Panama April 2015 - Pt 1

Wala & Village Rights International

After 12 hours of travel, we landed with fatigue and excitement in Panama City. The language barrier established itself pretty quickly for me as we made our way through customs. Previously, my furthest venture outside the US had been to the far-off land of Toronto, Canada. On top of this, you could find the entirety of my known Spanish vocabulary on the drive-thru menu at Taco Bell. So, you might say I felt a little lost in this new place so far from my comfortable couch. However, it was here I learned that there are common threads between members of the human race everywhere, pulling us together and making exotic lands feel not-so-far-away after all.

As we exited the terminal in Panama City, we were met by Ben and Teo. Ben had been in contact with Rachael leading up to our trip, and we would spend almost the entirety of our time with him. Ben founded the non-profit Village Rights International, a foundation seeking to aid indigenous groups in Panama in all things legal. Armed with his degree from the University of Florida, Ben was a man set to use his God-given gifts to help these people who were not equipped to help themselves in this arena. See, Ben’s parents were missionaries in the indigenous village of Morti, so he spent his childhood with these people. And as we learned, Teo was from Morti, so their relationship was deep. Teo was going to be our “in” at the village of Walla, a community neighboring Morti, and who spoke a language called Kuna in which only Teo was fluent. I wonder still if we would have been able to reach Wala in the same way had Teo not been a part of our team.

We spent our first evening in a small hostel in Chepo and departed for Wala early the next morning. Ben told us that the logging industry was huge in Panama, which resulted in many open areas. Those that had been freshly cut were still covered in a layer of light ash and littered with blackened trunks. But Ben told us we would notice the stark contrast at the Wala border. He was correct. The fields of thin grass became abrupt thick forest at the border where the logging companies were not allowed to go. Sitting at the border were a couple of men – a border patrol if you will – who spoke briefly with Teo and moved the log gate to grant us entry. Ahead of us was an hour and a half journey through the forest over constant bumps and hills that shook our poor rental car the whole way. I couldn’t help but be amazed at the occasional giant koiba trees – they stood nearly twice as tall as any other trees. According to Ben, the wood is essentially useless, and so they stood as lonely giants in the middle of even the logged areas. After a somewhat exhausting hour and a half of bouncing around, we saw the village of Wala across a river up on a hill.

I got my camera ready as we parked our car on the rocky beach of the river that separated us from Walla. The river was full of activity – it was, as we learned later, the center of life at Walla. Kids laughed and splashed around; fathers played catch with their sons; many women washed clothes at the opposite bank. A man named Alex, our first friend in Walla, pulled a hand-dug canoe over the water. Ben told Rachael and me to get in and Alex would tow us across. Children giggled as we warily hobbled our way into the canoe, and we were escorted across the river by smiling Alex. We clumsily exited the boat on the other side and turned to watch Ben and Teo (much more comfortably) follow suit. We took our backpacks and jugs of water and climbed the steep dirt hill into the village.

Walla felt very foreign to my American sense of comfort. We weaved our way through homes of wooden walls and thatch roofs, which huddled closely together in a seemingly random pattern. Groups of small, shirtless children watched us curiously, only to turn and run at eye contact, a cluster of giggling bellies. Almost every wooden home held up a bright red satellite dish – most likely a gift, Ben told us, from a politician in exchange for votes. So many homes had colorful clothes hanging to dry everywhere, safely above the dirt floors, with a small flat screen TV playing something quietly from the dish. We stopped and left our things at Alex’s home, where we met his family and waited for a bit on wooden benches and hammocks. 

We then had the chance to explore for a bit: we were scheduled to meet with the village chiefs a few hours later. On our tour, we saw the village school (where there was a rain water catchment system in place!), the homes we’d be staying in, and some incredible scenery. Rachael did some water testing at each of the water access points in the community and also took down some GPS coordinates of the water sources, key points in the community, and other existing structures of previously uncompleted projects. It is very common to see parts of water systems, such as the massive water tower at the highest point in the community of Wala and other pieces of piping. Unfortunately, many projects sit unfinished due to a lack of funding.

I will, though, always remember the meeting with the chiefs and elders – which you can read about in Part II (coming soon!)

From left to right, one of Ben's contacts in Morti, Teo, Anthony, Rachael, and Ben

From left to right, one of Ben's contacts in Morti, Teo, Anthony, Rachael, and Ben

Second & Third Walks


For my second water walk, I walked down Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. Pearl Street is a lively place with blocks of shops, restaurants and street entertainers. I went on a Saturday afternoon, so there were tons of tourists and locals out enjoying their summer day.

My experience on Pearl Street was completely different than my experience at Washington Park. My parents, Katie and I all made signs to carry while I was walking. They said “1 in 8 lack access to clean water” and “Ask Me About Clean Water”

I wore two signs around my neck and my parents held the others while Katie handed out flyers. Katie also painted my jerry can to make me stand out even more!

