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.
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.
.............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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 men...men 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.
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.
AHUNAHO..... A Hand Up Not A Hand Out
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