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Panama Change Makers 2018

June 24, 2018

Today was our first full day in Panama and it was awesome! We arrived last night, so we didn’t see the city in the daylight yesterday, but today, we spend the whole day out in the city. We started the morning with fun group games and a detailed orientation and itinerary of the trip, and then we really started the action of the day. We walked down the street, passing the colored houses, skyscrapers apartment buildings, lush gardens, and neighborhood parks, to a delicious Greek restaurant for lunch. We then returned back to la Posada 1914 before making our way to Panama City. We walked by locals enjoying their Sunday afternoons as a family as we walked through the city by the coast. It was so cool to see people dancing, eating traditional snow cones, playing street soccer, and running around the playgrounds nestled in the palm trees. We finally made it to Casco Viejo, the older part of Panama City, after a pleasant walk down the coastline. I loved seeing the old fishing boats and older buildings contrast with the sleek, new, modern, metropolitan city line.

The buildings in Casco Viejo are so colorful and you could definitely observe the European architectural styles. Soon after we arrived, we met up with our tour guide for the walking tour of Casco Viejo. We saw stunning churches, monuments, the 4 busy yet leisurely plazas and tons of bright old and newly restored buildings. We learned so much about Panama history and it was such a cool way to see the city. After the tour, we were all super hot and sweaty after a day out and about, so when we walked into the air conditioned restaurant, it was an instant relief.

Dinner was amazing and we all enjoyed a variety of dishes from multiple cuisines. Some had seafood mac and cheese, others sushi, and others more traditional Panamanian food. I personally had a chicken clay pot tamale that was almost deconstructed and unlike anything I’d ever had before. The restaurant had an accessible rooftop, so we headed up there for a beautiful view of the city and a few minutes of the DJ’s music. It was the perfect way to end our first day here. We then got a bus ride back to the hostel and took showers, which was the best feeling ever! I can’t wait for tomorrow and the rest of our time here in Panama!
-Sofie D.

June 25, 2018

Hi everyone, it’s Laurel!
As the second day in Panama comes to a close, I think we have a least one thing in common: our extremely full stomachs. A cooking class in a local bakery, trip to the neighborhood market, and dinner at the self explanatory crepes and waffle made for a day full of FOOD, with time time to digest at the Panama canals viewing deck and museum.

Our first stop of the day, a bakery called “La Sexta” or “The Sixth” was not only a source of a delicious meal but a chance to learn about a program that focuses on empowering women, and enabling them with vocational skills. Behind the bakery’s colorful interior and sweet-smelling kitchen was a classroom full of Panamanian women in social  vulnerable situations, who we were able to converse with for a few minutes. One of the younger women was impressively short and had fun taking photos with our Najah, who towered over her at 6’1. Next came everyone’s favorite part of the day: cooking. Our instructor Jennifer separated us in two separate groups after showing us how to make masa (or dough). Maria, Najah, and I made the empanadas, while Sofie, Hallie, Susan, and Kate were in charge of baking the best-selling galletas.

Everyone got really into their jobs and soon kitchen was alive with sounds, smells, and danced to go along with the Cardi B played through out the bakery. Another cool connection was made with Anna, a 12-year-old expert in la cocina. While we slowly followed the recipes and experienced much trial and error, Anna quickly picó the vegetables for our lunch and showed her culinary talents. After baking out treats, we sat down to enjoy them, along with classic Panamanian dishes of pollo al chimichurri and guacho de rabito de cerdo that had been prepared for us. Before eating we all stopped to take a moment to say what we were thankful for. Of course, general appreciation was expressed by everyone for the chance to be in Panama and experience it’s rich culture. Additionally, we were thankful to be surrounded by such empowered women. After spending this morning with working women improving their skills, being taught by kind and welcoming women in the kitchen, and sitting down to eat with 11 other amazing girls, the gratitude was strong. Asia’s last note before we dug into our homemade empanadas just summed up the feeling: “el futuro es female”
-Laurel F.

June 26, 2018

This morning we boarded the bus early to drive to our home stay in Santa Fe. We are all excited to get to meet our home stay moms, brothers, and sisters, who will soon become our second families. Caesar (cece) kept us entertained with música on our ride As we traveled farther away from cities and urban areas into the mountainous, jungled country. We grew in awe at the vast differences between Panama City and the more rural side of the country. Our bright yellow bus drive us through the jungle as we oassed cows, chickens and horses.  In the afternoon as we got closer to Santa Fe, the landscape change to hilly bumpy roads and green mountains with clouds descending down into them. At this point, we stopped making bracelets and took pictures of the beautiful landscape. Now we’re all so excited to finally meet the Santa Fe community!