This was a great success. People were answering the question on my sign and would applaud me as I walked by. Although I didn’t raise much money from this particular walk, I still feel like I made a difference. The first step of changing the world for the better is to spread awareness and put a scenario into someone’s head. Visually showing Americans what women all over the world have to do just to receive clean water is much more effective than just talking about the issue.

The walk was still very challenging, physically, and became even more of a challenge when people would walk slowly. If I wasn’t moving fast the water would begin to slosh around, causing me to lose my balance. 

The irony that was going on around me was amazing. All the consumption of food and people blowing money on expensive materialistic items, while the reality is people in our world can’t even afford water. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time gave me motivation to make a change. 

I completed another mile leaving me with a total of 2.7 miles completed. I felt much more accomplished after this walk because of all the awareness that I spread. 

My third walk was just around the block in my neighborhood, since I only had .9 mi left and I was getting ready to leave for school. Although not many people saw me, for those who did I am sure I left an image in their heads. This walk was extremely hard because the weather was so hot. I can’t even imagine having to walk everyday in heat worse than what it was in Denver. 

We are all guilty of having selfish habits, such as spending large amounts of money on something that we will probably just waste in a short period of time. Most likely we won’t even recycle it. Unfortunately, this is the culture we live in. Rather than changing your lifestyle completely, just try to be more aware about what you are doing. Open your eyes to what others are doing to help people. Find a way that you can sustainably make a difference in someone else’s life. We are never going to be in a perfect world, so we should at least focus on important factors of our future such as providing access to clean water to people around the world, which will then help women and children around the world receive an education, have a career, and enlighten our future. 

Join me in changing the lives of people in Panama today at

My First Walk

by Kirsten Brackett

I completed my very first walk carrying about thirty pounds of water in my jerry can at Washington Park in Denver! I ended up walking 1.5 miles.

Before doing this walk, people had asked me if I had tested or tried carrying the jerry can and every time I said no. This was because I did not want to train for it because I wanted the full experience of what it would be like for me to walk for water never having done it in my life. The only previous training I had was I started weight lifting this summer.

My walking entourage included me carrying the water, my dad keeping track of the distance and helping me put the water on my head or shoulder, my friend Katie taking pictures and videos to capture the moment and my mom who had flyers to hand out to the public. When we first arrived at Washington Park, the jerry can was full, which was five gallons equivalents to 40 pounds. My dad helped me place the jerry can on my head and when I tried to take a step my arms started shaking and I felt like I was going to fall to the ground. I was frustrated because I knew it was too heavy for me to carry and I hadn’t considered how the water sloshing in the jerry would affect my balance.

We took the jerry can off of my head and drained out a portion of the water until it weighed about 30 pounds. I started my walk and immediately learned four things:

  • It really hurt my arms more than my back, which was a surprise.

  • Walking faster made it a whole lot easier to keep my balance and minimized the water sloshing around in the can.

  • I had to take breaks every .1-.2 of a mile.

  • The level of concentration I had to use to walk was much higher than I expected.

As I continued to walk, my arms began to fatigue but I could feel the rest of the muscles in my body working to keep walking. I was very frustrated with the frequency of breaks that I had to take. By the time I needed to take a break I would be breathing heavily and my muscles would be extremely sore. I originally thought that I would be able to walk and talk to people, but I had to concentrate hard on pushing myself to walk with the water. I had to keep in mind that the women who do walk with water everyday have been doing it their whole lives and that this was my first time. As I thought of the women walking for water, I gained more motivation. Rather than taking breaks every .1 of a mile I made it my goal to walk further. I was motivated by thinking about the fact that I go to a gym and on a machine to exercise, while women everyday around the world have to strain their muscles, backs and necks just to receive a necessity of life.

I tried to picture my life having to get water everyday and missing out on my education. Then I would picture the fact that I can just go to a faucet and receive water whenever I want. And how my “first world” problems really aren’t problems at all. I used the frustration that I had thinking about the uneven distribution of water in our world. I thought about how we waste water by watering our already green lawns or taking a two- hour shower just because we had a “rough” day. I thought about how even places that suffer from water scarcity physically, such as the United Arab Emirates, still use so much water everyday for, in my opinion, unnecessary reasons.

Another interesting part about my walk, was that no one questioned what I was doing. People definitely stared, but no one cared to ask what I was doing. Only one person did. Of course it could have just looked like I was doing an intense work out and people were embarrassed to ask, which I understand. I did wear my Water for Panama t-shirt that said “Ask Me About Clean Water” but no one did. This was disappointing because I was hoping to spread more awareness about the issue. To solve this problem I will bring signs and my lovely friend Katie is painting my jerry can. The objective of this first walk was for the personal experience of walking with water so I can now talk the talk about the issue because I have personally given it a shot. Of course, not to the extent that people around the world have, but I can now better talk about what it must be like to carry water every day and why everyone should have access to clean water. The objective of my second walk will be to spread the word about the issue.

I am so glad that I am receiving this opportunity and support to share what I am passionate about and be able to walk the walk to talk the talk. Thanks to everyone who read this and please see my fundraising page for to give more support. Together we can save the world, one glass of water at a time!