Tiger Island

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Securing the boat after we unloaded our equipment for Isla Tigre.

Simon and I went back to the island where he grew up and where most of his family still resides – Isla Tigre (Tiger Island). Unfortunately, there aren’t any tigers there (although there was a cute orange kitten that Simon joked about being a tiny tiger).

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Isla Tigre is marked with the red pin. I live around the spot where the “i” is in “Bastimento.” In Simon’s boat, it took us 1.5 hours to reach Isla Tigre.

Simon and I went to Isla Tigre with quite a few tasks on our list. One was to check on two wells that he had drilled a few months ago. We found that one well, with a very good source of water, wasn’t being used at all. The homes surrounding it did not like it. Simon had shared with me that these families all wanted him to pipe water to their houses, but he had hoped drilling them a well would change their minds (like Shark Hole!). The other well, however, was used often and the families that used it even put some wood around it to make a little platform. We were both encouraged by the second well since the three homes near it were using it and liked it! It is odd to me – all of these homes (6) served by the two wells are relatively close to each other and all are relatives of Simon. One cluster of homes doesn’t use their well and the other cluster of homes (not far away) uses their well. I would imagine that the families all hang out, maybe even talk or do laundry together and I wonder why one group doesn’t see the benefit that the other group has by using their well? Sometimes Simon just smiles and answers my questions with “loco, Cait. Ellos están locos” (Crazy, Cait. They are crazy).

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Installing a rain catchment tank.

Our next stop was at a church on a different side of the Island. This church received gutters when the Healing Fund team was here a few weeks ago and was waiting on a tank. We brought them a 200-gallon tank to serve water to the surrounding homes. After the install, Simon and I chatted with the pastor and checked the terrain for water. We are going to try to drill a well since there are a lot of homes in need of water in that part of the island. The pastor said he would be able to get volunteers together so we are going to reach out to him when we have time to make the trip back to Isla Tigre. I have an ongoing list of project communities and contact phone numbers so we can get volunteers together before we make the trips to the communities.

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Drilling at our third stop on Isla Tigre

Our final stop at Isla Tigre was near Simon’s mother’s house. A well that he drilled there last year was used very much by all of the homes and a line would form as people waited to get water. Simon wanted to drill another well nearby so the families wouldn’t have to wait as long to retrieve their water. Drilling in an area where people understand the benefits of having a well was so nice! We had three volunteers that worked really hard and even took initiative to clean the drill after we finished. We drilled down to 27′ with a 10′ column of water! The drilling went so well! I get so encouraged when we have volunteers and I feel like progress is being made with the acceptance of the wells.

All in all, our time on Isla Tigre was good. Two existing wells are being used frequently, we drilled another well that we know will be used frequently, installed a water tank and made tentative plans to drill another well. I know we still have the cluster of homes that doesn’t use their well, but we aren’t too discouraged. There is always a chance they will eventually start using it, but even if they don’t, at least other families nearby are accepting the water wells.

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On our way home, I thought about how awesome this work is – how cool it is that I can be part of projects in remote communities where we are providing water and sharing the love of Jesus. Sure, there are frustrating times, lonely times and even times when I am sick, but overall, I can’t imagine myself doing any other task. I am grateful to have “commutes” like this photo where the sea is calm and the sun is shining as the boat brings us home. 

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Simon’s Great Idea!

 

Last year, we went to a community called “Shark Hole.” The community was somewhat developed (relatively speaking) so, ultimately, we focused on a smaller neighboring community, Dejada, which had a more pressing need for water.

However, while we were in Shark Hole last year, we went to their birthing house (where the local midwife delivers the babies). The birthing house was situated on the top of a large hill, without easy access to water (something that is important when they are delivering babies and caring for the mothers). Most of the other homes in the community of Shark Hole were connected to a piping system that brought water from a creek above the community, but the location of the birthing house (high elevation) made it impossible to pipe water all the way to the building via a gravity system.

Spring/creek-fed water piping systems are really common in these Islands. I have seen many of these types of systems and the pipes are above ground and the majority of the lines are small diameter pipe (1″-down to- 1/2″) which makes it really difficult to move water long distances (up and down hills). Most of the systems I have seen are not working very well because of the size of the pipe (too small), broken pipe or not enough rain to feed the creek/spring into the pipe. Because this is the common (known) method of getting water, it is what everyone wants. It is familiar.

We have been trying to encourage wells in areas where a borehole well is the most appropriate technology. Some communities really like the wells, but some communities aren’t ready to try something different. Shark Hole was one of those communities that wasn’t ready to try something different.