When we arrived in Santa Fe, we gathered and met our host families. All our families are so sweet and they’re all excited to have us! Sophie and I are staying with a 16-year-old sister named Maura. The three of us walked around la comunidad while we talked and learned more about each other. The community that we’re staying in is so amazing. The brightly colored homes and flowers against the low grey clouds and green mountains seem to be straight out of a postcard. Everyone says hola to each other, and everyone is so open to each other. At night, Spanish music rings out and the sounds of people laughing and dancing is always around. We can’t wait to learn mas español and to live in Santa Fe!

-Kaitlyn O.

June 27, 2018

Today was our first full day in Santa Fe and it was filled with hard work, laughter and a few soccer games here and there. We started the day by waking up bright and early at 7am and enjoyed a delicious homemade breakfast made by our generous home stay families. Next we were off the meet the group and load the bus headed for the El Carmen school. When we arrive at El Carmen we were greeted by the smiling faces of welcoming children who attended the school. We immediately split up into two groups and got to work on beautifying the school. One group took on the task of mixing cement and laying it to create a sidewalk, while the other group began to paint tired that will eventually become flower pots. After about two hours of work we took a break to play “ pato, pato, ganzo” with the adorable children of the school. We then go back to work by setting up and painting with the help of the excited children. When we finally finished for the day, we all headed back to our home stay families to eat a delicious lunch, mine personally containing chicken, rice, beans, and salad. We then took time to rest because we were extremely tired from all the hard work. After we recharged, the group gather together to play a friendly game of soccer with some of the local community members. The time spent in Santa Fe so far has consisted of learning mucho español and getting to know the Panamanian culture. I can’t wait for the rest of our time here in Santa Fe.
-Hallie F.

June 28, 2018

Hola! Santa Fe has once again treated our group to an unforgettable day. Today, our group headed back to El Carmen for another day of hard, but worthwhile work. Today we finished up some painting de las llantas and mixed more cement for their new sidewalk. Mixing cement, as you can imagine, is not a particularly easy task. Straight forward, yes, pero easy, no. We got hit with some rain around the last 45-ish minutes of our work day but a little rain never hurt nobody! It was a nice way to cool down after a day of mixing cement. The children who attended El Carmen love to play soccer with us in the rain and they’re super good at it. One almost took my head off, but he was cute, so all is forgiven. Homestays thus far have been amazing. I hope everyone feels the same way! Today we got to tour the farm that Maria and I are staying at. We ate tomates, piña, caña de azúcar, y naranjas. Zoveida y Yayo showed us their big and beautiful farm (a farm I get to stay on, no less). Everyone looked to be having an amazing time; I know I did. We watched a chicken get killed. Asia es la reina de los pollos! It was crazy to watch. After all this fun, we went over our lesson plans for the students of El Carmen. This was also fun. We all got to play teacher for a little bit, which was interesting! Overall, today was another day that I didn’t want to end. I love mixing paint and surprisingly enough, I love mixing cement. Well, love might be un poquito mucho, but I enjoyed the experience! I love being covered in cement, dirt, and paint (Michelle will get it) because it reminds me why we’re in love with Panama. We are not here to look pretty (thought all of us are muy bonita if I do say so myself), we are here to work and learn. Basically, today I learned how to kill a chicken (just kidding, it was very humane) and I learned that our group continues to adapt and learn and appreciate the little things un poquito más. Never would I take a picture with a pineapple in Colorado, but I sure did here. I’m very happy to be with our group but I’m even happier to be in Panama with such capable hands. Emma, Asia, and Michelle, if you’re reading this, you made this group whole! Emma and Asia are the nicest people in the planet and Michelle, I mean, who doesn’t wanna be Michelle? Michelle is the person you want to take everywhere with you! Our group spent today working hard, playing futbol with kids, and learning more about the simple pleasures in life, not excluding making new longtime friends, which I hope is exactly what we’re doing. With that being said, buenas noches everybody, I’m going to bed!
– Najah Q. ( or Mella, my new nickname)

June 29, 2018
Hello! Today was just another amazing day! Laurel, Noa, and I started this day with a rooster call! We got a huge breakfast with homemade empanadas (one of my favs!), scrambled eggs, apples, and absolutely amazing coffee! After the grand breakfast, we hopped onto the bus and went to El Carmen. We were greeted by the adorable kids, just as the previous days, and proceeded to teach them English. We taught them números, animales, colores, y ser adjetivos! We played 4-5 games in the class to keep everyone engaged! My favorite part of the morning (probably of the day too) is when we asked the kids a question about the numbers they learned. We said “¿qué numero  es dos en inglés?” Instead or saying “two” one or the first-graders shouted “blue!” (Haha). Their way of speaking English is so cute and literally made me heart melt! After all the classes, we played soccer together with the kids! One of the players from the other team had a whistle with him all the time so he had two “jobs” aka player y referee! He is soooo CUTE!!! (#lit #XOXO)

