Maribel, the principal of the indigenous school at Cauchero, Bocas del Toro Province of Panama was not a happy lady when we met her. Half of her students were absent with stomach problems, diarrhea, dysentery, skin disease and anemia from bad water.
"Some of my brightest kids have dropped out of school from chronic sickness.They fall behind, get discouraged, and give up." she said.
"They lose not only their health, but their futures, too -- all because of bad water."
Maribel met our boat with a scowl and thrust two bowls at us. One was full of polluted brown water. "Pour some of your bottled water in the other bowl," she asked.
We did, and she held them both up in front of me. Their water was heavily polluted.You couldn't see the bottom of the bowl. The bowl with our bottled water was crystal clear.
"See this. Don't my kids deserve water as good as yours?" she asked.
"That's why we're here," I said, pointing to the water tank our volunteers carried in a sling from our boat.(See photos below) .
"I know you should be welcomed with a smile," she said apologetically, then smiled."But it's hard to smile when your best students stay home sick, then drop out."
Our volunteer team got busy and within two hours Maribel had her new rain catchment tank in place.Our tanks are simple, easy to maintain, have only one moving part -- the faucet --and last for years. Rains refill the tank with safe, disease-free water in the tropical downpours common in this area.
Maribel looked at the dark afternoon rain clouds that were gathering and said with an impish smile, "I'm too old, but when it pours I'm going home and dance in the rain."
Maribel and dedicated school principals like her is why I came out of retiremen at age 71 tolaunch Operation Safe Drinking Water, trading my golf shoes for muddy boots.
With financial support from friends like you we'll install our 100th rain catchment tank next month.
Maribel's question sticks with me, "don't my kids deserve water as good as yours?"
Yes, Maribel, they do.
Twenty-two more remote indigenous schools are waiting for rain catchment tanks now. We're an all - volunteer charity. No one receives a salary or compensation. We live among the people we serve.
Thank you for helping us help these twenty-two schools.
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