La Peñita

Overview

La Peñita is located along the Panamerican highway in the Darien province of Panama. La Peñita has a permanent population of approximately 120 people. However, the Chucunaque River runs along the east side of La Peñita, bringing refugees from all over the world to the community on their journey to a permanent new home. According to the Red Cross, there are currently (August 20, 2019) approximately 400 refugees in La Peñita.

Global Brigades began working in La Peñita in 2015. Before that, many community members would travel to the nearby community of Canglón for Global Brigade Medical Brigade clinics and visit the health post there. A typical house in La Peñita is made of concrete blocks, wood, or zinc. La Peñita has a primary school that offers from kindergarten to 6th grade. For secondary school, children must travel 45 minutes to Canglón. La Peñita is an indigenous Emberá community. The most common form of income is through agriculture. Commonly grown products include ñame, a root vegetable, and rice which are produced for personal consumption and for sale outside of the community in larger markets. 

Before Global Brigades started their partnership with La Peñita, there was no water system; community members obtained their water in buckets from the river. There are approximately 40% of homes in La Peñita with adequate sanitation services (toilets or latrines). Community members have access to credit through an established and thriving Community Bank which will support continued investment in local businesses and home improvement projects for families within the community. The top three needs expressed by the community in their initial meetings with Global Brigades were: a water system, a health post, and a better road.

Corregimiento: Metetí
District: Pinogana

Homes : 45
Population : 120
Water System : Yes
Community Bank : Yes
Electricity : Most houses
Health Center : No, nearest in Metetí
Community Health Workers : Yes
Homes with Latrines : approx. 40%
Education in the Community : Up to 6th grade
Distance from Lodging Facility : 1 hour

Medical

Program Status

  • Planning
  • Active
  • Complete

HEALTH CARE ACCESS:

Even though Panama is a country with a lot of economic growth, this growth does not apply equally to all Panamanians, especially those in rural areas. This results in stark inequality when it comes to healthcare access. The Panamanian Ministry of Health (MINSA) provides two different types of health facilities throughout rural Panama: Centros de Salud and Puestos de Salud. Centros are the larger of the two, often found in municipalities, and typically have at least one physician on staff at all times with nurses and potentially a dentist. Puestos are found sporadically in rural communities and generally have a single nurse available. 

Even with this coverage, the Centros frequently lack a full pharmacy and the staff capacity to see every patient each day. After walking long distances or paying for a bus, rural visitors to the Centros can expect long wait times given the limited staff and resources to meet the demand from all neighboring communities. The physician density in Panama remains around 630 people for every one doctor. According to the World Health Organization, there should be a maximum of 435 people per physician to qualify a country as having adequate access to medical attention.

For La Peñita, the neighboring community of Canglón is the closest Puesto de Salud. The closest Centro is in Metetí, about 1 hour away by bus. For dental access, they have to travel to Metetí as well. The most prevalent illnesses in La Peñita are: diarrhea, vomit, body aches, fevers, and skin infections.

89

Volunteers

512

Patient Consultations

25

Vision Screenings

12

Health Education Workshops (Approx.)

COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKERS:

A group of CHWs from East Panama, trained in 2017

La Peñita has 2 Community Health Workers that were trained by Global Brigades. Community Health Workers, or Agentes Comunitarios en Salud (ACeS), work on a volunteer basis as advocates for healthcare within their communities. Their primary responsibilities include: educating community members to prevent common illnesses, providing emergency first aid, supporting pregnant mothers and newborns, and following up with chronic patients. The presence of these volunteers and their advocacy for health within their community contributes to the sustainability of healthcare supported by Global Brigades’ Medical Program and is one of the most impactful disease prevention strategies in rural communities.

La Peñita primary school

BRIGADE INFORMATION

Medical and Dental Brigade clinics are hosted in La Peñita’s school building. The various stations of the clinic are held in the classrooms. Each day of the brigade, an average of 13 educational workshops or charlas are facilitated with the clinic’s patients.

  • AVERAGE PATIENTS ATTENDED: 248

MEDICAL/DENTAL VOLUNTEERS IN LA PEÑITA:

Chapter Date # Of Volunteers Chapter Date # Of Volunteers
Texas Tech University Medical May 2016 32 University of Arizona, Pace University, & Yale University Medical March 2017 29
Western Kentucky University Medical August 2019 28

Dental

Program Status

  • Planning
  • Active
  • Complete

DENTAL CARE ACCESS

A dental charla in Ipeti Emberá, Panama

In working closely with the medical program, the dental program provides fillings, extractions, and fluoride treatments as a standard part of medical brigades. Most community members do not have regular access to dental care due to the lack of dentist within a reasonable distance.

254

Dental Patient Consultations

94

Fluoride Treatments

107

Extractions Performed

4

Fillings Performed

La Peñita primary school

BRIGADE INFORMATION

Medical and Dental Brigade clinics are hosted in La Peñita’s school building. The various stations of the clinic are held in the classrooms. Each day of the brigade, an average of 13 educational workshops or charlas are facilitated with the clinic’s patients.

