Sunday, April 30, 2017

It Begins with Water: communication with a priest friend.

     [Note: Click on any photo to enlarge it]
Father, I will keep this brief, as I do not have with me, the materials to draw from, for a detailed explanation. However, this is the basics.

I've been staying connected to the Guna(formerly Kuna) tribe of indigenous peoples for about 7 years.  They live mostly off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

  One of a cluster of islands in the Robeson Island group of Guna Yala.  Time is short; the sea is rising.
My project of making and delivering 308 sails over the past 6 years, for their dug out canoes  (ulus) has allowed me to get to know them much better.
While there, I live with the Gunas, in their huts.  Palm thatched roof, bamboo reed walls, dirt floor, no potable water on the islands and for a bathroom? ...a hole at the end of the dock.

 However, I had been given access and accepted by them to live among them.  This day to day intimacy has allowed me to see and experience more than the casual sail cruiser or backpacker might get a glimpse of and has allowed me to get to know one of the mayors (Silas) and some elders (leaders in their congresso's).  One such man, Alberto -an elder-, speaks basic English and I contacted him last summer, asking him to consult with his other elders and to extend to me a list of problems they feel they are facing.  Maybe I said, I could help in some way.
His reply a month later, when I was able to get a call through to him, was "We have many problems, but our biggest right now is water."  He explained that there was no water coming from the pipeline that the Panamanian government had built years ago.  The gov't. had told them after requests for repair, was; "We built it, you fix it."
 This was the total flow of water to island #1 and 2, when I arrived in January, 2017.
.............There is no potable water on these islands. All water for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry must come from the mainland. Collecting it in jugs, carried in their ulus from the mainland to their home on the islands, or...hopefully at least for a time, procuring it from this oft broken system of an old government pipeline, has and is their only means of survival.
The Guna's are a primitive tribe, one of a half dozen in Panama.  They have been living for the past 200 years, mostly on coastal islands near to the Caribbean mainland of the country, between the Panama Canal and Columbia.  360 islands of which about 50 are somewhat populated with 30-50,000 Gunas. On a map, the area is denoted as Kuna Yala, which means Kuna Land.  Western culture often refers to it as the San Blas islands, named by the Spanish for St. Blas.
I told Alberto, that I would come to Panama, and do my best to discern the water problem and if possible, fix the pipeline.  This was a promise based on faith.  I knew I had basic talents that could be applied but had no idea really of how the system was built or the problems it might be having.  I only knew I would keep my promise and to try.
Without the water from the pipeline, 'this' was the best quality water they have access to.
From living with them I also saw the problems with lack of medical attention, poor food supply/lack of good nutrition, so I spent time in the fall attending workshops in Ft. Myers, Fl and an international conference in Managua, Nicaragua to better understand food production methods for small scale family farming.

 Justino's son was taught the little I knew of how to plant seeds and then how to care for them. His school teacher is now involved also, using these seedlings to teach the children in their school, the principles required to nurture the new plants.
 New seedlings 5 days later. The eight types of seeds were donated by Echo Global Farms, in Ft. Myers, Florida. These 8 plant types, were chosen by their staff, from varieties from around the the most nutritious plants also known to grow well in the tropics. It helps too, that these plant varieties are easy to grow.
 My hope was to attempt to assist the Guna men produce a larger volume and variety of food.
 A meal, presented to me as an honored guest, is not typical for a Guna.  Exceptional in quantity and variety and never even to be considered available for a daily meal for a resident. Consider this the 'best' you could hope for...on a daily basis. Day after day after day the same. Many nutrients missing.
In January I flew down to Panama City, Panama, arranged to acquire what I needed.  Tools, plumbing parts, food for myself and 22 water filter kit's built by Sawyer inc.  My hope was to also be able to begin using water filter kits, to clean up the river water once delivered.

