MPH Panama Practicum 2012: A trek to the Embera village

July 11, 2012
Author: Christopher Lopez

This practicum experience has been amazing thus far. One of the coolest things we experienced happened on Saturday when we met the Embera tribe. We drove to their village and travelled by canoe downriver to their dwelling. Upon arrival we were greeted by men wearing traditional native clothing. The Embera wear very little because the weather is hot and muggy and it rains often. Their village is close to the river and they are often in the water so the very little clothing that they do wear must have the ability to dry quickly. They also do not wear any shoes unless they go into the town. After a 10 minute canoe ride down the Chagras river we stopped at a peninsula and walked up a hill that led to the  village. The village contains traditional huts with roofs made out of palm leaves. We were summoned into the kitchen to hear a message from one of the village elders. The village elder spoke Spanish to the group. He explained much about the village and the way of life of the Embera people. The kitchen is a large hut that contains an area in the back for cooking . In the back of the hut I noticed two women cooking. The fire was an interesting configuration of three logs that were arranged in a way that would allow for the fire to burn for hours without extinguishing, Below is a picture of the fire and how it was arranged.

Food cooking in Embera kitchen

After a few moments the Embera came over and presented us with a traditional meal consisting of fresh Tilapia caught from the river, yucca and fresh fruit. It was presented wrapped in a banana leaf with a flower on top. The food tasted amazing. The fish was delcious and the plantains were also very good. Many of my cohorts remarked on how this was the best meal we had in Panama by far.

Freshly cooked plantains and fish in leaf bowls

After our meal we did some shopping for items that were being sold in the village. In addition to being resourceful the Embera are very artistic. They create and sell items made out of wood, fruit and plant fibers. During our time with the Embera we asked them many questions about their heathcare. The village elder remarked on how they have very few health problems in the village. This is due to their clean diet and active lifestyle. The village elder also said he had the world?s greatest pharmacy and pointed to the jungle behind him. The village people are very skilled in using plants to cure many ailments. Their biggest health problem according the elder we spoke to is the common cold. Overall visiting the village was an amazing experience and it really opens your eyes to the most basic fundamental of human health-a clean diet and an active lifestyle.

More about the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of 15 University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. The students have been divided into three groups to work on maternal and child health, vaccination, environmental infectious diseases, nutrition and physical activity.

One group will be surveying patients about the healthcare system at a local clinic and proposing interventions to improve vaccination, infant development and women’s health. Another group will be in the field responding to outbreaks of environmentally spread infectious diseases and working to control common vectors such as mosquitoes. The last group will be calculating body mass index measurements for elementary school students and developing methods to improve nutrition and exercise within the school.

During their trip, the students will also be attending lectures on Panama’s healthcare system and statistics as well as visiting a remote indigenous tribe. Before leaving Panama, each student will be providing a deliverable that is intended to improve health in Panama.

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