Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Home for Christmas!

Good afternoon!

I just want to wish everyone an early Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Sarah and I are heading out tomorrow afternoon for Minneapolis, where we will spend time with family over the holidays until January 3rd. We are really excited to see everyone again, yet a little worried about how different the temperature will be!

Here's a quick recap from the past couple weeks:

After being sick for most of the first days of December, I arrived back to site with my Environmental Health Director Timothy Wellman. It was good to get his insight as to how to sustain the work for years to come. We met with community leaders and discussed projects for the future.

We had a couple more English classes, with about 4 members attending. They were really excited to learn about family and directions. The group is small but we appreciate their enthusiasm to learn.

At the school we finished two base layers of light blue, on top of which we will paint the countries of the world.

It is also graduation time for the 6th graders. I got to attend two different graduations, give some encouraging words to the students, and eat some delicious chicken!

Sarah and I travelled to Panama yesterday and are at the Peace Corps office today before flying out tomorrow!

Best wishes to you all in this holiday season!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fourteenth Month on Site


Here I am, 14 months in, 10 months to go. I tell Sarah that the days can go by slow but the months go by fast!

Sarah and I visited a couple churches to visit some friends. One church doesn´t have walls, which I prefer, so I could worship seeing the beautiful green trees, bright flowers, and feel the warm breeze. We are thankful to worship in the beauty of nature.

After returning home from church, we had an English student from the University video interview Sarah and I regarding why we are here in Panama and what we are doing. ¨I am going to interview you, but do not worry about that¨ she said. And worry we didn´t . She said she was going to watch the video, write it out in English, and then present it to her class. We´re hoping not to see the video on tv!

The community has experienced the ups and downs of being ¨given¨a project of latrines. We requested help with materials, but the contract agreement the mayor made with a contractor was for them to build it too. The community´s part would be building the hole and then carrying materials in 20 minutes from the paved road over the dirt trial to their homes.

The community members were told that all the materials would arrive the first day at 9am. Men and women left the work in their homes, fields, and other paid work to arrive at 9am. Only a small portion of the materials arrived at 1pm with the promise that the rest would arrive tomorrow. This happened 6 more times, with one day waiting for 6 hours in the hot sun without food with no sign of the contractor arriving with the materials and no call saying that he would be late.

The good news is that the latrines are turning out quite well, but the bad news is that the community can´t say much to the contractor because they aren´t paying him and if they protest, they won´t receive any ¨gifts¨ of projects in the future.

Over Thanksgiving Sarah and I joined about 100 other volunteers in Cerro Punta, a community up in the mountains of Panama by Volcan Baru. Full of flowers, strawberries, brisk breezes, we enjoyed the company of friends, Settlers of Catan, and a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner.

Recently we had meetings to organize committees for latrines, which will work together to solicit help for funding latrines. They are working well together and are excited to learn how to write formal letters.

Upcoming events:
Dec 8 Mother´s Day. The father´s cook for the mother´s, but then some fermented alcholic drinks are served and the mothers tend to take care of the fathers.
Dec 10 Environmental Health Director will come and visit
Dec 16 6th grade graduation. I was asked to be a special guest for one graduate.
Dec 23-Jan 3 Back to MN for Christmas!

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Latrines...and a day in the life


Hope all is well with you all. I wanted to include an update on the latrine project in our community and also write about what a day in the life is like here as a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Last Wednesday, we received a visit from the mayor, who told us that he had read our latrine solicitud and worked out an agreement with a local contractor to install 20 latrines in our community. Currently, houses either have old plastic or wood latrines or don´t have a latrine at all. The contractor walked around and handed out a 1 meter stick for all 20 houses, saying that they would dig a hole in the next week 1 meter squared and between 2 and 3 meters deep.

The past few days everyone has dug their hole and yesterday arrived the cement and zinc. Tomorrow will arrive rock, sand, wood frames, and the concrete seats. Next week will be the construction phase, where the contractors will work with our community to build each latrine. The walls and floor will be zinc and a tube will run from the hole to above the roof to have better flow of air to keep flies and odors away.

Day in the Life

As for a typical day, we have been getting up with the roosters and sunlight around 6am, filling up our shower bucket, our water filter, and getting oatmeal and coffee ready. While we eat breakfast, we usually read through a page of The Love Dare and an Ecclesiastes study we are doing.

