Wednesday, April 13, 2011

home again

Back to the comforts of Saint Lambert life. How luxurious I find our home after 7 weeks in Panamà. The experience has really helped me appreciate what we have here and open wider my horizons. The next few weeks will be spent coming back to a normal life, routines and other things. Tonight I play tennis again after 8 weeks. I wonder how that will be. Jake is happy I am back and his life has taken on the routine he feels safe with.
New blogs will come as Pierre and I set out on our retirement adventures.

Hasta luego
Jennifer en saint lambert

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Brightening the lives of little children

One of the things that our group of volunteers did during our 6 weeks at this place was to brighten the lives of these little ones that spend many hours alone in their cribs, craving human touch and stimulating interactions. I have spent time looking at tactile books with them, looking at pictures and encouraging their sense of touch, and smell as well as giving them individual time  trying to elicit reactions from each one. The books have been a hit, and will stay there for use with individualt children. I wonder how long they will last, but that is beyond my control now.
Our daily outings to the park have been another way of providing new activities to the older children. Unfortunately with the rainy season upon us, this outing has not occurred for the last week as the ground is very wet. But the children still get dressed every morning wearing shoes and caps, and this alone seems to give them a lift!
 The first thing we noticed when we arrived was the lack of any visual stimulation for those children who cannot go to the playroom because of their young age or the presence of an infection. This means a lot of children on some days, with hours spent rocking themselves, looking at the ceiling or through the bars of their crib, or crying to be held. We thought the idea of mobiles over their beds, (which in Canada would be something done for much younger children), would at least give them  something to look at and perhaps awaken some of their sensory channels. Several of our group had brought little toys and bright coloured flowers with them from Canada. They spent hours making mobiles and on Thursday, our last day volunteering, we hung them up using decorated coat hangers. We think the difference between our arrival and today is quite visible, with bright colours bobbing over the heads of the little ones ones in their cribs.
My hope is that other people, perhaps those living in David itself, will think of the needs of these little ones and continue what we seem to have started.

Hasta luego.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

La cucaracha!

Winter (meaning the rainy season) is upon us and with it the arrival of more bugs.
This morning I stepped out of bed and did not put my flip-flops on before getting up to turn on the light. Now I know why the children here are always being reminded to put theirs on (ponga tus chanclettas!) I felt a crunchy sensation under my foot and realized too late that I had stepped on a visiting cockroach! Yuck! And then 5 minutes later his cousin greeted me as I reentered my room. The Panamanian variety are huge, measuring easily about 2 inches long. I usually see them scurrying out of sight when the light is switched on in the bathrrom at night. But this seems to be a new invasion into my territory.
I count myself  as unusually fortunate, having stepped on a dead frog, squished a cucaracha and accidently slipped into the pig trough (plein de purin). If this continues I might actually have nine lives.
As the old song goes:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha!
Tu no puedes caminar.
Por qu´il te falta, por qu´il te falta,
Una pattita por volar.

Hasta luega.


Monday, April 4, 2011

clearing the road for volunteers

 The men had been called so they could clear this bit of the raod that had filled with rocks. They worked to clear it using pick and shovel. The 4X4 could then get through although walking was our chosen mode of transportation given the hudge rocks and bumby road ahead.

This is the teachers room in the classroom we visited. There are no washroom facilities so everyone uses the outhouse although La Maestra has her separate one.

Sewing machines and Ngobe children above Hato Chami, Panama

 Ngobe families arrived at this community centre next to the local school, to pick up their Singer sewing machines and cloth they had ordered in order to sew the clothes they wear and that they can sell to others.  They were able to pay for the cloth with money earned from sales of their goods. The machines are provided by the fundacion Nicole Lepage. Groups have formed as cooperatives in this area. The Ngobe women and children throughout this area, including in the cities outside the Comarca, wear their native dress with pride. The men and women are both learning new sewing techniques that allow them to use these manual machines rather than sew by hand as they have done for centuries. We passed houses where the machines were outside and were being used as we drove by.
 These children were returning home after their classes. They sometimes walk for hours to and from school. The teachers here come in mostly from outside the Comarca although there are more and more  Ngobe teachers being trained. The teachers usually live in or nearby the school, and given the difficulty of accessing the remote areas, stay for weeks on end before they return home for a few days off. In the rainy season the roads become muddy floods with treacherous driving and walking itself is at times difficult. Many people travel on horseback. The teacher in the school we visited had solar panels oustide the school so she could enjoy some form of electricity. Her room was a curtained-off area in the classroom.
A home in the Comarca near Hato Chami. The fences are dotted with clothes drying. The families wash their clothes in rivers nearby.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April Fool and a foot in a pig trough

Well today was the BIG DAY and apparently I am going to be lucky for the next year. We have been staying at a center in San Felix that belongs to the catholic church. It has been dormitory style, but clean and cheap. This has allowed us to visit the Comarca for two days without having to sleep there where there is no electricity or safe water. This place is huge, welcoming indigenous people who need shelter and food. They have a working farm and a place to teach new farming method to the people here. There is also a waiting hospice for women who are ready to go into labour and live far from any medical care. We met a group of young native women who were waiting to give birth, some in labour and others near due. I admire their quiet, calm nature as they wait patiently for this event, which in many cases will repeat itself every year.
As we were visiting the Centro de Capacitacion y de Formacion this morning ,we stopped to greet the many pigs that were in varying stages of development. Just as one of my friends started to say that precaution was needed given that the troughs outside the pens holding the runoff from the pens  were not covered (you know what that contains!)...I stepped into it with my left foot. What an odour. And what a way to start a new decade! Hopefully the good luck will last for many more.
Today we drove up to a very high peak called Pena Blanca. The ride was very difficult, but luckily our driver who volunteers for the foundation and knows the Comarca well because he supervises bamboo plantations here, is a good driver and is used to driving over rocks, over rivers and around hairpin turns. Once again the children at every village wanted to talk to us. The girls and women dress in native dress which is very colourful. I am having difficulty attaching photos but will try again .

Hasta luego

La Comarca

We have had the honour to visit the comarca (Native reserves) Ngobi-Bugle with a group from the foundation that is supporting us here and that works in the comarca supporting local projects there. Today we drove up into the mountains to Hato Chami and then hiked up to a small school where we met a group of natives who are setting up sewing coops to make their own clothes and also to attempt a small business of making and selling clothing to other groups. It was fascinating to watch the negotiations as new Singer sewing machines ( manual of course as there is no electricity in these remote areas) were collected by two groups of people who will then share the machines according to their needs. Some men and women hiked for a few hours to meet with the others and talk about their work. One group then left with the machines on their backs to hike back to their homes. We passed children who hike about 2 hours to get to school everyday and then back to home. The road is very rough, in fact a team of men was sent out to clear an area that had been blocked by huge rocks so that one of our vehicles could pass. 4 of us walked from the local school to the next village as only one car could pass. It was a long hot walk over very rocky terrain, needless to say we were very glad to arrive at our destination. The children were very curious about us.
Coming back we stopped at el Centro de Salud where staff at a small hospital sees people daily and also have a birthing centre. Most women here give birth at home, having children starting at a very young age, from about 12-15 years old. There is a very high child mortality rate here, and many of the children where we are volunteering come from remote areas such as this where the malnutrition rate is very high.
We met a group of women on Friday that are involved in setting up local efforts to protect their natural resources, developing an ecotourism centre, and training as well local women to assist with the births in the villages. All of this is supported by Fundacion Nicole Lepage, the group of Panamanians that is working with these indigenous groups. We are truly privileged to have been witness to this process for 2 days.