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STA Travel Volunteers in Panama

Here at STA Travel we support responsible and sustainable travel. That means that we try to help the communities that we come into contact with during our travels, and it’s why we’ve signed up with with Sustainable Travel International, a non-profit organisation helping travel providers to support environmental conservation and protect cultural heritage.

It’s also why we support Planeterra. Planeterra is a non profit organisation that, in very short simple terms, raises funds for communities in developing countries to help empower local people to develop their communities, conserve their environment, while providing supportive solutions to local problems.

In May 2011, STA Travel staff began fundraising to support the ‘Panama Safe Drinking Water Project’ in Bocas Del Toro. A target of $25,000 (USD) was set and within six months our staff across the world ran bake sales, cycled, ran marathons, dressed up and collected the US$25,000 needed!

So, in March this year, our Responsible Tourism Manager Hien Tran, headed off to Panama with 4 other STA Travel employees and representatives from Operation Safe Drinking Water to fit the last 2 remaining water tanks and take a look at the good that responsible tourism can do, Hien shares her experience in Panama below.

Hien (far right) and the group of STA Travel volunteers with local children and one of the installed water tanks

Hien tells us about her time volunteering in Panama

By Jan 2012, we had managed to raise the $25,000 needed to buy 10 water tanks for indigenous schools and villages in Panama which were without safe drinking water and a boat ambulance, which was so desperately needed by the community.

8 tanks were set up straight away from January, as the volunteers couldn’t get out there until June and we didn’t want the village to have to wait. The rain-catchment systems in the schools and communities were so important for a) safe drinking water for school children, and b) safe water for the school kitchens (when school is not in session the water collected by the systems is available to the local community).

The money raised has gone towards providing safe drinking water for children in Panama

The tanks are placed underneath corrugated metal, with pipes that catch the falling water and deliver it to the tanks; a pretty simple process, but one that residents simply didn’t have access to before. Half a tank of water will last 50 kids in the village for 2 weeks, so it’s been a very important addition to the community.

In the few months since the first 8 tanks were installed the local school has seen their absence rate go from 70% to 35% now that they can offer clean drinking, cooking and cleaning water. There are now less sick children with water borne diseases or skin problems, which is obviously fantastic.

School absences have dropped by50% since the water tanks were installed

With the remaining funds we also delivered the boat ambulance. This was a big priority; there is at least one emergency life-or-death run to the hospital per week; where either a mother’s childbirth’s gone bad, snake-bites or machete cuts from farmers using the machetes, etc, so it was important for the villages to have a safe and quick way to get people to hospital.

The water ambulance provided by donations to Planeterra

It was a truly amazing experience visiting the small villages, tucked away in deepest darkest Panama, that will benefit from the donations raised. Responsible tourism is about giving something back to the communities we come into contact with on our travels, and making sure that the footprint we leave on their enviornment is a positive one.

Thanks Hien. Our website has got loads of information on responsible travel and there are a huge number of ways to give back to the communities you visit on your trips around the world. to find out more visit the Planeterra pages of our website
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