After that, the day can hold anything. We might visit the school and hold an english class, we could attend a water or latrine meeting, we could head to the bigger city to get groceries and internet done, we could do laundry and throw it up on the line to dry if it isn´t raining.

If we don´t get lunch at the school, we´ll put together some sandwiches, soup, or rice with some gatorade powder to reenergize for the afternoon. There´s always the occassional high school student looking for english help or younger kids getting out of school who want to play Uno.

Around 6, it starts to get dark, so we shower and get dinner ready. Around 7 we are done with dinner and it´s dark, so it´s quite easy to fall asleep! We usually read for a bit, talk about the day, relax in the hammock, and then call it a day!

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thirteenth Month on Site


Here´s some details from life here in Panama.

Sarah and I are preparing to paint a world map with the students by scraping paint and sandpapering the wall. Hopefully this will be the most physically demanding part of the job and we can get started painting in the next couple weeks.

One community I am working with decided it could better collect the water quota by walking house to house on the same date each month. We collected a lot more than usual and people are remembering the date. Although it´s only 25 cents a month, the money does help a lot in maintaining the aquaduct system.

We just had a huge community workday, with almost 100 volunteers out of the 300 adults present. We cleaned up around the school, cut all the grass in the common area with machetes, , and dug three holes for garbage. Afterwards, we shared lots of rice and soup. One guy looked at me with a huge smile on his face and said, ¨This is my fourth helping, and they said I can come back for more!¨. One of the few people who can eat with greater joy and in greater quantity than me!

The next day we joined six teachers and six students in collecting money for breast cancer research by stopping cars on the Pan American Highway. The police didn´t come to help slow traffic down, so we stopped cars who were turning onto the side road. Pictures are on the link on the right.

The other highlight was joining our school´s band at the district foundation anniversary festival. Eight bands, hundreds of people joined together for marching, speeches, poetry, music, and a dance. We even got to dress up in our matching outfits!

All the photos are updated and Boja has a new blog up as well, so be sure to check those out.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Twelth Month on Site

Hey everybody!

This upcoming week I will celebrate one year at my site in the Comarca Ngabe Bugle. The days can sometimes go by slowly but the year has flown by. It is definitely a blessing to have my wife Sarah with me. She has made this Peace Corps experience even better and I am very thankful to share this experience with her. You can follow her experiences at

In the past month, we have done quite a bit of ¨pasearing¨, or visiting house to house. Everyone loves to have us over and share a drink or food with us as we tell stories of our wedding and hear them chat about life in their household. With over 700 people in our area, some people have asked us why we haven´t reached their house yet. ¨We´ll visit soon¨ is our common reply.

After school, some of the students found out that we have Uno. We made the jump to English, which has been a great way for them to practice numbers and colors.

I had a dangerous latrine experience last week, as I entered the latrine and sat down only to hear a swooshing sound and a black flapping animal emerge. I emerged safely, with my heart thumping as I saw a bat fly into the night. We have recently added a new lid to try and make sure this experience is not repeated.

The president of the water committee accompanied me last week to buy and install a chlorinator, which is a way to add chlorine to the aquaduct system. I will be testing the chlorinator as a part of my Master´s thesis.

Recently our group celebrated our one year anniversary as Peace Corps Volunteers at a nice resort for two nights. Then we had an all-volunteer conference, where we had training on HIV/AIDS and more Environmental Health Training. It was great to see everyone and learn more about the exciting things other volunteers are doing across Panama.

Tomorrow we start our first after school English classes for the fifth and sixth graders. We will be having class twice a week, speaking only in English to supplement their English class during the day. We just got some paint to start a World Map on the school wall.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Married Life


I hope all is well with everyone. The big news from Panama is that I'm here with my wife! We got married on September 4th in Daytona Beach and had our honeymoon in Charleston. We are heading back to site on Saturday after I finish up some medical checkups here in Panama City.

Let me update you on the past month or so!

August 12-29: Panama

In the middle of August I talked with the school director and we hosted a talk on waste management to both the parents and to the students. We talked about waste prevention, reuse, and reduction, as well as talked about ways to deal with garbage. The plan is to build a sanitary dump since the other, unhealthier, option is burning it.

Another highlight was participating in the election of a new parent teacher committee. I got to help with the voting process and tally up the votes at the end. Also, the local health agency said there might be funds available to help construct more latrines, so maybe we can start on construction in January! We shall see.

