A few miles off the Caribbean coast of the country of Panama, just southeast of the Costa Rican border, lay the picturesque islands of Bocas del Toro. These palm-tree laden isles ringed with white sand beaches hold a dark secret. The archipelago is situated in a lush rain forested region where hundreds of inches of rain fall each year, yet many of its indigenous residents have no access to safe, potable water as they do not have the monetary means to catch and store it properly.

Residents often access water from streams near their villages. However, people and animals upstream pollute it. By the time the water reaches consumers in low-lying areas, it is contaminated with human and animal waste. Also, the water collects in holes near schools and quickly becomes muddy and unusable.

During a vacation to the islands in the spring of 2008, retired American Joe Bass and his wife Maribel, a native of Costa Rica, came across a clinic run by a visiting medical worker from the U.S. The volunteer was busy treating a teenage boy who was afflicted with a dreadful skin disease. The boy was in agony and the medical worker could do little to help him.

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Adrienne Ochenkoski