Cemaco Arborloo Project Update

Dear Cémaco Project Support Team,

A quick project update to friends of Cémaco’s Arborloo project: Tide and boat troubles prevented some materials from arriving on the first round but finally, on March 5, we had all outside materials in Cémaco and we hit the ground running…speed walking. The project’s cement manager Diogenes Rodriguez had a meeting with his construction team (Clifor Peña) and the next day they were hauling sand from the river, mixing cement, and making latrine seats and platforms. The platforms, especially, were designed to be lightweight and, after drying, could be carried by as few as six average strength individuals…or four Wounaan.

The ease and brevity of the cement work was counterbalanced by difficulties of cutting/collecting wood which is just now almost complete. When coming up with our project schedule we hadn’t thought to consult a lunar chart which would have told us that cutting during the last half of March and the start of April would be unwise (any guesses why?..). (Answer: Termites!!) I guess termites in the jungles of Panama only get wood hungry when the moon’s small but getting fuller (yes, I know there’s a better word for that). Once full, and during the following days of shrinking, they’re too busy with other termite matters and don’t bother taking residence in one’s freshly downed tree. That’s when you cut! Some especially wise Wounaan elders further informed me that for the cut wood to be hardest; to avoid cracking, we should also be consulting a tide chart and should only cut with the combination of a full-ish moon and a rising tide. Since we only hall in about 50 pieces of wood in one day’s work with a chainsaw and need just over 1000, cutting out many days of the month have slowed progress a bit. Nevertheless, we’re now just a couple days from hitting our wood mark, and with the seats and platforms in place, it’s mostly gravy from here.

Finally, we haven’t been forgetting about the educational component of this project. In community meetings we’ve been covering broad topics such as the importance of sanitation as it connects to disease prevention, as well as the need for sustainable harvesting of trees and other natural resources. The more specific meetings about proper latrine use and maintenance are still coming. Educational meetings have been a good way to pass the idle days of waiting for the moon to refill.

Revised schedule: We’re now looking at a finishing date of the end of May. I want to make sure we don’t rush through any of the construction steps so that each participant ends up with a product that they’re proud to have built for themselves. The later end date will give plenty of time for the upcoming sawing, hammering, nailing, and painting while allowing for unpredicted hurtles as well as the predicted upcoming rice harvest. It will also give me time to conduct the follow up sanitation survey and speak individually with all participants before I finish my service at the end of June.

In hindsight I’m titling this update as “No problem too small” and am feeling grateful that we’ve now worked out nearly all kinks and will soon see a finished product. I’ll be very happy to send photos of the finished arborloos in the next update.

Thanks again for supplying us with the needed resources to make this project happen!

I hope all of you have a happy Easter holiday.

Figure 1. The last of the materials have arrived on the Taimati beach! Was a large tide so the boats could get in. We then waited for the low tide to walk out and pick things up.

Figure 2. First round of toilet seats set out to dry.

Figure 3. Three platfoms under construction. We're making them thin (2 1/2 inches) and compensating with extra reinforcement so that they're light and transportable.

Figure 4. Moving to home.

Source: Thank you note from PCV in Cemaco


Dear friends of Cémaco’s Arborloo latrine project,

Thanks for your support and continued interest in Cémaco’s arborloo latrine project. The project officially closed on June 6th and we called it a success! 30 latrines were constructed for 29 homes which brings the latrine ownership percentage up to 78% of all houses (nine latrines had already existed). Participants also attended two final talks on sanitary practices and latrine maintenance. Each participant also received a young Borojo fruit tree which will one day be transplanted above their filled pits. And ….I completed my service! On June 29th I left Panama permanently (until I go back to visit). A replacement volunteer from the environmental health sector is to arrive in Cémaco at the end of August and will continue working with community members to improve overall health. I’ve left a project description and list of participants amongst other things for him or her to receive after arrival so that they can continue to follow up with this effort. Currently, this project represents the only Peace Corps partnered Arboloo project in Panama so it will be interesting to see how successful the community adoption is over the long term. It will hopefully serve as a model for future projects in communities with similar environmental challenges.

The community members and I would like to say thank you to all the contributors for giving us the opportunity to make this project happen. I’m confident that the overall effect was very positive and the health of the community has improved. I also learned a ton about project organization and management and became closer to the community through the process. So thank you!

Source: Thank you note from PCV in Cemaco