After saying goodbye to people from my community, telling them I would return with my wife very soon, I went to Panama City to help train the new Peace Corps trainees. I told them about my own experiences as a volunteer and what roles a volunteer has (facilitator, trainer) and what roles a volunteer does not have (money provider). I also had a couple days to hang out with my host family from training.

August 29-September 18: Wedding Time!

And the time to return to Sarah finally arrived. The week before the wedding was quite hectic, but all the logistics fell into place and we had a great time being with friends and family. It felt like I didn't have enough time to talk with everybody, but Sarah and I were super thankful for all the people who made it.

Our afternoon wedding on September 4th was beautiful. Pictures can be found on the link on the right. The photographer will be posting pictures here.

After a couple days in Daytona Beach, we traveled to Charleston, where we went to some fun restaurants, had a trip to the beach, enjoyed a carriage ride around the city, and took a tour of Boone Plantation and the famous 3/4 mile of oaks and included in the film The Notebook.

We also came back to Panama City for a few days at The Marriot, enjoying the wonderful food from the concierge lounge and touring Casco Viejo.

September 18-September 24: Back to Panama

Before heading back to site, Sarah and I travelled to the Darien to help facilitate the field tech week for incoming volunteers. I facilitated the topics of PVC Bridge Crossings, Building Tapstands, and Tank and Springbox Cleaning. During the evenings, some of the facilitators presented some pictures and stories about their experiences in different parts of Panama.

Right now Sarah and I are in Panama City for my one-year medical checkups. The always fun stool samples were mixed in with a couple shots and a dentist appointment. Hopefully my good health will continue for the next year! After beginning my Peace Corps experience at 170 pounds, I dropped to 147 at one point, now sitting comfortable at 157 pounds. I think a couple weeks in the States were a big help in gaining some of that weight back!

The next few weeks we will be back on site catching up with everyone and telling them about our wedding. We'll stop by the school, maybe play some soccer, and then head to an All Volunteer Conference in the middle of October.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tenth Month on Site


I hope you are all well. Things have been very busy here as seminars, presentations, and training gets wrapped up before I head back to Florida for the wedding on September 4th!

Here´s an update on what´s been going on this past month:

1. English Class

I´ve had a fairly low number of students, but have moved on to more advanced topics. Some can now conjugate verbs and form sentences and questions. One young male, being in the company of a young female he was interested in, asked me what the word for girlfriend was and proceeded to write, ¨Do you want to be my girlfriend?¨. ¨Yes!¨ the girl responded. I´m glad to see that the teaching is being put into practice to produce some immediate positive results!

2. Aquaduct Work

We´ve had construction of aquaducts in two communities. In one, we had two workdays to fix tube, fill the tank, and send water down the pipe. Water has reached all but one house now. Hopefully with the installation of a sediment release valve the last house will receive water and then we will move on to installing more houses to the line.

In another community we installed about 500 meters of tube and five new faucets, only to find out that the original land owner objected to the installation because hadn´t been contacted and that the residents have been squatting on his land for 40 years. The local authorities have been contacted and we will see what results! Such drama!

3. Waste Management Talk

I talked to the school parents about prevention, reusing, and reducing the amount of waste in the community. Many students receive cookies in a plastic bag every day, which seem to end up scattered on the ground all around the community. Because waste isn´t collected, we are looking to have build a hole to deposit the garbage since burning causes some personal and environmental health problems.

4. Train the Trainer

I am all set to head to Panama City to help train the new trainees, who are arriving in the next week. I will be helping facilitate conversations on the role of the volunteer and also teaching some technical topics as well.

5. Thesis Topic!

After lots of conversation, it looks like my thesis topic will be Chlorine Disinfection in Aquaduct Systems. I will be looking at the effectiveness of chlorine against pathogens in Panama and then model the concentration of chlorine in an aquaduct system. More details to come!

6. I´m getting married!

I am getting married in 23 days! It will be so nice to finally be with my love and not have to say goodbye every three weeks! Preparations continue and it will be nice to see friends and family in September.

Thanks for reading!


"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:19-21

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ninth Month on Site


Thanks for keeping in touch with my Peace Corps experience. Below you will find some updates from the Comarca Ngabe Bugle.

