A few months back I was sitting at a coffee shop and struck up a conversation with a man who commented on the “Compassion It” sticker on my laptop. We started talking and he told me that he ran a non-proft that donated and delivered high-grade water filters to communities throughout the world that were in need of clean water. I talked about my travels in India and how much it impacted me to see how many people live without clean water. I told him about my upcoming trip to Panama and asked if there was any way he could donate filters to the local communities there, if there was a need for it.
Fast forward 3 months and I am delivering a backpack full of water filters to a small indigenous village on Isla Bastimentos with a local non-profit! My school, Habla Ya, connected me with a Non-Profit organization here called “Give and Surf” that does a lot for the local community, especially the indigenous Ngobe-Bugle tribe.
Per the Give and Surf website, “The Ngobe-Bugle tribe is the largest indigenous group in Panama and it is estimated that over 90% are living in extreme poverty. Due to the remote location, they have extremely limited access to education, medical care, and other basic necessities, (like clean water). The culture and livelihood of the Ngobe communities in the Bocas del Toro islands is at particular risk due to the growing tourism sector, which is infringing on the Ngobe lands and also raising the cost of living. In order to both protect their culture as well as ensure future opportunities for employment, Give and Surf is committed to educating and empowering these communities.”
Last Thursday, I traveled over by boat to Isla Bastimentos to meet the Give and Surf team. It was a super rainy day and they were running behind so I sat and had a cup of coffee and just looked out at the sky. In Bocas, nothing runs on time and I should be used to that but I still tend to be an hour “early” (aka. on time) for everything.
They pulled up to the dock, I jumped in the boat and we headed over to the village of Bahia Roja.
We walked up to the school (that Give and Surf helped to build), but the teacher was sick so it was closed for the day. It was pouring rain and there aren’t many paths in the village (only the ones that Give and Surf helped to build), so it was very muddy, as you’ll see in the pictures. There were a few children who walked with us and we sat under a covering to put the water filters together. They were IKEA-like instructions and one of the children put them together faster than the adults. You could see how intelligent he was.
After we put them together the kids were trying it out and having fun with the water. One little girl never left my side and held my hand everywhere we walked. ♥
The families lived in very small houses on stilts….basically a 12 x 12 foot room for up to 10 people. As of now, the families just drank water that they collected in buckets from the rain and it often would cause sickness, especially in the children. Many of them had distended bellies from infection because of the water.
We went from house to house (in the pouring rain!) to show the families the filters, describe to them what it was used for and what they would need to do in order to take care of it every day, and asked if they were interested in installing it in their family’s bucket.
Every single person was interested and engaged. When they said yes, we would install the filter into their bucket, show them how to use it, give them the directions, and reminded them of the importance of how to care for it.
We reached 15 families and the remaining 5 filters will be used for schools in the community. On Saturday, I was invited by my school and Give and Surf to a fundraising event for education on plastic bags and littering. One of the local leaders who is very involved in the Ngobe community was there; he had heard that water filters were donated to the Bahia Roja community and he came over to me to thank me for bringing them and extended his gratitude. Everyone was so grateful and kind.
I feel so lucky to have met so many wonderful people along the way of this little job, from the man who donated the filters to the people in the community who received them; it was a chain reaction of one good thing leading to another. Two of my favorite things- community and connection!