Simon and I noted that he should try to drill a well to serve the birthing house and a few months later, he drilled them a well. The midwife was very happy, but it still wasn’t a method embraced by the majority of the community.

About a month ago, I returned to Shark Hole to check on the well Simon drilled. While there, the small group representing the community’s water system asked me for 90 pipes (approx $1,800) to add another creek (water source) into their central water system. They said that the existing creek didn’t produce enough water for the community and people were paying fees for their water even when the tanks were empty.

I have done a handful of spring catchment/pipeline projects over the years, however we do them in areas where our drilling equipment isn’t able to reach water. That wasn’t the case in Sharkhole.

Simon explained that we drill wells and we were willing to drill in their community (with volunteers). At that time, the water committee was unimpressed with the idea. They had their hearts set on more pipe (which, in such a hilly area, is complicated and costly). I was a wee bit disappointed, but it wasn’t a big problem. I felt bad saying “no” to buying them pipe, but we had other areas to help. However, Simon had some conversations with an older gentleman standing near the water committee. This older man, Pablo, saw the benefit of a well. He saw the well near the birthing house and said to Simon “I have water in a pipe to my house, but it does not always have water in it. I pay for the water even when I have no water. I see the well and I see the water. I think this is very good and I want one at my house.” Simon was super excited and shared with me that “No one wants a well in Shark Hole, but I know it is better for them. This old man wants a well. He knows it is good water. We can drill a well at his house and everyone will see and they will all want a well.” Of course I was on board with that idea!

Simon’s Cayuko that took us to Shark Hole

Last week, Simon and I returned to Shark Hole – to Pablo’s house. We drilled a well. It was hard because we didn’t have many volunteers. Really, just two young teenagers for the first 15′ and, after that, we got three more young teens to step in (who were just watching us) for the remaining 7′ of drilling. What we did get a lot of was bystanders. As we went deeper, people stopped to watch. At first I was nervous, but once we hit water – a great flow of water – I was really happy that we were being observed. Simon’s idea worked. He returned to Shark Hole to finish the casing installation and he said everyone wants a well. Simon explained that we would drill wells for clusters of homes (at least three homes would be sharing one well) and we would need at least 5 men to volunteer to drill the well.

Now, we have lots of support and lots of willing volunteers in Shark Hole!

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Hidden Valley (aka LOTS OF HILLS!)

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Simon loading the boat for our trip to Valle Escondido 

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.

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View from the top of a high, steep hill during my first week a couple weeks ago

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).

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The spring water source. Whoever designed this system did their best to keep the source protected

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.

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We removed rocks from the dirt platform the existing tank was positioned on (probably why the tank had holes in the bottom) and leveled it off with soil nearby

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.

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Following the relative of Nicholas to the mangrove homes 

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).

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Sometimes, in order to get a photo, you need to drop your hand beside your bag and sneak a shot as you walk away. This home has a nice size tank, but needs additional gutters to get the water into the tank

 

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The first home that we came to in the lowland area. This home – like the other two nearby- have access to the little 1/2″ pipe carrying water from that small spring/200-gal tank, but the water is not sufficient so we would like to get a catchment tank and gutters on this home as well

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”).

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This isn’t a tall hill, but they just kept coming…I was thinking “Ok, over this hill, we will see the house” but we would get to the top and no home would be there and we would go down again and up again and down again. 

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!

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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!

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I did whine, however here is my little tracker info for the day – 10.59 miles OF HILLS! 🙂

 

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11-days of AWESOMENESS!

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Back row: Ellie Wood, Phil, Bella Wood, Sarah, Aleph, Zia (hiding behind her grandfather), Dr. Ron, Dennis, Don, Al, Rob, Shirlene Wood, Me                                                                                             Front row: Andy, Dennis, Rick, Linda, Bobby Wood. 

The Healing Fund, a 13-person missions team, led by Aleph, spent 11-days doing all sorts of cool things on Isla Bastimentos, Isla Tigre, Buena Esperanza, Tierra Oscuras, De Jada and Valle Escondido. We had medical/dental clinics, baseball clinics for the kids, repaired water tanks and installed new rain catchment systems, dug ditches for pipelines, drilled wells and started constructing a medical clinic building at Agua Dulce (the property of the Wood family).

I really loved how well everyone worked together and each had an important role to play. We had the medical staff, construction staff, water staff, ministry staff…everyone used their talents to serve in the name of Jesus; with joy and love (even during long hot days and too many biting bugs).

