La Pena’s Library Project-Panama ...a Justice Fund Story initiated by PCV Sarah Renner

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, July 05, 2001 - 8:49 am: Edit Post

La Pena’s Library Project-Panama ...a Justice Fund Story initiated by PCV Sarah Renner

La Pena’s Library Project-Panama ...a Justice Fund Story initiated by PCV Sarah Renner

La Pena’s Library Project-Panama ...a Justice Fund Story initiated by PCV Sarah Renner

Pat Renner, a member of Joan of Arc for the past 15 years lives and works in Mankato as a Social Worker. She and her husband, Don, love is to spend weekends on the North Shore. Pat is looking forward to visiting her daughter in Panama who is serving there in the Peace Corp

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La Pena’s Library Project-Panama ...a Justice Fund Story

St. Joan of Arc truly has a global reach. Last December, St. Joan’s Committee on Social Justice provided a grant of $250 to help establish a computer education center in a municipal library in the struggling, rural community of La Pena, Panama. The grant was intended to cover the cost of shipping computers to La Pena and funding a yearlong Internet connection.

Sarah Renner, a Peace Corps volunteer and daughter of St. Joan of Arc members, Pat and Don, initiated the project. With the help of her parents, their SJA Small Christian Community and the financial assistance of St. Joan’s (and others), the project has nearly been completed. We are writing to St. Joan of Arc to provide an update on the project’s progress and to thank everyone who has contributed to its success.

Our SJA Small Christian Community was resourceful and gracious in securing two computers for the library, a Macintosh and a PC. They were shipped to Panama last month and all of the necessary Spanish software and keyboards were purchased with the donated funds. Our family made a trip to visit Sarah and help prepare the computers for use. All is now in La Pena and we are waiting for the town’s mayor to finish adding security measures to the building so it can be opened.

A local, computer trained resident of La Pena will be teaching classes for adults and children on how to use the computer and how to connect to the rest of the world using the Internet. La Pena’s school children residents (as well as those of surrounding villages) will benefit from the opportunity to learn computer skills and have access to a source of information normally not within reach. Sarah has reported much curiosity about the computers, of which they have heard so much but never had the opportunity to enjoy. Books are expensive and are in short supply in this area of Panama. The parents of La Pena are thus excited that their children will have access to this alternative source of learning.

Unfortunately, there were a few hazards along the way. The monitor for the Macintosh was lost in shipping and had to be replaced. We also had to purchase a new modem for the PC. But with the generous funding from St. Joan's and others, including members of our Small Christian Community, these problems were overcome.

Our son and his fiancée also accompanied us on our trip and offered their help to set up the La Pena computers. Our whole family was treated to long sunny warm days, the beauty of the sandy Panamanian beaches, the lushness of the mountainsides, and many different kinds of birds, animals and aquatic life as well as dazzling flowers. Experiencing a new culture is both a challenge and a joy. As we enjoyed the kindness of the Panamanian people, their delicious foods, their arts and crafts, their music and dance and struggled to understand their language, we were challenged to expand our view of the world. I am sure the many gifts they shared with us far surpassed the small gifts we brought to them. However, everyone we met in La Pena was very thankful for our contribution to their community.

Many, many thanks for you interest and your donations.

Sarah, Don, and Pat Renner

The following is the original Proposal sent to the Committee for Social Justice at St. Joan, and provides additional information on the community of La Pena and the project.

Project Proposal for La Pena, Panama Written by Sarah Renner, Peace Corps Panama Project title: Computer and Internet access for town Library Implementing agencies: Municipal government committee in charge of library and Peace Corps Panama Proposed starting date: January 2001

Summary of Proposal:

to have one well functioning modern (but not necessarily new) computer with internet access for public use in the town library to use local computer science university students to train interested community members in basic computer managing skills and in internet navigation

Background - La Pena is a rural Panamanian town located four and a half-hours northwest of Panama's Capital along the Inter-Americana highway. The district of La Pena has roughly 7,000 inhabitants who engage in varied economic activities, from agriculture to entrepreneurship to university teaching. Although enjoying a generally higher education level than many other rural Panamanian districts (due to the proximity of universities), La Pena has pockets of extreme poverty. The vast majority of citizens do not have the resources to pay for computer access in for-profit "internet cafes" located in a larger town one half-hour from La Pena. The community has both a primary and secondary school, which operate as magnate schools for surrounding communities. They currently do not have computers.

The project began when the government representative of the district proposed turning an empty building, owned by the municipality, into a town library. The building is located along the main road in town and at the entrance to the secondary school. The representative has agreed to use municipal funds to fix up the building and pay for a full time attendant. Currently, work is being undertaken to install bathrooms. A committee, of which I(Sarah) am a part, was formed in October to take responsibility for realizing the creation of the library. Members mostly consist of the town council members. So far, the committee has been engaged in finding donations of furniture and resource material. All eight members of the committee have expressed a desire that a computer with Internet be an essential element of the future library.

Project implementation and management- The Committee and myself would be in charge of installing and setting up the computer and arranging Internet service (Sinfonet offers local service). I have talked with two computer science university students who are interested in holding small training sessions at a given schedule to introduce community members to the computer. The university students have also agreed to train the full time attendant that will be working in the library on how to assist in information searches on the Internet. These university students will receive school credit for their community activities. The committee will ensure the security of the computer by installing both a fence around the library and sturdy locks on the steel doors. A nominal fee will be charged to users of the Internet to cover the cost of the local phone call necessary to connect. 25 cents per hour for students and 75 cents for all others has been discussed as a logical pay scale (for comparison, internet cafes charge $2.00 per hour). A maximum usage of one hour will be established and enforced by the attendant (possibly shorter in busy times).


Computer should be donated with modem. Spanish keyboard will have to be either donated or purchased in Panama ($40) Resource material (especially an internet guide) in Spanish can be donated or purchased in Panama ($140) Sinfonet currently charges a $20 set up fee for the initial month of internet service plus a $9.00 monthly charge for unlimited service Cost of mailing the computer to Panama ($150 - $200)

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