  • AVERAGE PATIENTS ATTENDED: 248

MEDICAL/DENTAL VOLUNTEERS IN LA PEÑITA:

Chapter Date # Of Volunteers Chapter Date # Of Volunteers
Texas Tech University Medical May 2016 32 University of Arizona, Pace University, & Yale University Medical March 2017 29
Western Kentucky University Medical August 2019 28

Water

Program Status

  • Planning
  • Active
  • Complete

LA PEÑITA’S WATER CHALLENGE:

The original intake in the Chukunaque River.

Prior to Global Brigades involvement, La Peñita had no water system. Community members collected rainwater for drinking and cooking and used the river for bathing. When the rain was insufficient to keep up with drinking water needs, community members purchased potable water. There were many possible sources of contamination for rainwater and the river, which put community members at risk for contracting water-borne illnesses.

97

Volunteers

500

Project Beneficiaries

2

Km of pipeline installed

6,000

Storage Tank Volume (gallons)

LA PEÑITA’S WATER SOLUTION:

Community members and brigaders laying pipe

An engineer from the municipality of Chepigana designed a plan for a water system that would pump water from the river. This design had only been partially constructed in July 2019, when a partnership between La Peñita and Global Brigades’ Water Program began. Representatives from Footprints Possibilities and students from Michigan Technological University acted as consultants to design the distribution network for the water system.

It was determined that the best fit for La Peñita would be use the existing pump and water tank, and install household connections with water meters. Community members and brigades began working on this water system in December 2019 and finished in March 2020. This system now supplies water to 120 inhabitants and immigrants that stayed in La Peñita as refugees.

GB Panama’s Director, a director from Red Cross Intl, and the president of La Peñita’s Water Council splash in the newly inaugurated water system.

Now that the project is complete, the members of the Water Council will be trained on water treatment and system maintenance, administration, and operation, so they can continue adequately managing the water system. La Peñita will also establish a monthly water fee determined by usage in order to pay the Water Council for water treatment, maintenance costs, and system sustainability.

WATER VOLUNTEERS IN LA PEÑITA:

Chapter Date # Of Volunteers Chapter Date # Of Volunteers
University of Miami Medical December 2019 11 University of Arkansas Medical January 2020 54
Virginia Commonwealth University Medical January 2020 20 Milwaukee School of Engineering Water February 2020 12

Business

Program Status

  • Planning
  • Active
  • Complete

LA PEÑITA’S ECONOMIC CHALLENGE

Community members in La Peñita lack access to financial resources within the community. The majority of community members do not have bank accounts and there are is only limited informal forms of credit available.  For example, a person could obtain ‘credit’ at a local store by buying something now and paying later, simply adding it to their ‘tab,’ but there would be no formalized credit transaction.  Larger financial institutions do not approve loans to community members without a fixed income, making it difficult for local micro-enterprises to grow and thrive. Most community members cite the distance to the nearest bank as the main discouragement to having a personal savings account. Even if individuals wish to travel the distance, not all community members can become members of these financial institutions–cooperatives require monthly membership fees, savings accounts often require a fixed income, and the cost of travel provides an additional barrier.

28

Volunteers

$5,016

Capital Invested

13

Saving Accounts Opened

53

Loans Disbursed

La Peñita Caja’s executive board

LA PEÑITA’S MICROFINANCE SOLUTION

The Global Brigades Business and Microfinance Team trained a new community bank in 2016.They also brought Microfinance and Business brigades in order to strengthen both the knowledge and trust in the community bank. This encouraged the opening of more savings accounts, growth of seed capital, and upon the completion of six months of executive board training, the community bank began giving out loans to bank members to spur economic growth and home improvement projects.

LA PEÑITA’S BUSINESS SOLUTION

In addition to the community bank, Global Brigades supports established and start-up micro-enterprises. In La Peñita there are currently four businesses that have received financial training and business recommendations. Agro-businesses are prominent forms of commerce within this community and adequate book-keeping and maintaining relationships with customers, as well as proper agriculture cultivation can lead to increased revenues for business owners and employees.

As members of the Community Bank these micro-enterprises, led almost entirely by women or families, contribute to savings accounts and budget for loans to expand their businesses in the future. Through the help of Business Brigades, clients get advice on their most concerning business challenges and can also receive assistance in developing sustainable agriculture practices.

BUSINESS VOLUNTEERS IN LA PEÑITA:

Chapter Date # Of Volunteers Chapter Date # Of Volunteers
University of Maryland Baltimore County March 2017 22 DePaul University Business November 2018 8

 

Public Health

Program Status

  • Planning
  • Active
  • Complete

Global Brigades is working on the implementation of the Holistic Model in La Peñita but has not yet begun with the Public Health Program because there was no water system. Now in the planning phase, the financing, delivery, and installation of sanitation units will start as soon as feasible.

Homes with flushing toilets : 3%
Homes with latrines : 72%
Homes with baths/showers : N/A
Common house materials : wood, concrete blocks

Local Reference Points

View the map to see the closest volunteer lodging facilities, hospitals, and other relevant points of reference.

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