Aleph has been leading missions teams to this region since 2007 to provide rain catchment systems and bring medical clinics to the Ngobe communities. Aleph was trained by Hydromissions in 2011 to add manual drilling to the mission. He has since incorporated Hydromissions’ manual drilling method into their short-term missions trips. Serving in the same way to the same indigenous people group, The Healing Fund and Hydromissions partner to keep providing safe drinking water in this region of Panama year-round.

Now that the team has left, part of me can’t believe all that was accomplished in the short time, but part of me can – the part of me that is sooooo tired after the fast-paced week and a half.

Below are a few photos, but I did not get shots of all the activity – baseball clinics went over really well with the kids, but I wasn’t at the clinics to get photos.

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The kids sat on long benches, watching cartoons about hygiene, while waiting to see Dr. Ron.

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Repairing a rain water catchment system at the school in Buena Esperanza.

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Carting and carrying supplies for the clinic at Valle Escondido.

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On this particular day, I thought I was going to be helping the Dentist, but I bounce where needed…which is why I am dressed so nice to dig ditches at Asilo 😉 P.S. Sarah, Rick and Andy really did most of the ditch. I helped on the second day of digging, when it was nearly finished!

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Most days, we used two boats to get to the various villages – even with two boats, we had to be creative to fit tools and humans. 

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Rick and Andy pretending to work for the photo. Just kidding… they worked really hard.

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This path doesn’t look nearly as precarious in this photo as it was in real life. 

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Unfortunately, a typical latrine in these Ngobe villages along the water.

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“Don’t pollute; dilute” must be the motto for this latrine 😉

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Sometimes you find cool things in the ocean…like a water tank. 

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Andy, working with Nicholas (right), using a hot machete to create the hole needed for the inlet pipe in this tank.

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On the last full day, Dr. Ron taught a class to the “gringos” from the area. We had about 60 guests come to learn about tropical diseases and the infections/fungi common in this area. This is the slide on the fun little unwanted guest, the botfly. 

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After Dr. Ron grossed everyone out with 20 slides on infections (which we all really loved, even though it was gross), Andy taught an engine repair class. This class attendance was split between gringos and locals so it was translated to Spanish. 

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Simon, far right, is my drilling teammate. Phil, center, is the best talker I ever met (in a really good way!). Phil is fantastic at just sitting down and sharing the gospel with all ages. He makes everyone feel so comfortable and at ease. His main purpose on these trips is to share and build those little relationships in the villages. Phil is fluent in Spanish from his 25+ years of mission work in the Dominican Republic. He is also Dr. Ron’s brother-in-law. 

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Al was our dentist on this trip. Sarah and I assisted him during most of the clinics – setting up the lidocaine needles, cleaning the tools and, most importantly, being the “dentist chair” since we didn’t have a real one. We would have the patient in one chair and we would sit behind in another chair and tilt the patient back so that Al could work on pulling their teeth. Al, like Phil and Dr. Ron, is also a super cool missionary, fluent in Spanish. Al served in Ecuador. 

 

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Linda & Rick Doty: What do you need? They can do it! Crochet, puppets, build desks for the school, read to the kids, baseball, art projects, dig ditches, organize, sew and hand out dresses. I could never keep track of where these two were because they were always out and about helping in unique pockets of service to the kids in the villages. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Rain or Shine 

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Everyone looks so happy because this boat ride was only 45 minutes long 😉

It has been nearly two and a half weeks since I arrived in Panama and I haven’t written! I tried. I started writing an update on Monday, but I couldn’t get photos to load and just shut off my computer and got distracted with other tasks. Distracted until today (Thursday) when my lovely “Public Relations” boss (Melissa) sent me a message that said “This is a reminder that I love you and you need to write a blog post.” I read that with the emphasis on Blog Post 😉

So much has happened in the short time that I have been here that I should have written two blog posts, but here we go…oh, p.s. If there are any typos, I am blaming the ants walking on my keyboard. They are small, annoying, they bite and they like to mess up my spelbing 😉

Four days after I arrived (and got projects set up), Jessica, Kat, Pat & Zack joined me in Panama. What a hard working team! They never complained even when I knew the conditions were difficult. 

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This 2.5 hours boat ride was rough. The sun cooked us on the first day and on the day we returned, it rained. The rain and wind combo made the trip very cold (which isn’t something that I usually have a problem with in Panama!)

We traveled 2.5 hours by boat to get to Playa Hermosa (called “Beautiful Beach”…although there wasn’t actually a beach where we worked). Simon, the Ngobe man that I drill with and have trained over the years, had identified this community and made the arrangements for us to help provide water to the school kids. We drilled, with Simon and village volunteers, in a few different locations before we found a suitable source of water to serve the small school. The borehole well was rather shallow, but the recharge was sufficient for the kids to use for drinking water.

