BASTIMENTOS ISLAND, PANAMA — Despite their proximity to lavish beaches and high-end resorts, the indigenous Ngobe people remain isolated — both in terms of their relationship to the outside world, and their access to modern amenities such as clean-water systems. It is one of the few areas of lack that is obvious just by observing their communities.
Many of the Ngobe people here regularly consume contaminated water. For those, being able to drink from a purified source is the exception to the rule. Many of them suffer from distended bellies because of parasites in the water.
“They all looked like they had pot bellies,” said Amanda Ryan, 35, who led a YWAM Ships Kona group to Panama. “You might think, ‘That’s just how they look,’ but we learned through a medical team that it’s parasites.”
This is one of the problems that YWAM Ships Kona is seeking to remedy from its Panama outpost. In coordination with ministry partners on Bastimentos Island such as Hydro Missions, YWAM Ships Kona sends University of the Nations students on field assignments annually to support clean-water projects.
Simen Moe, 22, was part of a field team from YWAM Ships Kona that traveled to Panama in May. There, he and another student spent a day helping drill wells for Ngobe villagers on Bastimentos Island. It took one failed attempt before the group moved to a nearby spot and found water.
“It was almost four hours of drilling,” said Moe, of Norway. “It was pretty exhausting, but we were blessed that we found water on our second try.”
The team dug by manually twisting a drill bit 18 or 19 feet into the ground. They then pulled the drill out and added extensions to go deeper. Moe said the team — which was helped by two Ngobe men — was happy and relieved to find water.
“You don’t want to get too excited in that situation because it might just be a cavern in the soil. After you keep drilling for awhile you can approve that, yes, this is a good water source,” Moe said. “It’s an awesome feeling when you find water.”
Michael Geitz, who oversaw the YWAM Ships Kona outpost in Panama for one year, said Ngobes often knowingly drink insanitary water because they have no other options.
“The Ngobe people draw water from the creek, which is dirty. That’s why all the kids have big stomachs because of parasites,” Geitz said. “They don’t care that they’re providing dirty water for their families because they are so desperate, but that’s why they all get sick.”
Moe said the well that his team and other volunteers have drilled could potentially provide clean drinking water for up to a decade.
“Panama is a rainy area and there’s so much water coming down that the soil is really wet. So the wells there are really, really good,” Moe said.
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Photo by F. Ermert