Jul 21, 2011

Panama Latrine Team

Mangrove forests in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama.
In December of 2008, I began working for EcoLogic in Panama’s Gulf of San Miguel where 16% of Panama’s mangroves can be found; the area is rich in biodiversity and has an impressive scenic beauty. In the coastal zone, there are many established fishing communities, which depend on these mangroves and their wildlife populations to exist. Right now, EcoLogic is working in five of these communities: Río Congo, Punta Alegre, Puento Lara, La Puntita, and Arretí.

Part of our work involves coordinating community consultations where we hear from the local people about their lives and circumstances. Based on these consultations, we help them prioritize their concerns and jointly devise solutions to address their primary challenges. In the Gulf of San Miguel main concerns include access to clean drinking water and the effects diminishing fish stock in the mangroves are having on their livelihoods.  This is why our focus in Panama is centered on water, environmental cleanup, and strengthening community-based organizations devoted to the sustainable management of natural resources.

Community members building a composting latrine.
In Puerto Lara and Punta Alegre, we are developing a plan for watershed management and outlining steps to strengthen local water councils. In Puerto Lara, we are also establishing a tree nursery which will have the capacity to produce 10,000 seedlings a year for enriching and repopulating the nearby microwatershed. In Río Congo, we are building composting latrines which will reduce runoff and contamination of the mangroves. In Punta Alegre, all of the community stakeholders are coming together to identify a location where they can build a water aqueduct to provide safe, reliable drinking water to the community. The community has existed for more than 100 years without reliable access to clean drinking water.

In these two and a half years I’ve worked in Darién, I’ve been a part of these communities and their daily lives, and witnessed their joys and their sorrows. Their commitment to our collaborative projects and their desire to succeed is quite obvious because of all the effort and energy they put into all of the projects we’ve undertaken. I was honored that recently, in a community meeting in Punta Alegre, when all the various project partners were present, the water council president, Isidoro Zúñiga, specifically mentioned EcoLogic while thanking everyone for their interest and support. EcoLogic is having a significant and positive impact on the quality of peoples' lives in this area, and I feel proud to be a part of this important work we are doing.

- Yaira Allois Pino, Program Officer for Panama
Yaira is from Santiago de Veraguas, Panama. She works on EcoLogic's projects with our partner organizations in that country. 

Jul 15, 2011

Eco-Family in the Field

The entire Eco-Family spent a week together in sunny --, no wait rainy -- no wait- sunny again Honduras at the end of June for EcoLogic’s biennial retreat. We bonded, we learned, and we exchanged ideas. But this was no kumbaya-fest. Our daily meetings consisted of intense sessions on strategic planning, science-based impact assessments, and theories of change. It was intense, it was real, and it was done EcoLogic-style. There is really too much to tell, so I’ll just highlight my favorite moments.

After arriving absurdly late to a quiet hotel in San Pedro Sula, I was ready for bed. Three hours later I find myself in a minibus driving to our projects in the region of Atlántida to see our work in agroforestry, fuel-efficient stoves, watershed management, and tree nurseries. Let me tell you about two of the project sites we visited, which we are implementing with our local partner, the Alliance of Municipalities of Central Atlántida, otherwise known as MAMUCA.

Fuel efficient stoves; hey what can I say? I love these things. We saw several stoves and heard from three different women who own and use them. I was extremely impressed with the maintenance of all the stoves we saw. I asked at one point, “Are these new?” I thought at MOST they might be a few weeks old but nay, I was told that all of the stoves we saw were a year or older. The women have to sand the stoves down every couple of days to keep them in tip top shape. And boy do they shine – I never knew adobe could sparkle. The women form groups of eight and together THEY make a stove for each person in the group. They are trained on how to construct, care for, and use them. The stoves use less fuel-wood, are more sanitary and keep the smoke out of the home. We all know the benefits of a smokeless house but it was NEVER as apparent as when I walked into one of the homes, stove to the right and a teeny tiny infant asleep in an itty bitty hammock not even 3 feet away. The babe was swinging lightly in the breeze and thankfully its little lungs were breathing clean air. It made me feel really good to see the positive difference we are making.

The argoforestry parcel we visited was also pretty impressive. With 40,000 seeds in the ground, the year-old trees (cue music) stood majestically along the hill-side. The trees are there to improve crop yield (here it’s corn), prevent erosion, and decrease the work of the farmers all while attracting wildlife, preventing disease and diminishing the need to encroach upon the surrounding forest. Don Faustino, owner of the land, was enthusiastic about the results and the benefits of guama. The full benefits will not be seen for another 2 years -- but, so far, so good and Don Faustino is happy to tell others about his success so they can replicate this work.

Oh, and we had an all-staff soccer game. There is not a lot to say about this except it was DEADLY (in a good way). It was fun, it was a time for bonding, and the temperature was freaking HOT. My team made it to the finals (yaay) but alas, the elusive EcoLogic world cup escaped my team’s grasp.

Let me just end this with an enormous shout out to EcoLogic field staff and tecnicos who work on a day to day basis directly with the people and places we strive to support on the ground. In getting to know the regional staff better I was awed by their passion and dedication. Their expertise is astounding and I’m so proud to be working with them.

- Gina Rindfleisch, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Gina manages EcoLogic's fundraising activities targeting individual donations. Prior to joining EcoLogic she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua working in environmental education and holds a BA in environmental studies from Long Island University.