We couldn’t take any photos of the community (quite a few of the Ngobe communities I have worked with are not fond of photos. Any photos of locals that you see on my posts are taken with permission). I did take photos on the second morning of the team because we were drilling on our own for awhile until volunteers joined us.

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Pat and Kat drilling the second well

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Pat and Zack cleaning out the drill bit 

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Zack and Jess drilling the second well

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Kat cleaning out the first well (water is bailed out of the borehole until all of the dirt from the installation is removed)

On our second day in Playa Hermosa, we drilled another well. This one was deeper with better recharge and would serve more of the homes, while the first well was just for the school kids. We actually drilled most of that well in the rain which was refreshing since none of us had showered since leaving our home base on Isla Bastimentos.        

On our way home from Playa Hermosa, we checked wells on Isla Tigre that Simon had drilled over the past couple of months. The rest of the week was spent on smaller projects like a day trip to check wells in Shark Hole, small repairs on tanks in De Jada and Buen Esperanza, checking wells and testing water on Isla Bastimentos. We repaired holes in the water pipeline in the mangroves and a hand-pump for the home of Nelson (drilled in 2016). All-in-all, the team stuck it out in rain, shine, mud and mangroves. They were dirty more then they were clean and never once complained (even when we had to deal with maggots!). I was really sad when they left, but really grateful that they were able to help me out.

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Taking water samples on Isla Bastimentos 

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Trying to keep from falling in the mangroves 

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It is actually a really slow process of stepping from root to stump to avoid sinking in the mangroves

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Nelson (grey) and Simon (red) have no problems with photos! This is a well that serves Nelson’s family 

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Zack is heating up a machete (to cut a hole in a water tank) with the kids from Buen Esperanza 

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Pat, Kat, Zack and Jess 

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“I don’t think we should be eating dinner with a spider on the table” is not a typical comment at my house in NJ.

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Lizzy likes to sleep with her paw on a human’s paw

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Ethan likes catching “Leaf-eaters” even when then mistake his finger for a leaf

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The plane that took my little team away 😦

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Dejavú?

This same scenario has played out time and again over the past 8 years. I go go go with the planning, fundraising, packing, etc …however, I don’t actually post an update until I’m sitting in the airport, waiting to depart (and, yes, it’s always a bit of a rushed post)

My morning started at 2am and if all goes well, I’ll be at my final destination (Isla Bastimentos, Panama) by 7 or 8pm. Not bad considering this trip used to take over 30 hours!

I’ll be working with the Ngobe people group (an impoverished indigenous group in Panama) for the next three months. My home base will be with the Wood family (can’t wait to see them again!) on Isla Bastimentos. I’ll be working alongside Simon, a Ngobe man that I’ve trained over the years who is our primary driller in Panama. Two different teams will meet me here over the duration of the project. Jessica, Zack, Pat & Kat will arrive in about a week. Together we will check on wells that Simon has drilled, test the water quality, check all the pumps and drill one well together. Later in April, Jim & Kathy will return for a week. Kathy will continue helping at Asilo while Jim joins me and Simon for drilling. 

Well, I’ve just boarded the plane so this post is about to end 🙂

Thank you all for your prayers!

-Cait 

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Home for the Holidays 

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go home!

I’m home from Haiti. 

In short, the borehole well is still a work-in-progress. We partnered with an organization, Water4Haiti, that has an LS200 rotary drill, however the drill needed a part repaired Stateside. One of our teammates, Edward, took the part for repair in Texas (his home State) while the rest of us also returned to our homes. Once the part is repaired and shipped back to Haiti, Water4Haiti will finish the well in La Croix. 

I’m really happy to be home for Christmas! I have a lot of friends out in the field who won’t be with family over the holidays which makes me all the more grateful to be home. 

These past few months of projects have been challenging on many levels. Technical challenges are often not the most difficult. Sure, manual drilling is tough, but it is tougher to face the emotional challenges of working in impoverished communities. I want the message of Christ’s love to be apparent in my communication with the community leaders, volunteers and everyone else I interact with daily. 

My verses for this latest run of projects (4 countries over 10 weeks) have been Isaiah 40:29 & 31

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
 they will run and not grow weary,
 they will walk and not be faint.

My prayer for this upcoming year is for wisdom in how I can serve these communities in the best way possible and the strength to be able to do it 🙂 

I am happy to be home. I am happy to be with my family. I am happy to be serving a God that loves the people in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Haiti (and everywhere else) far better then I ever could. 

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