 I purchased 22 Sawyer SP 181 filter kits and 25 new buckets to begin cleaning the river water once available.  I made a template and sprayed Diregua onto the buckets.  It's the phrase for "clean water" in the Guna language.
 Once over the mountains to the Caribbean side of the country and out to their islands, I made three trips back to the shore, up a river and  into the mountainous  jungle.

 Numerous breaks in the water line, small and large were found up in the jungle.  Most breaks were underground.

 Following the pipeline in and up to it's source, was a hike of about 15-17 miles round trip. Several Indians accompanied me, carrying parts and tools.

 Main sections were flushed by operating different pre-existing valves.
 Steep ravines and streams, required the pipeline to be suspended by cables.
 8 streams to be crossed and several slippery rock faced areas like this one and water falls, had to be climbed to gain access to the uppermost pipeline intakes.  I took a bad fall on one of these...but was very lucky!
Cistern covering one intake needed to be cleaned of leaves and other debris. I dove in and cleaned the system, to show the Indians what was necessary. They are OK doing it themselves now.
 Further upriver, at dam #3, another set of intakes had been silted over and clogged with organic debris.

 I returned to Panama City for hospitalization, then went on a shopping trip for plumbing parts. Was able to clean out the intake area, and extend intakes up and into some clean water.  Then modified what we had to accept screening to act as a filter around each intake.  The men watched and learned as I explained what I was doing and why.
3 intakes now clear of debris and protected by screening. The men will come back and monitor this area from now on.
The addition of 4" PVC street elbows and perforated pipe, plus screening, got one intake up into clean water.

 Steep terrain, a 60-70' drop off within inches of the slippery trail. The sounds of birds and very loud howler monkeys dominated the background.
I marked thorny trees next to the trail for safety's sake.

  Long story however, that even had me requiring hospitalization for infections from severe insect bites, but in the end, we now have water to the first 2 of 8 islands.

 The water is shared now, with the last 6, as the population arrives in their ulus with Gerry jugs, buckets, oil cans/whatever can hold water/often 70-100 gallons per ulu.
 The shore side line was repaired, shortened and a valve was added to cut flow at night to help build and maintain pressure.  A 2nd line was tapped off the main line and run back to shore, with a hose added so islanders could continue accessing water, while an ulu crew could fill their containers.
With good water flow, now on islands #1 and 2, the residents of islands 3 to 8 of this island group, come by ulu to fill up.  I've been told, "all the people are very very happy!"
 The line for water, at the shoreline valved system I installed, begins before sunrise and ends after darkness, sometimes 5-6 ulus in line.  However, it is a success for now.  Thousands of islanders are getting at least, water direct from a mountain river; thousands.
Sailing home heavily laden with water from the pipeline.  The sail is from the Ulu Sail Project.
It was difficult to convince them of the value of filtering that water,  but some families with babies, very young children or elders in their hut's, did understand.  You see, the mortality rate for both young and old, is high.  Because of poor nutrition and water problems only 6.2 children out of 10 live past the age of 5.  Yes, almost 4 of 10 children die because of food or water problems.
OK, for now, as at least some water, questionable water, is getting to them.  In my discussions with Alberto, I touched on other problems to see if they were aware of them.  Zika? yes, they heard of it and it was severe there a year ago.  Rising water levels? yes ( I was surprised they know) they are already making some plans to move entire populations of each island off and back to the mainland.  However, they are very disorganized in this.  The elders appear to be exasperated and know they will not live long and the problem with be up to younger who are not yet in control, but should be.  Father, this is a crisis in the making, a slow motion disaster.
I stayed a month but once back in the states, I began searching for information again.  This time, beyond food and water, but moving an entire population, something that is occurring in the Pacific Islands  but not yet in our hemisphere.  Or, so I thought!  I found a 143 page summary of a UN report date 2010, that stated they were aware of the problem for the Guna people and the Panamanian government, an International banking group dedicated to this kind of crisis and....the Catholic church....had agreed to unify to address the problem.  From what I read,  money from the banking system was put into a Panamanian govt. acct. to begin building villages, schools, hospitals for the first individual community to move it's population to the mainland. (nearly 50 islands are inhabited).  Some Gunas who have moved off to Panama City wish to return to these new communities to regroup with their families if and when this relocation occurs.  However the money put aside, has disappeared.. yes, more than likely, corruption.
The catholic church?  I cannot find any info. Who can I speak to? Who can be a contact person with interest and the strength to persist?  I have tried to contact the pastor of the main catholic church in Panama City,  the National Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with no response.  I tried also both Grand Knights of the 2 Knights of Columbus councils in the city with no results. 
the sea 'touches' many homes..........

