Since October 2016, we have been working on this charitable project, together with most of the villagers of La Estrella Los Valles in a community called “Tierras de Los Hernandez” (Click on words in red). This small hamlet in our neighborhood is a remote settlement in the rainforest outside Boquete, in the highlands of Panama’s most Western province Chiriquí.
This philanthropic endeavor has grown into a matter near to our hearts. It is the reason and motivation to present it to you.
We wanted to help
these people cutting a compacted road into the tropical rain forest and building
a bridge across the “Río Agua Blanca”
Until about a year ago these villagers had to use a most arduous and twisted trail across the tropical wilderness. They had to walk over slippery fallen trees to negotiate the river, always on the lookout for venomous snakes or other unpleasant surprises. During the long rainy season, going to school becomes a dangerous and often life threatening undertaking for the children. Then, every so often the children were not allowed by their parents to leave home for school or could not return to their homes after school.
Shouldn’t these children have unimpeded access and a fair chance to basic education? We did think so! In our view, for them education is the only way out of the poverty trap
Most of these hardworking people in such rain forest communities live in very modest homes (Click on words in red) , to put it mildly.
After numerous talks with these villagers, it became obvious that their most pressing need was a secure path across the jungle all the way down to the main street and a simple and stable bridge over the Río Agua Blanca. This wish was presented to the authorities several times, to no avail at first!
Around that time a large neighborly property was sold. The new landowner, Ing. Rogelio Cruz, was prepared to let his neighbors use a sliver of land along his Finca for public use (7 meters wide and about 400 meters long), on condition the villagers would clear the “Selva” and take care of all construction themselves. Also they were asked to chip in small portions of their own land to allow road construction to the far end of their community. A deal that after long negotiations went through.
The environmental protection agency gave permission to clear the underbrush, cut and uproot all trees. So, every Sunday the men went to work under the leadership of Sr. Paulino Acosta, clearing the stripe, which was hard and dangerous labor.
Werner was providing all hardware, like chainsaws, tools, spare parts, oil, gasoline and paid for repairs and legal fees. Two women prepared lunch for everybody. I was commissioned to buy all grocery, meat, ingredients and drinks. Transportation was also arranged and paid for by us.
A Canadian businessman, sent one of his licensed surveyors to map the relevant area, where the street was going to be built. Two construction firms from Boquete helped with heavy equipment to remove boulders and rootstocks as well as with the cutting, grading and compacting of the road. The director of Panama’s Civil Protection Agency (SINAPROC), Lic. José Donderis, a native of Boquete, donated US$2,500 worth of diesel to operate heavy construction equipment.
During road construction, we were working on getting all necessary permits, sealed and stamped by the respective authorities, at times a tiresome and delicate exercise.
But at long last, now there is a compacted dirt road, from the far end of the village to the makeshift bus stop at the intersection with the principal, unpaved road down to Boquete.
The temporary drainage canals on both sides of the compacted road are being built by the villagers towards the end of the rainy season. It is planned to finance the construction works as well as the use of construction machinery from the remaining funds of the project.
The missing culverts alongside the new road will later be built by the villagers who know how to diligently perform this job.
Daily life has since become much easier for this poor community. During the dry season one can now drive into the village and an ambulance could reach the most remote house. Thus, sick people and pregnant women do no longer have to be wheel-barrowed to the main road. Venomous snakes are no longer that much of a threat, as they can be seen. Everything necessary can be delivered into the village.
Both riverbanks were cut down to a fording, where SUVs and pickup trucks can cross the river during the dry season. During the rainy season however - April thru December - this river turns into a wild torrent, which renders the passage dangerous and at times impossible, even for heavier trucks.
With this compacted road across the rain forest, these people had already accomplished a lot, however the center piece of our project still needed to be built: A simple, solid bridge!
The final budget showed an all-in-construction cost of 60,000 $, not includinga 7,000 $ for soil and hydrological studies
In order to build well anchored foundations for bridge construction, we had to mandate a licensed engineer for hydrological and soil studies, for which we advanced 7,000 $ out of our own pocket. On top of that we funded the project account in Lucerne/Switzerland with a donation of 20,000 Swiss francs (roughly the equivalent of the same amount in US Dollars). As one can see, there was an initial shortfall of approximately 50,000 $.
Thanks to the many donations received - bigger and smaller ones - we were able to close that gap in a relatively short time.
The Dr. Ernst-Günther Bröder Foundation (Click on words in red) were the first committing themselves to support the project with a substantial donation, which encouraged us to proceed with our plans.
January 8, 2019, we were certain that we had secured our financial goal.
Our project account will remain open for the time being.
In the name of all community members of La Estrella Los Valles - Tierra de los Herández we take this opportunity to thank all donators and numerous helpers full heartedly for their benevolence and generosity throughout the project.
A few things remain to be mentioned. The District of Boquete has approved all construction plans, without the usual red-tape. It also declared the road to be “public”, for free use for everyone. All this is duly registered at the Municipality of the District of Boquete.
Our sincere and heartfelt gratitude goes out to the local authorities, especially to Lic. Emigdio Walker, Mayor of the Boquete District and Mr. Alberto Quiros, Representative of the Los Jaramillo area (corregimiento)
Construction supervision and controls have been performed on a regular basis. We retained a professional project-team, most of whom will work as volunteers and pro-bono; some for reduced professional fees. The members of our team include one construction company owner, Mr. Eric H. Moreno, one certified accountant, Lic. Jesus Arturo Quiel, one delegate of the villagers, Sra. Aida Hernández and one licensed architect and construction engineer Arq. Golda Gómez - all experienced and trusted Panamanians, which have no vested financial interests in the project.
Sponsors and interested parties will find detailed information and regular updates on the project’s progress and funding on this tri-lingual web page (Section "Newsletter” - Click on words in red).
This web site, by the way, was designed and built by a Swiss lawyer, a good friend and neighbor of ours in Lucerne/Switzerland. He is performing this tedious job, working late hours at home - of course not billing us for the usual hourly professional fees.
best news however: On March 29, 2019, the “Puente Suizo and the “Vía Los
Hernández” were formally handed over to the community, dedicated to all of the
children of “Las Tierras de Los Herández”. A formal Act of Inauguration took
place the same day in the presence of Boquete’s Mayor and the Representative of
(You will find a full report on this remarkable
celebration under the same day “Newsletter” - Click on words in red)
final remark to put things into perspective: For us, this philanthropic
endeavor has been a journey into “terra incognita”. Once more, we realized that
we cannot stop the course of the world. However, within our restricted limits and with your generosity, jointly we can
make the difference!