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Expanding his world in Panama

Area graduate part of Peace Corps

January 15, 2011

The country of Panama might be best known worldwide for its canal but its poverty and lack of clean water has one area resident on a mission.

Alan McDonald of New Providence has been serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama since August 2008. The 25-year-old has been specializing in helping with water and sanitation infrastructure in the eastern village of Maje Cordillera.

"We're organizing a community to do some improvements of the aqueduct as well as building some latrines," McDonald said.

Article Photos

New Providence native Alan McDonald is shown here in tribal paint during his work in the country of Panama. McDonald has been in the Peace Corps serving in Panama since August 2008 and plans on being there one more year.

Panama suffers from an extreme poverty rate of 95 percent and the country's lack of clean water and basic sanitation leads to diseases such as dysentery and intestinal worms. McDonald said it was first hard to adjust to the lifestyle and was surprised how giving the people are who don't have much themselves.

"What's probably hit me the hardest is the generosity the people have with what little they do have," he said. "It's very humbling."

He said sometimes he does not even notice the extreme poverty as he realizes they know how to get by through eating fish from the river or growing rice.

Through his time in Panama, McDonald has learned to appreciate growing up in the United States and the ability to get an education. In the village he helps in Panama, school is offered until the sixth grade then the young people have to move away if they want more education if they have the means.

"Education is something I really value a lot more now," McDonald said.

McDonald is a 2003 graduate of Eldora-New Providence High School before moving onto Ellsworth Community College and then got a degree in product design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

As he neared college graduation in 2008 he wanted to expand his global view and work overseas which led him to the Peace Corps.

"I'm at the point in my life where I have the freedom to do that," McDonald said.

He has signed on to go back to Panama for one more year of service in the Peace Corps after spending the last month at home in New Providence.

After one more year in Panama he hopes to return to the United States and look for a job as a more enlightened person.

"It's been an eye-opening experience and a great learning experience," he said.

McDonald is working on getting grants to help with his water projects in the village. For more information on his effort visit his blog at


Contact Andrew Potter at 641-753-6611 or



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