The elementary school in Tierra Oscura is located about 7 miles from Almirante, and 8 miles from Bocas. Access by land is only possible on foot, and it is a long hike to the road. There is no regularly schedule transport, and little boat traffic, so the community is more isolated than one would think.

Most of the students paddle to school with their siblings and neighbor's kids, but some walk through the jungle and some are dropped off by their parents.

The contrast between the poor condition of the school facilities and the beauty and richness of the natural surroundings reflects the community's situation, struggling with very basic living conditions in a place so rich in natural resources.



Currently, there are three teachers for about 90 students. The teachers share a house that was build in 2002 by the parents, mostly from local resources; the largest cost factor was the roofing material which was provided by local gringos.

The previous house had been very poor shape; the picture on the right shows a bedroom that was shared by two teachers.

The new house has a rainwater collection system and a basic kitchen. The teachers use 12V car batteries and kerosene lamps for lighting.
In 2004, there were five teachers sharing the small 4 bedroom house, which did not make it easier for them to deal with the psychological challenges of their difficult job in such an isolated place.

We built a second, smaller cabin to improve this situation.

In 2005, this cabin is not needed for the teachers and has been used as a small library.



Since access to the school is mostly by water, the dock is an important part of the infrastructure. In 2005, what little was left of the dock became so dangerous that we decided to rebuild part of it. The new part will hopefully last about 15-20 years.

The middle part of the dock consists of rocks that are partially submerged at high tide. Our attempts to fix this part as well failed because the parents were unable to agree on how to repair it... Some actually preferred the loose rocks over a wooden dock that would last only a short period of time -- quote: "The loose rocks have worked for the last 30 years, and they will still be there 30 years from now. A wooden dock would fall apart". This is a good example that supporting a place like that is not just a matter of financial support, and requires patience.


   

The traditional way of dealing with human waste is to build a latrine above the water. The shack over the water in the picture above was used until 2004 by the students and the teachers on a daily basis. Combined with the dangerous condition of the dock, risks of infections were very high. Kids tied up their boats just a few yards away, and frequently slip and fall on the loose rocks, into the contaminated water.

We have now built two composting toilets for the school, and in 2005, the latrine on the water was finally dismantled.

However, it seems to be very difficult to explain to the teachers and students how to use the composting toilets; if any peace corps volunteers read this, maybe they can get a couple of those wonderful bilingual instruction posters for us?

The most recent project is the remodeling of one of the classrooms. With support from the gringo community in Bocas, we will rebuild the floor and the roof. This classroom will then also be used for the student's meals provided by the school. 

If you are interested in supporting the school, please email us. Most of all, we are looking for volunteers to teach at the school and contribute time and energy to work with the community with health education and improving community spirit in a way that respects the traditions and lifestyle of the locals. Please do not contact us with offers that are tied to a religious agenda that goes beyond teaching respect for nature and conservation of natural resources. Donations are also appreciated, and we will see personally that they will be put to good use.