It’s the 7th of August, around 8:45 am as I write this. The coolness of the morning has given way to the usual lazy morning rain, I hear the chickens squawking in protest of being put back in their coop, this season’s final mangoes are hitting the roof and the ground, the last of the lost and found laundry items are churning in the wash machine, and Candy is sleeping under the newly washed Bronco, exhausted as I am from the eb and flow of people coming and going, packing and leaving.
Looking back on this semester and all that we’ve accomplished is difficult—mostly because it’s too quiet for me to think straight. I’ve become accustomed to the chaos. The chaos of being pestered with questions about everything from water to blender usage to healthcare in Panama, the chaos of the groggy mumbles or bright-eyed exclamations of “good morning Dad!” accompanying the faces of each of the 17 students as they wake up and fight the line for the bathrooms, the chaos of the smells of banana pancakes and eggs and tortillas and whatever leftover creation Tomas is making for breakfast battling for my nostrils. The stillness left in the wake of a rush of dozens of students making their exodus from Kalu Yala and this summer semester has left me dazed, trying to collect my thoughts, grasping for words to describe just how much I miss everyone already, and trying to wrap my head and heart around the past 11 weeks and all the emotions that have come with it. But I already wrote my letters and read all of mine though, and with them hanging upstairs in my room to remind me of all the students dispersed, I can at least put that part out of my mind enough to focus on making one more list – of projects accomplished, of a summer’s worth of work finished by everyone.
Morgan & Johana became my health fair girls.
(Johana giving her final presentation)
(Morgan giving her final presentation)
They put together two health fairs and laid the groundwork for more to be held in the future by sending out e-mails and visiting places like the Johns Hopkins hospital in Punta Pacifica and busing at 5 am to the Center for Health Promotions in Chepo to gather information, brochures and posters and literature on many health issues to be put together on posters for local libraries. They both presented dental information in school classes, including a song about brushing your teeth, and handed out toothpaste and brushes to students. They visited the San Miguel clinic to interview the pharmacist and asked to borrow blood pressure readers to give free screenings during the health fairs, and their work will allow future interns to volunteer at the clinic.
Portia & Cristina became self-titled San Miguel Water Officers.
(Portia during Monday water sample preparation)
(Cristina labeling San Miguel water samples)
They traveled to Portobelo with other interns to work with INDICASAT and learn about water testing in Panama, and brought the techniques and materials back to do routine tests on water sources in the town. They hiked to the municipal tank along with a local tank, different spots on the Pacora river, and took samples from taps weekly to be incubated and looked at for e. coli and coliforms. What they found at the end was expected but still shocking to see, and proved the need for new systems of water filtration or new sources for tap water for all of San Miguel and visually showed exactly why so many illnesses crop up around the area whether in interns or locals. They also showed off their findings at the health fairs along with a poster of information about clean drinking water.
Brenda was never seen this semester without a shovel, hoe, wheelbarrow, dirt, rocks, or plants in her hands.
(Brenda on the right working with Johana putting her babies in the ground!)
She transformed the San Miguel garden from empty space into a mini-farm; she tended to her ‘babies’ day in and day out, growing her seeds into seedlings and planting them in newly created beds, surrounded by new sand paths outlined in hauled river rocks, and collected medicinal plants and herbs from San Miguel to plant as well. Her work will literally fruit in the future, when all of us at Kalu Yala and those living in Casa Llena will be able to pick the harvests of all she’s planted. And of course, no one will forget the day they tried to help her and were the most exhausted they’d been all semester trying to keep up.
Anna was our nutritionist this semester, creating new meals for our meal plan, designing healthier combinations of food for better vitamin intake, standing-in as chef whenever Noris was ill to make us baked broccoli or squash and watermelon tomato salads better than anything I’ve found in a restaurant.
(Anna at the water tank for testing)
She also potted flowers and painted the pots for a new flower garden for the school library that Miriam has always wanted, and was a great assistant for helping hike and collect samples with Cristina and Portia for water testing.
Jasmine was the Health & Wellness runner to Community Outreach & Education’s Lindsey – she was out everyday getting her miles in, and from that stemmed her San Miguel Mile race.
(Jasmine, far right, before the start of her San Miguel Mile)
She mapped out the course, created the finish line and decorations, gathered volunteers and runners, and of course put her own touch on the race shirts. After the mile her focus on having healthy, active fun with the kids and Kalu Yala interns and organized volleyball, futbol, and a big round of basketball.
Last but certainly not least there was Ann.
(Ann talking with our favorite man, Ramon)
Ann spent months before coming down working on getting a study on health, healthcare, nutrition and exercise approved by her university’s IRB, and then worked all summer to interview people around San Miguel and San Martin with her original and follow-up questions. Her honor’s thesis on her research will eventually be published and presented at the American Anthropological Association conference this November. Throughout the summer she also proved to be invaluable in her work as ‘the scientist’ during water testing, working with Brenda in the garden, and helping out at the health fairs.
On top of their individual projects and focuses this summer,
there were chickens to bring home ,
rain to dance in,
afternoon Jason Derulo sessions to break up the work day,
events at Casa Llena like Christmhanukwanzakuh in June,
Co & Ed events to support,
movie nights and skill shares,
happiness lists to be made,
rice and beans to be eaten,
and of course, a home to inhabit.
*Thank you to all my incredible, beautiful, hard-working, dedicated, passionate, crazy, fun, positive, curious, strong and intelligent Health & Wellness girls – you made all the work of starting this program, seeing it through (and managing the house of all you wild childs) more than worth it. Miss you (and all you CO & ED students too!) more than I can say.