Club Member of the Year Tackles Project in Panama
Dan Heffron was named 2019 Rotarian of the Year of the Rotary Club of New Richmond, WI, for among other service activities, for coordinating a Rotary Project to construct a washroom in a small school in rural Panama.
The indigenous Ngobe-Bugle tribe suffer from extreme poverty and the importance of clean water, sanitation, and hygiene are not part of their culture or education to their young people. 
Making a Difference in Panama
Bahia Roja is on Isla Bastimentos in the Region of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Bahia Roja is a small indigenous community of 100 people inhabited by the Ngobe-Bugle tribe, considered to be one of the most impoverished of all indigenous people in Panama, with an estimated 90% living in extreme poverty. Sanitary bathrooms and clean water are major challenges in small, more rural communities across Panama. The school in Bahia Roja only has one marginally-working toilet that serves more than 40 children from first through sixth grade.

The primary project would consist of constructing an additional bathroom for the school. The project would be completed over the course of one week in the fall of 2019. The bathroom would have a cement base, wood siding, and a zinc roof. Included would be a septic tank, water tank, and gutters to catch the water. The water tank would be raised in order to use gravity to be able to flush the toilet. Beyond the physical construction of the bathroom, another closely related component of the project would be to educate the community about the importance of clean water and toilets, which are traditionally not part of their culture.

Even under the best of conditions, accessing school can be challenging and daily attendance can be inconsistent, thus it’s critical to make the learning environment as appealing as possible to maximize learning and retain students. While the new bathroom can improve the physical sanitary conditions at the school, it can indirectly have an impact on retention rates and academic performance. Only 18% of Ngobe students are educated beyond a sixth-grade level, and the overall literacy rate is 55%, which jeopardizes future employment opportunities. Providing better water, sanitation, and hygiene services in schools reduce hygiene-related diseases and can reduce the number of school days missed. It also protects girls’ right to education, as girls may be more reluctant to continue their schooling when toilets and washing facilities are not private, unsafe, unsanitary, or simply not available.

Although not the benefitting community, it should also be noted that the project is particularly meaningful to the Rotary Club of New Richmond. This project would represent one of the first and most significant international service projects and district grant projects implemented in the small club’s 30+year history. Beyond the small group of Rotarians who travel to Panama for the project, the entire club, which has been experiencing a decline in membership and engagement among Rotarians, may be rejuvenated and inspired as a result of the project and be motivated to seek out additional international projects in the future. Highlighting the project in local media publications will further promote the club and bring wider attention to the global impact of Rotary International.
Community leaders and residents, including the local Bocas Rotary Club, are committed to maintaining the bathroom. The Bocas Rotary Club (El Club Rotario de Bocas del Toro) held their first Rotary club meeting in February of 2019. The proposed project could help their newly formed club to come together to create a positive influence in their community, and establish a global relationship with the Rotary Club of New Richmond which could set a foundation for future projects. A smaller group of residents will receive training as to how to make minor repairs, perform routine maintenance, and know who to contact if more significant services are necessary
All parties will be involved with the construction of the new bathroom. Local villagers, New Richmond Rotary Club, and Bocas Rotary Club will place the water containment tank. Emily Talentino, Founding President of the Bocas Rotary Club, has assisted with the preparation for the project by providing local pricing for materials. Talentino, community leader Sergio Julian, and school principal Rosa Santo will serve as important “boots on the ground” for the project to ensure completion and appropriate documentation of expenses. Project lead Dan Heffron makes regular visits to Panama and will meet with local leaders to review the outcomes of the educational training delivered.