But first...Only 50 days to the wedding!

I have restarted my english classes. During my first meeting, we had about 15 people. Lots of interest currently, but we will see if they will do the homework!

In one community, we will be working on an addition to the aquaduct in August, spending about $500 to protect the spring source, add valves, and add five houses to the system.

In another community, I will be hosting a series of presentations on latrines, talking about how to construct, maintain, and plan for pit and compost latrines. The plan is to build in the dry season in January.

At the school, I have been dropping in a couple times a week to help out in the sixth grade class. One day when the English teacher couldn´t make it in, I lead the class in ¨Idoli says¨, based off the game Simon says. I used that game to help teach the various body part names in English. I´m scheduled to give a waste management class next week, however no recycling exists, so we will be talking about how to compost organic material and how to bury inorganic and toxic material rather than throw it on the ground. Last week I also gave a presentation on household water disinfection.

On the 4th of July I made it to the beach for a day to celebrate with the other volunteers with football, swimming, and the card game sheepshead. There aren´t too many people in my community who celebrate 4th of July--weird!

Later that week I traveled to a nearby volunteer´s site to help present on sexual education. Not many people have received too much instruction on this topic, so I think many people came away with a much better idea of their bodies and their functions. The topics included sex and gender roles, sexual rights, anatomy, menstrual cycle, and pregnancy. The next session later this month will talk about STDs, HIV, and AIDS.

After finishing up the sexual education presentation, I hiked up the hill to another volunteer´s site to help facilitate another water seminar. We had eight communities participate and had great participation and unusual punctuality as well!

During the water seminar we received a text saying that we were on ¨Standfast,¨ meaning that we had to stay on site until some unrest died down within the country. Strikes were happening related to the right to strike in streets, better wages, less taxes, and the loosening of environmental testing regulations. During the wait, many games of Settlers of Catan were played. I think all of the volunteers in my part of the country know how to play now!

Coming up, I will be hosting more english classes, aquaduct and waste management meetings, and then heading to Panama City for Train the Trainer at the end of the month in preparation for the arrival of the new volunteers in August.

Blessings to you!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eighth Month on Site

Greetings from Panama!

I hope this post finds you well. It is hard to believe that I have already been here for over a third of my two-year stint. Lots has been done but there are lots of things yet to do.

I´ll include some highlights from the past month.

*In one community, we are almost done with patching up some burned tube. The community hasn´t had water for over a year, so we´re really excited to finish up the repairs and send water to everyone again.

*One day I hauled firewood for about 1/2 a mile. The others were carrying twice the weight of what I was carrying--yikes!

*I´m expanding my food repetoire. Recent meals have included Breakfast Potato Hash, Patacones (fried plantains), Potato Soup, Hojaldre (fried bread), Barbecue Baked Beans, French Toast, and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Cooking options are limited without a grocery store next door and zero electricity!

*I attended a Padres de la Familia (Parent Teacher) meeting that lasted from 8 until 2. I was able to present some information about environmental health work as well as a quick English lesson. I might have to give an ¨Effective Meetings¨presentation next time so it doesn´t last for 6 hours!

*Twice I went to another volunteer´s site to present the water seminar. It is way off the beaten path, taking about 3 hours in the back of a pickup truck to get there. The seminar was great, and I got to bathe in the river and hike up a mountain ridge as well. Very fun!

*A school from the neighboring town wants me to install a flush toilet. I´ve never done this, but they think that I´m their only hope. We´ll see whether it gets installed correctly or not.

*I also got chosen to help lead training for the incoming group of Peace Corps volunteers. I´ll head to ¨Train the Trainer¨in July and help lead training after that. I always enjoy passing on experiences and meeting the new volunteers.

I get married in about two months! I´m super excited to be with Sarah and share experiences with her. I think my cell phone bill will be significantly less after September!

Grace and peace to you all,


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Seventh Month on Site


It has been over a month since I last updated, and much has happened. I'm thankful for all the comments and people staying in touch--thank you! As I write, I'm also a bit sad as I had to say goodbye to my fiancee Sarah yesterday. I can look forward to the fact that we'll be getting married in about 100 days!

I'll comment on a few different topics during this post:
1. Water Seminar, Part 2
2. Trip Back to the States
3. Back to Panama with Sarah!
4. A Look Ahead

1. Water Seminar, Part 2

After finishing up the first 3 day session, I traveled up to each community to complete a small analysis on their aqueduct and attend any meetings they had during the week. One community had organized a talk on household water disinfection and community water usage.