After hearing that we were going hiking later, Avis, our mamá, decided to make us a big lunch. We had pork ribs, rice, ginger ale, and cake. Avis is such a great cook!!! We were really stuffed and felt ready for the waterfall!!We had a somewhat thrilling ride in the mountains and we got to the foot of the mountain. My shoe got stuck in the mud in my very FIRST step in that mountain. It was a fun start! Even though it is rainy and super slippery, we saw a lot of cool stuff/dangerous animals like bullet ants, centipedes, and some snake skin. With a lot of help from our fabulous tour guide-Alexis and “protection”/support from two puppies: Cinnamon & Likey, we made it to the waterfall! It is super cool to enjoy the waterfall and rain after  a long walk with constant fear that I might fall and die [facepalm]. It is super cute that the two dogs were waiting for us and staying with us the whole time. Things got a tiny bit tricky when we started to head back. Some of us were tired and somewhat, our body was malfunctioning. Poor Hallie, mistook a huge pile of poop as stone and stepped on it (oops!) I decided to jump over a puddle and then tragically landed in mud and then slipped AGAIN… but anyway, we managed to get down the hill to the bus with a lot of help from each other and Alexis! (#teamwork)

We finally went back to our sweet homes and had a fantastic supper! Laurel, Noa, and I then chilled with our host family and had a really fun time with our host bro Carlos!
Can’t wait for another day in Santa Fe!!
-Susan Z.

June 30, 2018

Today we went to work a litle later than usual so we got to sleep in. We had a big breakfast that Zoyveda (our mom) made for us. We met at the cancha and then went to work. I worked on the concrete which was a lot easier than the first day I did it. We went home at 12:00pm to have lunch. At 2:00pm Najah and I met up with Sophie and Kate to walk to Iris’ house to learn how to make hojaldre. After that we walked to the cancha and went to some stores near by to buy souvenirs. Next, the whole group met up to play soccer with our host siblings. We went home at 6:30 and Yayo (our dad) showed us how he makes our dinner. We talked over dinner, during our dinner our dad Yayo made a toast to Najah and I. He wished us luck and prosperity in the rest of our trip and lives. He hopes we would come back and visit them and he made us promise we would call them as soon as we were back home. The whole time I felt like I was going to cry, Yayo and Zoyveda are the sweetest, most caring people I have met, I would have never thought I would come to love them so much in the short amount of time that I have been with them.

-Maria M.

July 1, 2018

Today was a bittersweet day full of smiles and tears as our time here in Santa Fe came to a close. We started our morning with our final time at El Carmen School. We finished up the projects and got so close to completing the concrete side walk, until we ran out of sand to mix another batch. After our few hours of work, the director of the school, Isaias, gave us all certificates and candy for our hard work this past week. It was so sad to say goodbye to the kind people at the school, but it was also very rewarding to see the rows of colorful tires as we drove away and reflected on what we’d accomplished. We then returned to our houses for our last lunch in Santa Fe. I had delicious corn tortillas with sausages, peppers and onions. It was so good! The food is definitely up there on the list of things I’m going to miss about this beautiful town. After lunch, we had quite a bit of time before we had to head to the despedida later in the evening, so we used it to spend our final time with our families. My host sister, Maura, took us to the league soccer game in the center of the town and we got a taste of Panamanian competitive soccer. We also saw tons of horses in the street from the San Pedro festival today. It was so busy and it was so cool to see how many people came to watch soccer games with friends and family. After the game, we headed back home to get ready for the goodbye party. After we were all ready to go, Kaitlyn and I headed with our host sister to the rancho to meet up with everyone for the despedida. Once everyone arrived, the music came on and the party started. We danced, ate delicious food, and enjoyed the night talking and spending time with each other. We ate so much! There was rice, potato salad, two kinds of chicken, pineapple, cake, and soda and all of it was so good! After our delicious meal, we danced some more and it was so fun! Then it was time for our thank you/goodbye speeches. We all took turns sharing a few words with our families thanking them for all they did for us and all we learned and experienced this week. There were definitely some tears, so many hugs, and lots of smiles. It is all going to be so hard to say our final goodbye tomorrow morning as we leave to head back to Panama City. The night wasn’t over after the speeches; we danced even more! We learned salsa dances and danced with each other, our host parents and host brothers/sisters. We were getting so into singing and dancing that someone had to turn off the lights and cut the music so we could talk about our plan for tomorrow. We then exchanged our final hugs with the other kids and parents we’d met over the week and headed back home with our families. It was such an amazing night! When we got home, our host sister read us a letter and gave her final goodbye since she has to go to school tomorrow and we won’t see her 🙁
It was so so sweet and I’m sad to have to say goodbye to her and all the other kind, generous, and selfless people of Santa Fe. I’m so thankful that all these families opened their homes and lives to us and I will never forget the people I met, things I experienced, amazing food I ate, and all the new things I learned about Panamanian culture and lifestyle. It was so incredible to live with a family for a week and I think it’s safe to say that we all feel like we’ve gained another family. I am forever grateful for the people of Santa Fe. Tomorrow morning is going to be so hard.

