Monday, February 28, 2011

An Abundance of Water

There's sense of exhaustion a person feels during what is, many times, an endless effort to satisfy the desire for more things. Unfortunately, the need vary rarely reaches a permanent state of satisfaction. I was at home one afternoon, when I began to think of ways I could ways I could apply myself in a more meaningful and purposeful way. I came across an organization called Global Humanitarian Adventures Inc. (GHA). GHA’s initiative is to recruit volunteers from across the globe to serve the needs of those less fortunate. I contacted founder Robb Pickett, and learned that GHA was participating in a water catchment project that aimed to install rain water catchment systems in the homes of impoverished indigenous communities within the province of Bocas Del Toro, Panama. After researching the project and GHA a bit more, I felt confident that volunteering with GHA would be an excellent way for me to make a more positive contribution to society; something that I felt my current lifestyle didn't accomplish very well.

I had visited Panama before, so I was somewhat familiar with the country and its culture. Thankfully, GHA made the whole process extremely easy. I simply made a payment to GHA, to cover my accommodations during my 4 week stay, confirmed the date I'd be arriving, and my place as a volunteer was secured. And so on February 14, 2011, I returned to Panama to volunteer my time and labor to communities in need of support.

Over the past week I contributed to the transportation and installation of several water catchment systems in homes within different communities across the province of Bocas Del Toro, Panama. I had the privilege of working alongside an unprecedented collaboration of people and organizations, which included Global Humanitarian AdventuresContextual SolutionsThe Rotary Club of Boquete, The Rotary Club of Shasta Valley, the United States Peace Corps and several local expats.

The water catchment system that was used in this project is an incredibly simple mechanism, consisting of materials, which mainly include PVC piping and joints, straps, cement blocks and a large plastic water tank. The cost of an entire water catchment system can range from $500 - $700 (US) and can provide a clean water source for dozens of people. More importantly, the water catchment system will prevent illnesses contracted from the intake of contaminated water.

I had the opportunity to speak directly to residents of several of the indigenous communities of Bocas Del Toro. I learned many of the children in these communities have fallen ill, some fatally, from contaminates ingested through the water they drank. Clean water has always flowed from the taps at my home in Canada. I've never known first hand what it feels like to worry about falling fatally ill from drinking contaminated water. Water is an essential part of human survival. A person can only survive an average of three to five days without the intake of water. And so in order to survive, many people of the indigenous communities across Panama, drink the water that flows naturally in the streams and rivers within their community. They consume this water because it is the only fresh water source available to them. They consume this water in order to survive. Unfortunately, the water which supports life in many indigenous communities throughout Panama also destroys it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 884 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources. An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year from illnesses contracted through intake of unsafe water (WHO). The illnesses attributed to the intake of unsafe water include infectious diarrhea, typhoid and paratyphoid fevers, acute hepatitis A, acute hepatitis E and F, schistosomiasis, trachoma, intestinal helminthes infections (parasitic worms), dengue, leptopirosis, malaria, West Nile virus infection and yellow fever, to name a few. The spread of most of these diseases is of special concern where adequate sanitation systems do not exist. The most vulnerable groups are children under five and the elderly. About 90 per cent of the deaths due to diarrhea occur in children under 5 (WHO).

What separates me from the impoverished is privilege; something I inherited completely by chance. Through no choice of their own, the people of many of the indigenous communities of Panama have inherited a substandard condition of living that poses a very serious threat to the health and well being of everyone in their community. Unfortunately, much of the impoverished indigenous population in Panama receive little to no help from their local government, whose legislation appear to favor the wealthy; a concept that's far from new.

Although, through the help of GHA, I've been able to immediately immerse myself in activities that directly improve the living conditions of some of the most impoverished communities in Panama. GHA has provided me with the opportunity to make a more positive contribution to society. My experience has left me with a sense of hope for the future of the communities I visited. The phrase, "where there’s a will there’s a way" could not be more appropriate description in referring to the water catchment project I was involved in. I'm confident that the communities I visited over the past week will continue to receive support, despite the lack of local government aid. I'm confident these communities will continue to receive support because the will to help exists within me and is something I believe is innate in all human beings. All that is required is to make the choice to listen to the humanitarian within you. Your contribution will make a difference.