Below is a quick overview of the topics we discussed.

Day 1: Homework Review, Roles in an Effective Water Committee, How to Develop an Effective Water Committee, Effective Meetings, Thermoforming Endcaps

Day 2: How Much Should Your Monthly Water Payment Be, User Accountability, Expenditures and Collections, How to Collect Payments in Your Community, Yearly Work Plans

Day 3: How to Write Formal Letters, How to Talk to Government Agencies, Review, and Closing Ceremony

Overall, it was a great way to be in conversation with the people I'm working with about lots of important topics that will be discussed during my time here. We should be equipped with knowledge to handle the current challenges we are facing in regards to water system management.

2. Trip Back to the States

It was quite the whirlwind trip back to the States. It was a five day trip packed full of activities. Thankfully it included a date night with Sarah and getting together with her family and some friends from USF.

Here are some other things that happened in only five days: Premarital counseling, Sarah's graduation from USF, Advisor Meeting with Dr. James Mihelcic and his wife Karen, Church at Holy Trinity, Visit to the church, reception hall, and beach pavilion for our wedding, and also got to do some wedding registry, tux fitting, and wedding bands. Whew!

3. Back to Panama with Sarah

Thankfully, Sarah was able to come back with me to Panama for two weeks. During this time, we got her situated at the house, cooked some tasty meals, and visited the school a couple times. Each classroom would give her an applause, it was very neat.

After being on my site for a few days, we visited a volunteer in Bocas. Sarah participated in her first official spanish presentation, presenting the idea of the Lorena Stove. The next day we worked on the aqueduct, adding a sediment release valve and cleaning out the water tank and collection tank. It was a great trip, but we could do without the crazy curvy bus trip over the mountains at 60 miles per hour. It does not make for a happy stomach!

We returned from Bocas to go to our Regional Meeting. We met up with about 15 other volunteers at the Country Director to talk about things going on in our communities and in Peace Corps as a hole. It was a great way to reconnect with everybody and get informed.

Upon returning to site, house repairs were in order. We added some fabric above the bed so that pollen from the roof won't fall all over the bed and make us sneeze. Another project was filling the old latrine that had been open to whatever frogs, mosquitoes, and cats that wanted to go in. Being an environmental health volunteer, that pit had to go. We also added some rocks to make our dish cleaning area outside a little less treacherous.

Sadly, Sarah left to the airport yesterday. It was sad to see her go, but the next time she'll return to my site we'll be married, so that's comforting. Come back soon!

4. A Look Ahead

In the next month, I'll be helping facilitate the water seminar at two other volunteers' sites. Fit in will also be a project management and leadership seminar to a government agency near me. Yay seminars! On site will also be continuing the aqueduct improvements and latrine solicitude.

Thanks for reading all this and blessings to you and yours!


The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20-21

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sixth Month on Site

Good morning!

I hope you are all well. It´s hard to believe, but I´m finishing up my sixth month on site already. Including training, I´ve been in Panama for 8 months! Time goes by very fast.

A couple updates from the past month:
1. Visit from the Family!
2. Water Management Seminar

1. Visit from the Family!

It was very nice to have my family (mom, dad, and brother) here for a week. We were able to visit the Panama Canal at Miraflores Lock, watching ships go through the lock from the observation deck and walking through four floors of exhibits (I especially appreciated the exhibit on the importance of watersheds!).

Later in the day we visited the Amador Causeway, watching ships enter the canal and enjoying a wonderful picnic lunch.

We drove all the way to my site, only to find that the car wouldn´t make it from the paved road to my house because of the rocky road. We got out and hiked all of our stuff in, getting ourselves nice and sweaty for the nice bucket shower upon our arrival.

Throughout the week, we hiked up to a springbox, had a dinner together with my US Family and my Panama Family, and equipped the house with a new table, plastic bins, and pots and pans. The house is slowly approaching readiness for a married couple :)

We made a sidetrip to Boquete, enjoying the many flowers, bubbling brooks, and cool temperatures. Our highlight was Finca Lerida, a beautiful restaurant, hotel, and farm. It´s one of the greenest places I´ve ever seen! A return trip will be in order.