– Sofie D.

July 2, 2018

We started today’s adventure with a pretty emotional morning. It was our last morning with our host families. In my house, Susan, Laurel and I decided to wake up early to say goodbye to Carlos before he left for school. When we hugged him goodbye, both him and our host mom, Avis, began to cry. That’s when we all also started to cry too. We thought about waking up without the amazing aroma of Avis’ breakfast, or without spending an afternoon with Carlos playing soccer. We ate breakfast and reluctantly said goodbye to the beautiful home that still felt like home to us. Our host sister, Wendy, and Avis walked with us to meet the rest of the group. It was time to get on the bus, and time to say our final goodbyes. Wendy started to cry as we had to say goodbye. We had some great memories braiding and making friendship bracelets together. Avis told us how much she loved us and that whenever we come to Panama, their house is always open, and that we must visit her. We did our best to tell her how much we loved her and how much we appreciated everything she did for us. There was so much more we wanted to say, but the language barrier kept us from being able to. We wanted to say more about the forever lasting experience that they had made so amazing. Or how much their kindness, selflessness, and willingness to completely welcome us to their family, has truly impacted us. They truly made us feel like part of the family and we will all miss our families SO MUCH. We loaded the bus teary eyed and full of emotions as we waved our final goodbye. On the bus we all got to sit and look out the window at the beautiful view of the mountains as the warm community of Santa Fe disappeared behind us. We then listened to music for the rest of the ride. No matter what song it was, we found a way to dance and have fun. We stopped lunch and had some traditional rice, noodles, and empanadas. Shortly after we stopped at an artisan market. It was filled with all sorts of Panamanian souvenirs and cool trinkets. It was really cool to see different cultures infused with the everyday items we know, like bags, clothes, and decorations. We sang and listened to music for the whole bus ride and talked about our lives. When we finally arrived at the hostel, we put our stuff down and it was grocery store time! We all went to the store to get snacks for Kuna Yala since the food will be pretty limited there. When we got back, we had our salsa lesson! It was so much fun! She was so nice and really good at dancing. It was an hour of hard work and perseverance. At the end we looked like pros. We learned five parts of the salsa dance, three parts of bachata, and merengue. Then we had a pizza party and played with a puppy that was at the hostel. After that, we spent the rest of the night packing for the island, going over the itinerary for the next three days at Kuna Yala, and playing a fun game of Mafia. We are so excited for our new adventure beginning tomorrow!
-Noa Y.

July 3, 2018

Okay! So today was our first day in Kuna Yala. We all wok up pretty early this morning and got ready to load up and drive from the Hostel La Posada to the Kuna Yala islands. Before we got there, we were on a pretty intense road. It was super twisty and a lot like a roller coaster. Regardless, it was pretty fun, car-sickness and all.

We finally reached the shore of a beach where we took all of our stuff and put it in a boat, wrapped in trash bags to keep our stuff from getting wet. When we were all finally on the boat, we got to pick up some speed. The boat ride was brief, but really nice. The breeze felt amazing.
We arrived at one of many Kuna Yala islands, where we met a tour guide, Delfino, who was very nice and very patient. I know our group of girls can get a bit of much! Today, ironically enough, we were all busted and tired. Dramamine is strong stuff, but we all needed it for our upset stomachs. One of the side effects, unfortunately, was drowsiness and we were all half-asleep in the beautiful Kuna Yala museum. But, from what we can all remember, it’s a beautiful history and an amazing culture. After the museum and a quick lunch, we took a boat to our very own little island. It takes about 3 minutes to walk the perimeter of the whole thing. As soon as we get our stuff put away, we went swimming in the Caribbean Sea! We played mafia in the ocean and sort of just got to know each other a lot better today.

