June 2010

The business seminar weekend one

June 26, 2010 — garypeg

Several years ago Peace Corps volunteers in Panama developed a business planning seminar.  Participants come to the seminar all expenses paid over a period of two weekends a month or so apart.  Peg and I attended this years version with two people from our community.

The seminar talks about all the basic aspects of planning a business.  This first weekend dealt primarily with the quantitative aspects, such as what your vision and mission are and goals and objectives.  The next weekend will cover qualitative analysis, for which there is a fabulous spread sheet that projects all the costs and incomes.]]

The teaching approach in most PC programs is oriented to the adult learner, so there is a lot of facilitation as distinguished from lecturing.  There were lots of dramatizations and a few group activities (dinámicas in Spanish), which were entertaining if nothing else, although the former always had a point connected to the upcoming activities.

We invited Julio and Daniel.  Julio wants to develop the family agricultural business by selling organic fertilizers, fumigants and insect repellents they make for their own use.  Daniel bought the corner gas station that was abandoned 10 years ago when the coop failed, which he said was due to mismanagement.  He converted part of the property into apartments, which teachers are renting and wants to add a fueling station, tire repair facility and perhaps a coffee shop and small grocery store.

Julio has attended a lot of seminars and is currently studying agricultural marketing at the University of Panama extension in Rio Sereno.  He does not seem to need much help to have good basic computer skills and writing skills, although like most of the Spanish speakers I have known he tends to write run-on sentences.  Daniel has lots of good ideas and seems to be well organized.  He made things happen quickly and efficiently at the old gas station right after the purchase.  However, because he did not do a business plan, it was not until after he bought the property did he discover he had not borrowed enough money to pay for installing the fuel tanks.   We call this ‘ready, fire, aim.”

On Sunday, one of the volunteers had to leave so I was assigned his client, who already had a business plan for her coop.  She needed to make some changes, some of which Tom had already done.  It was not until the end did I learn that they are planning to transition to organic agriculture and needed a plan for that.

Most of these seminars take place at a government facility run by ANAM, the environmental agency.  It is called CEDESAM and is very near a luxury resort called Decameron.  At night we often walk the mile or so to the casino which is across the street from Decameron.  You can play the games or have a light meal and a beverage at the bar.  There are few people playing the games, at least the times we have been there.

CEDESAM is near Decameron but it is quite far from it in terms of luxury and in the level of maintenance.  While there is  indoor plumbing, the toilets run constantly so you often find the one you are about to use has not been flushed.  I spend what seems like hours removing the tank covers to push the flap down so the tank can fill.  The toilets have been this way at least since last October.  There are missing panes in the jalousie windows so the a.c. has to work harder to keep the one dorm room with a.c. cool, so if you are near it you are extra cold but farther away you are a warm.  As you can see maintenance is not a Panamanian talent.

Dorm living is one of my least favorite things to do.  This time there was an overweight Panamanian who snored all night.  Daniel loves to wake up at 530 am and turn on the radio using his cell phone so you can imagine the sound quality does not make being awoken early any more pleasant.  It being Panamanian music does not help me one bit. By breakfast time I was in no mood for scrambled eggs, which I do not like.  But at least this time other PC volunteers returning at 3 am speaking in loud voices was not a problem for me, although it was for Peg both nights. We have another weekend of this coming up, and I have a week long seminar where I will be sharing a house with maybe 10 other volunteers.  Hmmm, I wonder why Peggy does not want to go.

All this distracted from what was a well thought out and delivered seminar from some of the neatest people I will ever meet, but they are so creative and dedicated the distraction is comparatively minor.

Training in a Gnobe village in Bocas del Toro

June 26, 2010 — garypeg

After spending the night at Lost and Found, we took the bus to another volunteer’s site in Bocas del Toro early the next morning.  K. lives in a Ngobe village of perhaps 500 people.  She arranged some training for the members of the water and health committees.  She lives in a comparatively large house on a slippery slope.  There is running water and she even has a flush toilet, one of few in the community, but her only electricity is what a single solar cell can produce and store in a car battery.  Many come to her house to get their cell phones and small batteries charged.

Another volunteer came later that day, her name is also K.  We prepared for the next day while children watched from the other side of the fence that enclosed the lower level porch.  One of them came right up to the fence and sneezed directly in my face as I was resting in the hammock.

K noted that when you live with Gnobes you often feel like you are living in a fish bowl.  She also has to lock her doors securely as people will take what they want.  They come from a comunal tradition where everything is shared.  But K. does not want to and can not just ‘share’ everything she owns.

Since it was early to bed after rice and beans it was early to rise but at least it was not rice and beans, though I have forgotten what.  Around 8 we walked or slid down the hill to the nearby school where we were having the training.  We were to start at 9 but true to form the people did not arrive until close to 10.

The training we gave them was in Project Management and Leadership, PML.  This is a basic training course in values,  setting goals, managing money and time the first morning, which is the part Peg and I did.   This was my second effort at this presentation and I think it was a bit better.

Department of Health and World Bank contribute to Santa Clara’s water system

June 6, 2010 — garypeg

On May 28th 2010, the water committee hosted a meeting for a representative of the Ministry of Health and private Spanish company.  The company is contracted by the Panamanian government to assist in water development projects.  The funds come in part from the government and in part from the World Bank.  The funds are used for initial installations as well as improvements.  Santa Clara has been chosen as an improvement project.

The original installation was done in the 1970?s.  Recently the community replaced 3? pipes leading from the current water tank down into the community with new 4? pipes that is also thicker.  Some of the older pipes were never buried and damage from cows, machetes, falling branches and the like were causing outages.  The new pipes were buried, with the labor or funds provided by the community.

This project replaces the current 3? pipe from the source to the tank with 4? pipe.  The pipe is also thicker (Schedule 40).

The community has to transport materials from the drop off point, where the road ends, to the work site.

The representative of the Department of Health Irving Yadriz said that the land access dispute must not prevent this work from continuing.  He brought a contract for the two landowners to sign, which allowed permanent access to the project workers at least without having to ask permission.

Currently these landowners receive water from the main line before the tank.  This is not allowable since they receive untreated water.  They said they would reexamine the area to locate a new tank so that all users get treated water.   They had made a math error in the budget so they will still come in way under the initial projection.

About Gary Kirkpatrick

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