 These islands are not much more than sand bars over old reefs and generally within a few miles of the shoreline and it's rivers.
Originally the people had moved to the islands to get away from the Spanish invasion and problems occurring with other tribes as well as disease and sickness from mosquito born problems.  The problems were critical enough for the entire population to move from river villages, to island life.
Life on the islands was good in the past, but the population has been increasing fast and the land mass is no longer adequate in size for the community style of life to continue. Add to that, the sea level is rising.
I will be going back. Small projects will continue and I will begin to try repairing the pipeline system further, so water can supply islands 3-8 of this group, but much more needs to be done.  It is clear that some island communities need to move very soon.  Others might have several years and some, 10-20 years but all have to be working on the problem now. Sadly global warming, not caused by them, has created a disaster in slow motion for them.  Storms have already flooded some of these low lying islands and lives have been lost. The Gunas are running out of time.
So what do I need?  Good question.  Prayers certainly, but much more.  There is a need to begin to gather good minds, willing to help assess, discuss, research and act as advisers at least.  It would be a great help if a contact list could be developed of who or which person or organization is involved so contacts can be made.  I believe I can work within the Guna's elder community as they trust me, but the power to execute any meaningful moves will come from working both sides, theirs and the modern, Internet western culture side... and that is my plan.

Please give this some thought.  Anything meaningful will take a lot of time but I have hope.  Right now, adequate clean water, better and more abundant food and with effort/not luck, soon planning and action will begin building the infrastructure ashore. It's up to 'us'.
Statistically, less than 2 of these 3 children will live past 5 years of age, mostly due to poor nutrition and poor water.  Which ones do you think............or, can a difference be made?
                         Help me get MAD.             that is:      to  Make A Difference.
This Post and future Guna projects will be found on:  AHUNAHO..... A Hand Up Not A Hand Out
.............Comments? Please do.  You can Subscribe also, (over on the right) to follow whatever develops.  Thanks.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hello and Welcome!

New blog, Post #1.

While I often thought of beginning this particular blog, I've held off posting, as the 'Project' so far has been mostly personal.  Yes, I've mentioned it to folks, been assisted by a few and passed out a type of business card, to anyone seemingly interested.  However, now in it's 6th year and having made 308 sails, I'm now delivering the last of them and raising the bar, upping the concept.

Sitting here now in my hotel room in Panama City writing the first entry, my thoughts are still mixed. What is interesting to me, is that over the past few years, the sails have been made and delivered in annual batches but much more has occurred.  My exposure to the recipients of these sails, the islanders, Kuna (or now referred to as Guna) Indians living off the coast in Panama's Caribbean, has allowed me to know these people much better.  With that, I have also learned of their problems.

The Ulu Sail Project was intended and has worked well to bring new sails to those who have dug out canoes.  These canoes, called ulus here, are their main source of transportation and while they did have what was referred to as sails, these were a patchwork of materials from discarded cruiser's sail cloth, bed sheets, political posters, plastic sheeting; anything that could catch the wind.  They were 'not'...a sail, made with a prescribed shape that captures air and produces lift as would an aircraft wing...or a true sail.  The ones I have made and delivered are true sails that allow the Kuna's in their ulus to sail better including much better upwind performance now. The sails are common now in the western area of Kuna Yala, known as the Robeson Islands and the bright colors around the islands and on the horizon, I must say, look beautiful.

More later, but for now, I hope you subscribe to this blog(available on the right), for further updates.