We ended the night with some rice and chicken (or rice and fish) and played a few games until we were all tired. Overall an amazing day. I can’t wait to get to learn more about Kuna Yala and the girls as we wrap up the trip. Hit me up for a massage, I’m in Hut 3.

-Najah Q.

July 4, 2018

This morning, we woke up to the rising sun peaking through the cracks between the bamboo of our huts, and the small waves crashing against the white sand shore. As I was lying awake in bed, I thought, “I could stay here forever.” I was quickly reminded of why I love the US when I put my foot down on the “floor” made of sand, and was inches away from a huge crab. Everyday is an adventure here in Panama! After a quick breakfast of eggs and hojaldre (nothing can compare to Avis’s recipe), we were off to Cartí once again. Cartí is unlike any place I have ever been! The island seems to be bursting at it seams – the land itself has a small area, but every square inch is packed with people! All of the small buildings are built the same way; with a large wooden “T” being the main support of the rooms. The structures are laid out in a grid-like pattern, only leaving space for narrow alleyways in between. To maximize the land space, many of the homes are actually built hanging over the ocean! While we were there, our mission was to complete a few tasks for the school. Kaitlyn, Maria, Susan, Najah and I decided to clean and organize the library, while Noa, Hallie, Sofie and Kate painted a logo mural on the front of the school. I didn’t know if a language barrier and a lack of time would prevent us from interacting with the children, but I discovered that they speak Spanish as fluently as their native Kuna language, and many of them were eager to use their basic English phrases. After a couple hours of hard work, a lunch break, and a lesson on making molas, the embroidery in Kuna women’s clothing, we headed home to enjoy the evening on our little private island. The only thing that could’ve made this day better is some 4th of July fireworks (no one else here likes this holiday as much as me!)

-Laurel F.

July 5, 2018

Newagombi! (Hello in Kuna).  Our day started as soon as the sun came up. We hung out in the sand, writing in our journals or just listening to the waves fall onto the shore. We quickly devoured eggs and the best pancakes ever for breakfast and got ready for our day. Today’s activity was one that we had all been looking forward to: island hopping. After putting on our first round of sunscreen and braiding each other’s hair, we were more than ready for a day of relaxation. Our first stop was an island named “Perro Chico”. As we pulled up in the boat we were all immediately in awe of the crystal clear waters and mile high palm trees. Eager to see what fish were roaming around the Coral and sunken ships, we ran into surprisingly warm water. After a few hours of tanning, snorkeling and reapplying sunscreen, it was time for our next adventure spot. In what seemed like the middle of the ocean, we stopped on a natural pool, sandbar. Completely submerged in waters this” sunken island” was home to starfish and the most beautiful views EVER! Eventually, the dancing and singing made us all a little hungry so we made our way over to an island called “Diablo”. Lunch was chicken, fish, and coconut rice and was delicious as always. Our last stop was diablo and I can personally say that was when I slacked a little on the sunscreen.  We had a blast snorkeling and swimming off of the “drop off”. Later in the day we decided we still hadn’t gotten enough of the beach so that where we’ll be sleeping tonight!

-Kate S.

July 6, 2018
It is crazy to think that this is the last journal entry I am writing. It felt like just yesterday, I was in this same bed in the hostel, writing in my journal about the first day! We had a pretty rough night last night and we spent most of the morning talking about it. We all brought our mattresses outside to sleep on the beach so we could star gaze together and wake up looking at the beautiful view. Shortly after we brought them outside, we started to feel small water droplets on our heads. We dragged our mattresses back into our beds in the huts and we soon not only realized it was pouring, but there was lightning and thunder that kept us up! We spent the rest of the day reflecting on the trip. We did activities that challenged us to think about what we had gained from it and how it affected us. We then all wrote letters to our future selves and gave them to the leaders. Finally, we picked names and started to make awards for each other before Kevin came to the Island with our lunch. It was time to leave our little paradise, and we waved goodbye as we moved further and further away on the boat. We got to the place where the cars came for us. We grabbed all of our stuff and dreaded the curvy road. The ride was about 2 1/2 hours. When we finally got to the hostel, we showered, and got dressed up for our final meal together.
At dinner, we all stuffed ourselves with crepes and shared all of our awards, when we came back, Asia gave us back our phones and we spent a bit before packing reconnecting with our lives. As our final night comes to a close, it makes me appreciate the amazing experience we all got to have. We got to immerse ourselves in the Panamanian culture around us and make some amazing friends. It has impacted my life greatly and I am so happy I went on this trip. I LOVE YOU ALL! It’s been real! ❤
-Noa Y.