age by providing computers and even satellite internet access in some schools, they do not support community groups. These are very important organizations in Panama, recognized by the national government and international organizations that fund projects in Panama.

Peace Corps has supported its declared computer initiative by importing computers to Latin American countries such as Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as many other nations. Now, Peace Corps volunteers living in the most under-served small communities in Panama have the opportunity to do the same, by providing refurbished computers to groups in up to 200 communities, with beneficiaries numbering into the thousands. As important as providing computers, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s) will train recipients in computer use.

Given the rapid progress of wireless technology in Panama, members of these groups may be able to afford access to the services the internet has made available. An additional important benefit will be overcoming the extremely limited postal service in Panama. Communicating via email will replace long bus trips and hand-delivery of paperwork.”

This wording may not end up in the final proposal but it gives you one view of the project. Peg greatly assisted in writing the proposal. We are on draft 6.

My second major project is helping Adata develop a web page. Adata is the network of environmental groups in the Tierras Altas of Chiriqui, Panama. You can see the pages now but the site is not nearly complete. It is in English and SpanisApril 27, 2010 — garypegh. The goal is to educate English and Spanish speaking public and funding agencies about the highly sensitive and important ecological zone.

ADATA as well as this site are published using WordPress. I had to learn how to use this program, which was difficult. I am working with a local on the ADATA site, so the project can sustain itself.

My third major project is a two weekend training program for area environmental groups. I plan to see funding from the Panamanian government. I am working with a local group to plan the program.

Side projects are working on agro-eco tourism in our host community, helping get the computers running for the school, attending meetings of our local agro-environmental group hoping to find a way to help them organizationally and I will be doing medical translations in mid-April. There will be more such projects as time goes on.

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