Developing Community Infrastructure Projects in Panama - MEDLIFE

Developing Community Infrastructure Projects in Panama


This summer MEDLIFE conducted it’s third-ever Mobile Clinic in Panama. It was the first time that the Mobile Clinic had visited the rural interior of the country, and also the first time that we had completed a community development project there. MEDLIFE’s two summer interns in Panama, Lisa Berdie and Miriam Marshall, assumed a great deal of responsibility in coordinating the logistics of the Mobile Clinic and development project. They share the details of the project below:

13-1Two weeks ago, 32 student volunteers, accompanied by local medical professionals, conducted a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Penonomé, Panama. It was a great way to start developing meaningful relationships in a new part of the country as we extended our services to four different communities. The first three days of the Clinic were held in the same location and people walked for up to three hours to come see our doctors. It was truly amazing to witness the lifestyle of people who live in such a remote place!

The opportunity to work alongside community members on the development project was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience. We worked together to construct a bathroom next to a building that functions as a central meeting place for organizations in the community. Primarily, a group called the Madres Maestras (Mother Teachers) meets in this building. The group has day care centers throughout Panama and is especially active in the province of Coclé (where the Mobile Clinic took place). The organization provides support for families and believes that early education is essential in childhood development; the Madres encourage every parent to be a teacher for their child.

Everyone on the Mobile Clinic participated in the construction of the bathroom. The first day pushed the physical limits of the students as they hauled pounds of sand from the riverbanks to the construction site. Students walked down to the river with potato sacks, filled them about a third of the way full, and carried them back to the road where we consolidated the sand and threw the filled bags in a truck to carry them back to the construction site. We all struggled under the weight of the bags of sand, while the men helping us from the community lifted them so easily.

13-2The second and third day students learned to mix cement and sand to make the mortar for the construction of the bathroom. The students then used this mix to secure the cinder blocks in place. We worked with several men in the community and they taught us how to ensure that the rows were level. Without them we would have constructed the second leaning tower of Pisa rather than a functional bathroom!

During the fourth day of the project, the students learned to plaster the walls of the bathroom with cement. This serves to reinforce the stability of the structure by filling in all the gaps in the walls. The students can now all tell you that stuccoing is harder than it looks! It was a challenge to get everything covered, ensure that every place on the wall was the same thickness, and give it a ‘finished’ look at the same time. Luckily, we again had the support and careful instruction of the community members. Finally, we put a roof on the bathroom. The roof slanted upwards in order to allow light to enter the structure (there is no electricity in the community). Students hoisted the sheets of metal on top of the bathroom and secured them with nails, a hammer, and pure brute strength.

In the end the students were all proud of the work they had done on the project, and had a new appreciation for the community members they had worked with. Indeed, Pablo, one of the community members, told me that what took us four days to complete, he and his friends could have completed in less than one. However, all the community members were grateful for the enthusiasm of the students and their willingness to lend a hand in the hard work. It was fun for the community members to teach the students and pass along some of their knowledge. It was clear they got in a few laughs along the way as well!

Sounds like a tough week! Thanks for the write-up, Miriam and Lisa! We hope to hear more about your work in Panama soon. MEDLIFE would also like to thank the Madres Maestras for their assistance in the coordination of the Mobile Clinic.