We rounded out the trip with a night at Las Lajas, enjoying the radiant sunset and crashing waves. What a great way to end the trip!

2. Water Seminar

Along with five other volunteers, my community hosted a three-day water seminar entitled, ¨Managing a Rural Aquaduct System.¨ I invited each of the four communities I´m working with to invite four participants, mostly members of their water committee. Each day we would have breakfast together, have sessions in the morning, lunch together, and then a few afternoon sessions.

Here are the topics we covered:

Aquaduct Maps
Water & Health
Aquaduct Theory
Molding PVC w/ Vegetable Oil

Environmental Health Laws
How much water is enough?
Watershed Management
Aquaduct Contamination

Community Water Usage
Clean House Water
More Aquaduct Theory

We´ll have three more days of the water seminar at my site in May, and then give the same seminar at other sites in June and July.

In other exciting news, I get to see Sarah again in about two weeks! I´ll be watching her graduate and then we´ll come back down together to Panama for two weeks. We´ll be talking to the English Teacher and Director at the school and giving a Lorena Stove demonstration as well. Should be a fun time!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God. And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phillippians 4:6-7

Blessings to you!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fifth Month on Site

Good afternoon!

I can´t believe I´ve already been on my site for five months! In another five months, Sarah and I will already have spent our first month together here in Panama!

1. School Started!

Recently, the kids started school and many trampling feet can be heard outside my doorway every morning. I attended planning meetings with the school director and teachers the week before school started and now I´ve been helping out in class once a week. They received new teachers in English and Home this year, but they lack teachers for fifth grade, so they´ve spent the first two weeks of class at home--what a shame!

I´m continueing onto English 102, having a smaller class of around 5 students every Sunday evening. The teacher from the school who attends my class said he would like to teach Ngabere before my English class, which I´m really excited about.

2. Baptism Weekend

In my community exists one church, belonging to the Seventh Day Adventists. Every year they invite everyone to a baptism weekend down at the river, where they have musical worship Friday night, a Saturday worship service, and then a baptism service Saturday afternoon.

I was told that it was a three hour hike, so I packed up my clothes, sleeping pad, bible, and set out with my host family. Three hours later we were halfway there, I was told. Fortunately, an agency truck came by and brought us most of the rest of the way. Arriving there six hours after setting out, I arrived to find one thousand Ngabere people camped out on the ground, most without tents.

Needless to say, I didn´t get too much sleep as people visited all night and babies cried to the mothers in hunger and nervousness. For our meals, we had community-wide corn drinks and rice with beans.

I really enjoyed meeting new people, watching 150 people get baptised, and taking pictures of my host brother singing in a quartet in front of everybody. Pictures can be found on the Picasa link on the right margin.

3. Environmental Health Update

I´ve talked quite a bit about the cultural part of my work, but there is the continueing environmental health project as well.

In one community, we elected a new latrine directive, I gave a charla on how to pick the pit latrine location, and have a follow-up date to walk house to house to verify that the latrines are located away from rivers, wells, and not too far from the house.

The main line was just surveyed, taking almost 3 days with a team of six each day. We also found a new spring that could be used to give water to five houses up on the hill who aren´t currently connected to the main line. While I was hiking to the spring, I was told to ¨watch out!¨. Not knowing what to watch out for, I turned around to find a six-foot boa a few feet away from where I had just set down my foot. They´re not poisonous, but it did make my heart jump!

In a second community, I sat down with the latrine directive to write solicitudes to the mayor, regional representative, and two government ministries. I´m told that we should expect too much help from the mayor or representative because all their money is being spent to bring electricity along the road to the regional government office up on the hill. We´re also looking for material prices to include in our solicitudes.

In a third community I´m working with, we had a community meeting and then a community workday to clear and survey an existing aquaduct line to connect more houses. I also had the opportunity to visit another volunteer to help make a concrete pit latrine.

4. Biking Mishap

I bought a bike from the previous volunteer, so I´ve been using the bike to make occasional day trips for food and internet. As I was returning back to my site, I heard a pop and found that my bike tube on my back tire had broke. I walked twenty minutes to the stores along the Pan-American highway. Expecting to drop off my bike at the store and head to the bigger city to find a new tube, I found that the store had a bike tube that was just the right size. Not having the equipment to fix it, the store owner said that her friend would fix it for a Pepsi. I accepted the offer immediately, adding a package of Doritos to the deal as well.

