Jeff Flynn, proud grandfather, a semi-retired sugarcane agronomist who worked in the US, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, and a member, Jeff Flynn will manage a major Club Rotario de Boquete initiative, the Maternal and Infant Mortality Prevention (MIMP) project. He and his wife purchased a home in Boquete in 2011 and, while working with a nearby sugar business in Alanje, developed a keen interest in working with and helping the Indigenous people living in Ngabe-Buglé, the largest and most populous of Panama’s five Indigenous Comarcas.
When the opportunity arose in Rotario de Boquete to develop a program addressing the high rate of maternal and infant mortality in Panama’s Comarcas, Jeff took on the task of finding possible approaches. The MIMP project started to take form once Jeff identified the need to support the midwives serving rustic and remote areas in the Comarcas.
Jeff has always had a respect for midwives and all legitimate health providers struggling for recognition; his children and grandchildren were all delivered by nurse midwives.
Jeff saw his father, a Chiropractic Doctor, experience the frustration of fighting for recognition and legitimacy by the American Medical Association. The same kind of struggle persists in this country. “In Panama, the time has come to shine a light on the work and needs of midwives in the remote Comarcas currently providing maternal and infant health-care services,” Jeff said.
When Jeff learned of Phalarope, a US-based NGO headed by Dr. Mariam Rittmeyer, and of midwife support and empowerment training in Guatemala, he knew he had found a model of a possible approach for Panama. Phalarope created a self-sustaining program that developes skilled trainers from within a community. With the implementation of a similar program in the Comarcas in Panama, trained Ngobe tribal women could become “health promoters,” increasing the medical knowledge and capability of midwives, making them more effective in caring for pregnant women in remote areas. As a result, “These midwives, the familiar, trusted face of community health care, steeped in deep generational and traditional knowledge regarding health,” will be more effective in maternal and infant care and will have the ability to recognize high-risk conditions that require referral for early intervention.
“It is time to recognize and unleash the incredible human resources residing within the Ngobe communities,” Jeff said. Club Rotario de Boquete, with Phalarope’s assistance, will partner with groups in Panama including ASASTRAN, a group of midwives and traditional healers. Dr. Rittmeyer met via video-link with Sra. Rosa Moreno, the maternal health mission director of Padre Adonai’s Fundacion Nuestra Senora del Camino. After Dr. Rittmeyer described Phalarope’s methods used to develop their midwifery program in Guatemala, Sra. Moreno responded enthusiastically. Dr Rittmeyer will come to Panama to meet with Sra Moreno and members of Club Rotario de Boquete in November. We will introduce our MIMP project plans to the recently installed regional ministry of health (MINSA) director, Dr Enilso Miranda.
With the assistance of Phalarope and partners in Panama, Club Rotario de Boquete’s MIMP project hopes to bring significant and sustainble improvement to maternal and infant health in Panama’s Comarcas.
Miriam Rittmeyer MD, PHD, MPH, Phalarope Chair, Dr Miriam Rittmeyer is Chair of Phalarope and director of its Maternal and Child Program. She is a native of Guatemala, where she
received her MD from Francisco Marroquin University Medical School. She received her Master in Public Health (MPH) in International Health from Johns
Hopkins University, and her PhD in Nutritional Epidemiology from the University of north Carolina School of Public Health.. Dr Ritttmeyer received a post-doctoral award from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and another post-doctoral Fellowship from the Organization of American States. Dr Rittmeyer is currently Assistant Clinical Professor in the Community Medicine Program, School of Medicine, Mercer University, in Macon, Georgia.
EOL Tablet-Lending Program Update
Club Rotario de Boquete’s Tablet-Lending program continues to grow in answer to the needs of our families living in remote areas. During our pilot phase of lending just 18 Rotary Tablets, more than 72 students in grades pre-K through 12 and university have been able to continue their education during the current closure of schools. We have ordered an additional one hundred tablets to arrive mid-November to be part of the Tablet-Lending program of our Equal Opportunity for Learning (EOL) project. Our objective is to make internet-connected devices available to families in remote areas during school closure so their children can connect to their lessons and assignments currently available online.
Because school vacation starts in December, the Education Committee of Rotario de Boquete decided to work with the Director of the Boquete Library, Elsa Castillo, to develop a program to continue online learning by teachers and students during the vacation months from December through February. We are concentrating our efforts on four schools: Alto Auel, Jaramillo Abajo, Palmira Abajo and Volcancito. Ms. Catillo will assist in communicating with the directors of the schools and their teachers. We hope to increase their interest in learning how online academies can be used to support teaching and learning, and how students can continue their learning during their school vacation by coming to the library and using Rotary Tablets to access learning programs online.
After school vacation, schools may open for students to attend in person for part of the day or for alternative days with students completing their lessons and assignments at home. If so, many students will continue to need Rotary Tablets to continue their learning online.
On October 22, two EOL committee members visited Jaramillo Abajo, one of the first schools to borrow Rotary Tablets for their families. The EOL committee was warmly welcomed by the Director, Jorge Castero, three teachers, and parents from six families. Everyone in the school showed their gratitude for Rotary’s concern for their children’s education.
Rotario de Boquete’s EOL Tablet-Lending Program is grateful for the opportunity to call the Boquete Library home during the school break.
The Boquete Library is unusual as it is the first book-lending library in Panama from which books are borrowed and then returned for others to borrow. In addition to its collection of books, videos, and music CDs, the library offers world-class music concerts throughout the year. Works of local artists are featured in the gallery which often includes receptions with food and beverages. Boquete Library even includes the delightful Andrea’s Café, located on the ground floor, where visitors can relax with a cup of coffee and a light meal. Within than a year of its inauguration in February of 2012, its collection grew to more than 10,000 books with an average of 80 books being checked out daily and more than 1,000 library cards issued. From that time on, the Library has continued to grow. The building and ongoing support of the library have been generously provided by the Patricia Price Peterson Foundation.
People of Action
Last year Club Rotario de Boquete received support from Rotary International to build trash receptors for the town of Boquete. We met with the Mayor of Boquete and he was pleased to receive these trash receptors for the town’s first trash-separating efforts. These cans will enable the city to start recycling. As with many of our projects, the pandemic lengthened our original time-line for completion. With the dedication and stick-to-it-ness of a core of people headed by Ron, the end seems to be in sight.
Thanks to Hector, Ralph, Joe, Ginny, Gisela, Bruce and many others, we are now proud of the completion of yet another community-service project. With social distancing and limited days to gather for work, this is a testimony to Rotarians’ dedication to selfless work.