Vigorous Volunteers at Asilo
“This community is a chorus of compassion for the people who don’t have a voice of their own, and I am just one in the chorus,” says Asilo nursing home volunteer, Tom O’Flaherty. According to Tom, the residents at Asilo are a mirror of ourselves. “If you look carefully you can see yourself in Asilo, old, alone, or without a family.” This is why he donates so much of his time to the bodies, minds, and spirits of the people there.
Tom describes the women who work there, Olga, Myra, and Filamina as “saints”. Usually the Asilo runs out of money, government funding is cut, and they do not know how they will feed the 23 residents the next day, much less for the next month or year. Many members of the Bocas community, who would like to remain anonymous, donate months of food at a time or pay the electrical bill when the funding is so scarce the electricity has been turned off. Tom admits to “shamelessly hustling people” that he sees on the streets or in restaurants to volunteer at Asilo. He says he explains to them to that their experience at Asilo will be the one they tell people about when they get home.
Those who hear of the many needs at Asilo want to help. I suppose this is why, most recently, the US Coast Guard dropped in to lend a helping hand. So on March 15, 2013, more than 50 volunteers from the Floating Doctors and the US Coast Guard went to Asilo to do whatever possible to improve the lives of the men and women who call Asilo home. They worked tirelessly for hours painting, plumbing, and rewiring hazardous electrical situations. I was fortunate enough to be invited yet again to watch the progress unfold and to see what the new volunteers thought of the experience.
I spoke with a few of the United States Coast Guard volunteers about their motivation to volunteer versus that of other ships’ when they set anchor in Bocas. Here is what James Lacagnina, a Machinery Technician Chief had to say, “I’m considered an old timer in the Coast Guard with 24 years of service, so I’ve definitely seen my share of bad publicity for our ships’ crews. After spending weeks at sea a crew will pull into a port to relax and blow off some steam. Sometimes one, or a few members of the crew will go overboard and the host community sees this behavior thus negatively branding our reputation. What these communities often don’t know about are the crews that volunteer for helpful service in the communities we visit. We don’t like being known as bothersome Americans or drunken sailors, nor do we want to be. When the offer was announced, the crew of our ship (the USCG Vigorous) decided that we would visit Bocas and try to change the opinion that past crews were responsible for.
Volunteering at the Asilo in Bocas del Toro was an extremely rewarding experience. When we signed up for what we call a COMREL project (Commercial Relations Project) no one knew any specific details, just that hard work would be involved. Improving the living conditions for men and women who could have been our grandparents was awesome, but more so very humbling. We did what we could while there from painting, plumbing, and electrical work. We also did some carpentry and helped the Floating Doctors repair one of their boat engines. After working at the Asilo and hearing stories of how far it’s come from just two years ago, I cannot imagine what it must have been like before or living that way. We can only hope that our time in Bocas made a difference to the residents of Asilo and that it will be a positive reflection on our men for the future.”
It was a job well done by a vigorous group of volunteers