I´m thankful to have a community that´s eager to help out a volunteer such as myself!

Well that´s all from here. I hope this update finds you healthy, safe, and in the company of those you love.


He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Recap of February


With the recent marriage date announcement, I didn´t include too many details other details from February. Here is a brief review of the month:

1. Sarah visited! (Host Family trip, On-Site, Beach Birthday)

Host Family Trip

We first went to my training host family´s house, where we spent two days in the hills near Panama City. From the airport to their house, we took an old school bus from the United States that was transformed with a lot of artistic expression into a ¨Diablo Rojo¨, filled with paintings of their family, Looney Toons charecters, or whatever else was on their mind. The bus was packed way beyond the limit, but we made it! My host family has two 3-year old twin daughters and an 8-year old son. They were nervous at first since they hadn´t seen me in over three months, but they warmed up quite quickly. On Sunday during our visit, we went to church and then went swimming in the afternoon, picking up oranges and grapefruit on the way back!


After two days with my host family, we took a bus ride west for six hours to my site. It was so wonderful for Sarah to see with her own eyes the people and places that I had been telling her about on the phone previously. Upon arriving, Sarah received a blue dress made by my host family called a nagwa, as well as a Ngabere name, Boja. She´s named after a hard-working woman of the community who always helped out without being asked. How appropriate!

The next day we took down an old house to make room for a new store. That night she learned how to play dominoes, even beating the locals in her second game! Later in the week we made a trip to town to get groceries, however that night she got sick! We learned together what it means to care for someone when there´s no electricity, no soft couch, no chicken noodle soup, and no car-ride to the doctor. It was great practice because one of us will surely be sick again.

She learned what it means to go to church (4 hours underneath a zinc roof!), go to a community meeting (5 hours long!), or go for a walk (¨These are mountains, not hills!¨). We also got to troubleshoot a clog in an aquaduct line, built a pit latrine, and rode a horse!

Beach Birthday

At the end of our trip, we went down to the beach for my birthday. How special to have my fiancee here to celebrate with me! We got to walk on the beach (getting sunburnt, of course!), swam in the ocean, had a pasta dinner, dodging crabs along the way.

It was sad to see her leave, but she´ll be back down once more before we get married this September!

2. Reconnect Inter-Service Training

After being at our sites for four months, we were able to come together for four days to get more technical training and share ideas and experiences. All 36 members of our group came together, enjoying training sessions during the day and walks to the beach and Settlers of Catan at night.

The first day we presented our community analysis (maps, daily schedules, yearly schedules) and transferred this into future community action steps, involving the community every step of the way and starting a smaller project to build confidence.

Other sessions included proposal writing, water seminar planning, springbox construction, aquaduct computer modeling, and training for building latrines.

I´ll be posting an update for March shortly.



Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sarah and I are getting married September 4th!

I just wanted to let you all know that after lots of prayer, planning, and petitioning, Sarah and I are planning to get married on September 4 of this year in Daytona Beach, FL!

Sarah just left this past Sunday. It was great to have her here with me. We spent two nights with my host family during training and then spent ten days at my site before spending two nights on the beach. Sarah fit right in, walking and talking with me as we walked around and participated in meetings and project workdays. They even gave her a nagwa (local dress) and a Ngabere name!
We also talked to the country director right after we got here and he said that he would grant us permission to marry as long as she could handle the life here. During the meeting we also presented our health plan, financial plan, and work plan, as well as discussing how her work will not impede my Peace Corps or Thesis work. After being on site, meeting the people, getting sick and getting healthy again, going to community meetings, and getting a better grasp of our daily routine and marital support options, we are excited to get married.
Her work will be in the school, teaching english classes, and tutoring. She will also help me in my environmental health presentations, where her work will be especially effective in reaching the women and children. This will be a great application of her English degree, tutoring experience, ESL and Global Health classes, and her heart to serve others. I´m also excited to have her apply her English major by reading my Quarterly Reports and Thesis!

Thanks for being a part of our story!

Kevin and Sarah

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fourth Month on Site

Good morning!

I will do my best to be coherent, but I admit my mind is elsewhere as I await the arrival of my fiancee Sarah here in Panama City this afternoon. After not seeing her for almost six months, I am truly grateful for the chance to have her visit. She is on a plane from Tampa to Miami at the moment. My host family already gave her a Ngabere name, so you'll have to ask her what her new name is!

