Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Llana Nopo -- The Heart of Panama

Lucky me! As I said in my previous blog, I joined the Boquete Rotary (Club Rotario de Boquete) last Thursday and was immediately invited to join them on a 3-day, 2-night trip to investigate the needs of the Ngobe-Bugle who live in Llana Nopo (a small community within the Comarca (similar to a Native American reservation in the States). First some brief background information: Llana Nopo (a double "l" is pronounced like a Y) is located in the highlands of the Comarca (roughly a 4-hour drive on paved & dirt roads from where I live). The Comarca is mostly inhabited by the Guaymi or Ngobe indigenous Indian tribes. Their land was set aside by the Panamanian government in 1997... only 11 years ago. The Guaymi's and Ngobe's live in extreme poverty in small family clusters of several "homes" without a defined town center or centralized community. They have been left by the government to fend for themselves. Charitable and religious organizations (like Rotary) have been working in the Comarca, but it is so large and the people so scattered, it continues to be difficult to help large numbers of the population through one central project. The Boquete Rotary recently stepped up to the plate with a plan to help. This trip was a fact-finding trip to record the needs of the community. Llano Nopo is fortunate to have a large (over 800 students) school that was created many years ago with help from Catholic Charities and the Diocese of David. But it's not easy to get to school. Most students have to walk an average of 4 hours (one-way) to attend school. Students come from all over the Comarca. Imagine negotiating very difficult terrain with extreme weather (heavy rain) and poisonous snakes (the medical clinic sees 2 bites per month that result in death and loss of limbs). Grades 1-6 attend from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm and grades 7-10 (grades 11 & 12 will come in the next 2 years) attend from 12:30 pm to 5:30 pm. Recently a dormitory was built to house 25 children (they are selected based on grades... boys only for now). An expansion to the existing dorm and more dormitories (even a girl's dorm) are planned, and this is where the Club Rotario de Boquete comes in. This club (with the help of other Rotary clubs) wants to fund a project that addresses several problems: Malnutrition (often severe, creating an average mortality age of 40), lack of housing for the children to attend school, lack of school supplies and lack of water storage for the community. On this trip, I had the great privilege of seeing small children receive shoes for the first time (notice the bright green Croc in the first picture), the medical clinic receive 15 viles of snake anti-venom, and the school honor us for donating our time, energy and money to them (see pictures of lined-up students in their blue uniforms at the "ceremony" to thank us). I tell you, it brought tears to my eyes! Anyway, if you have any desire to donate money or materials to this project (especially you, my rich Uncle Bruce), contact me. P.S. This is the rainy season, so the Rio Rey (pictured above) must be crossed by the Indians every time they take supplies (often rice) from Llano Nopo to their homes many miles away or bring in supplies (like the wood pictured with this Indian couple about to cross Rio Rey...she got her dress wet to her shoulders). Plus, as we drove up the very poor road, we saw Guaymi's and Ngobe's voting (lined up in these "forever" lines) as this picture taken at the Llano Nopo school shows. I hope to be back in mid-November (hopefully with friends Nina & Richard who are visiting from Alaska) as the people of Llano Nopo asked us to return for the fair/ceremony that will honor Club Rotario de Boquete. Panamanians love an excuse to party!

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