Last week, Simon and I went back to Valle Escondido (translates to “Hidden Valley”). We didn’t have the boat we usually use, so James – a friend working nearby – took us in his boat and dropped us off for the day.
Valle Escondido is one of the most beautiful locations that I have worked at here in Panama.
The center of “town” (the cluster of homes you see in the above photo) is quite developed with water piped from a spring and solar power providing electricity to most of those homes. The first time I went to Valle Escondido was with the medical/dental team that I talked about in my last blog post. While we were there, Simon traveled around the area to find families that were not tapped into the main water supply to see if we could help them access drinking water. With the help of a man from the village, Simon located two homes high on the top of a large hill (that is where I was standing for the photo above) that were not part of the community water system. Simon was also brought to a small hole in the ground on another hill that was used to collect spring water for a cluster of 4 homes (3 of which were far away in the mangroves).
There was a 200-gal tank just below the manmade hole that was used to collect the water for storage before it would flow through a series of 1-1/2″, 1″ and (mostly) 1/2″ diameter PVC pipes to the mangrove homes. The main concern at that time was the water tank had a bunch of small holes in the bottom, resulting in water leaking out and not storing properly in the tank. While Simon worked on drilling a well on the side of the larger hill with residents from those two homes, I worked with Andy (from the WA team) and Nicholas (resident of one of the homes using this small water source) to replace the 200-gal tank.
We were only making a small improvement to their existing system that day. Just bringing it back up to how it was originally designed. Most of the time, my work is in baby-steps. For example, a community is drinking contaminated river water, a step above that would be rain water catchment. A community is defecating on the ground, a step above that would be digging a pit latrine. We take small steps and provide what we can to leave a community with a sustainable solution.
So…that particular work was done a couple weeks ago, but Simon and I returned last week to check on the well and the new tank and find the rest of the homes without access to water.
We didn’t have any contact information for the families that we wanted to meet with so we just went on the chance that some of them would be home. We brought supplies for drilling a well (the well Simon drilled two weeks ago did not produce much water). After lugging the drilling equipment and tools up that really really high hill, we found the homes mostly deserted. One man who was at home did give us contact information for a future visit. We checked the existing well (still not producing enough water) and made plans to return and drill again (now that we had phone numbers for the families).
We carried our equipment back to a little store near the dock and walked up the other hill to check the water tank.
None of these walks are short – I would guess that the walk up the high hill took us about thirty minutes and the walk to the little spring and tank took another twenty minutes from the dock.
After we checked the tank and installed a valve, we stopped at the home of Nicholas (who helped us install the new tank). Nicholas wasn’t at home, but a relative was there who offered to take us to the mangrove homes. I was really excited! I wanted to see the homes in the mangroves, but we didn’t have any contacts and wouldn’t be able to just go wander down – we didn’t know the path to those homes and we can’t really just go into any properties uninvited.
Basically, I was trying to find and check every home that needed water so we could put together a plan and get phone numbers of all the households so we could gather volunteers for the work days. We checked the homes in the mangroves and talked with the family members and came up with plans for rain catchment gutters for all the homes and a tank for one of the homes (the other two had water tanks, but needed new gutters).
After seeing the homes in the mangroves, I was sure we had found every home in need of water – it was 6 total.
I was wrong, but that’s what made the day even better!
We went back to Nicholas’ house and he was home (yeah!). We talked to him about helping us make some changes to the little spring (shown in the photo earlier in this post) to help collect more water and also about putting rain catchment on his house for drinking water. We got Nicholas’ phone number and discussed how we are going to each home that isn’t part of the main water system.
He told us there was one more. A house that was far, on top of a hill and without much water.
We got some confusing directions from Nicholas (I am not sure that he had ever been to that house) so we just started walking back to the center of town. We passed some boys playing baseball and they knew the name we gave them, but also just pointed in a general direction and didn’t offer to guide us. We went along again and eventually came to another home. We asked for help at that home as well, so the father sent his teenage son to take us. Yes! We had a guide!
So listen…I know this community is called “Hidden Valley” but it should really be changed to “So Many High Hills!” (unfortunately, “Tantas Colinas Altas” doesn’t have the same nice ring as “Valle Escondido”).
After what seems like forever (I sure sound like a baby), we made it to the house. I don’t actually have photos of the house (not many Ngobe people are fond of photos – they think we are going to sell them). I have a photo of the next best thing – another hill!
The house did not have any rain catchment and the only water source was a small (low flow) spring at the bottom of a steep hill. Basically, water collects in a gully between two hills and that is where they collect their water for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, etc. Five people reside in this particular house, so I know a 200-gal rain catchment tank will be a great source of drinking water for the family. That size tank costs about $200. Simon also wants to try to drill near the small spring to see if we can get a better water source for the laundry and bathing. We also wrote down the family’s contact information so we can set up a work day.
Although I was extremely tired after that long day of walking up and down and up and down, I felt really encouraged. We didn’t actually work (which is usually what encourages me), but we now have contacts for all the households without water and we know what we are going to do to try to help them.
I know those scenarios where we found relatives and teenagers to take us around were divine appointments – we found every home we needed to find in that Ngobe community without any contacts going there. That isn’t easy to do! Praise God!