The past month or so has had its mix of good and bad. A prime example is watching my first Vikings game as they beat Dallas 34-3, only to hear through the phone that they weren't able to make it to the Super Bowl. At least the Twins will sign Joe Mauer, right?

I don't know if you heard it on CNN or not, but Panama has 10 new graduates of English 101. After conducting their oral interviews in English, our group celebrated with chicken, rice, kool-aid, and dominoes (playing dominoes, not eating dominoes).

On a sad note, my cheap Digicel international calling plan ended on January 15th. The price per minute rose from 3 cents to 15 cents, so I apologize in advance for not making as many phone calls. If you want to chat, email me and we can set up a Skype call!

I have been a proud engineer, seeing the people of my community become better engineers by the day. In two communities, we used a surveying device made of PVC, clear plastic tubing, and water to survey the entire acueduct system. Using the data, I can enter the numbers into a computer program to make a nice spiffy map of their system, complete with horizontal distance, vertical distance, flow, and pipe diameter. During the surveying process, they taught me how to communicate to friends far away by yelling at the top of my lungs in different vocal patterns. We also celebrated a long days work by playing baseball. Ground balls are a bit tricky on the uneven terrain.

Our community also organized wood pit latrine workdays. The owner who wants the latrine built would get the materials ready and cook food while the workers would work all day and eat the food. It's great to see everyone working together to make these beautiful works of art called latrines.

A representative from the Ministry of Environmental Health came and visited our site last week. We were able to have a great discussion on Community Organization and Participation and were able to lay out how the Environmental Health Ministry, Peace Corps, and the community can work together to improve environmental health.

A member of our own community working for a government agency put together a workday on organic fertilizer. Everyone came with a big sack full of ash, dried leaves, rice husks, horse manure, and even a fermented corn drink. They were making jokes all day on how they couldn't believe the alcoholic drink was better off in the ground making compost than in their stomachs.

Another current project is writing solicitudes for the latrine and aquaduct projects. We will be soliciting help from the district representative, mayor, and two government agencies. Next up will be putting together material and price lists.

The last highlight was our Comarca Regional Meeting. We got caught up on our different projects and even had time for an organic coffee and wine tour. I highly recommend it!

Ask the audience: Vote for your Top 5 photos from my Picasa albums-the link is located on the right margin above. I'm going to submit photos to make a Peace Corps Panama Photo Calendar. Leave a comment below with

1) The Album Name
2) The row and column of the photo

Thanks for reading! I'm off to spend two awesome weeks with my fiancee! Goodbye!


Friday, January 15, 2010

Third Month on Site

Significance is found in giving your life away, not in selfishly trying to find personal happiness.
-Gary Thomas in A Sacred Marriage

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but the interests of others.
-Paul in Philippians 2:3-4

These two quotes sum up what I´ve found to be a major theme in my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer: Humility. I´ve been thinking why I feel so fulfilled during my time here, and one of the conclusions I made is how easy it is for me to give my life away to the people here. While I came down here giving my time and knowledge to the people, I´ve received so much more. Examples include a man gathering food house to house to help my host family feed me, my host dad skipping his work to take care of me when I became sick, or the love I´ve encountered in the countless houses I´ve visited.

In the past few weeks I´ve worked with the three communities cleaning their acueduct lines, making community maps, fixing acueducts, giving latrine presentations, teaching english, and visiting houses.

Highlights of the past couple weeks included

1) Celebrating New Year´s Eve with other volunteers on Bocas Island, visiting a beach and even watching some college football!

2) Hosting representatives from the NGO Waterlines, who helped provide funding for an acueduct in one of my communities. They were able to view the existing project, encourage our efforts to operate and maintain the system in the future, and maintain solid communication with the community.

3) Happy Engineer Day was celebrated on January 7th as I receieved a water level surveying instrument, a model aquaduct system, and a GPS unit. I spent almost the entire day putting the instruments together and becoming familiar with the instruments.

The next month´s plans include watching the Vikings game on Sunday, helping build latrines on Thursday and Friday, going to a Peace Corps Regional Meeting at the end of the month, and seeing my fiancee in February after being apart for six months!

I hope you all have a blessed week and hope you´re all staying warm!