Rotarians help volunteer effort in Panama

Thanks in part to a donation from the Arlington Rotary Club, a group of Guaymi Indians in Panama now have fresh drinking water systems.

ARLINGTON — Thanks in part to a donation from the Arlington Rotary Club, a group of Guaymi Indians in Panama now have fresh drinking water systems.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Aleph Fackenthall, coordinator of an annual volunteer trip to the Bocas Islands, along with Rick Schranck, pastor of Christ the King Church in Arlington and Dr. Ron Guderian from Seattle, spoke about their most recent trip to the remote islands off the coast of Panama.

The Rotary Club donated $1,000 to this past year’s trip, which involved a number of Arlington and Stanwood residents. Those funds helped the group purchase and install 600-gallon water containers to capture rain water, as well as provide medical and dental care to Panamanians living in remote villages that don’t have access to such services.

During Fackenthall’s presentation, he showed Rotary members photos of the living conditions that residents have in the areas where volunteers travel.

Village residents don’t have access to clean water, so they have to simply drink untreated water from nearby streams, which contain parasites and bacteria that are harmful to ingest.

Because of their remote location, the best way to alleviate this problem is to provide villagers with a “low-tech” solution — rain collection tanks.

Once residents have access to clean water, Fackenthall said that they can receive treatment for other medical conditions.

“We take a curative and preventative focus,” Fackenthall said. “Since we’ve installed these tanks, we can take it a step further. The water was a source for a lot of infections that they have.”

Volunteers have been traveling to the same area in Panama for the past six years. During this past trip, they were able to install nine water tanks, as well as provide residents with hundreds of pounds of supplies and antibiotics.

Volunteers set up five medical and dental clinics during their stay, cleaning the teeth of more than 500 children. Additionally, approximately 500 pairs of Crocs sandals were distributed to keep residents from obtaining injuries and catching disease through their exposed feet.

“That’s been great because there are a lot of parasites in the ground,” Fackenthall said.

Rotary members suggested that the group try to find matching funds from a Panamanian or Rotary International club that could help provide additional assistance to the effort. One Rotary member asked if they had considered teaming with a toothbrush manufacturer to provide toothbrushes to individuals in the area.

The group members are planning their next trip for April 2011.

For more information about the effort, e-mail Fackenthall at