Panama Changemakers in Paradise (Session 2) 2017
July 9, 2017
Today we woke up after a long day of traveling, and today was the first day we actually got to see Panama because we arrived last night in the dark. It was really cool seeing the dynamics of Panama and the differences from the USA. We are getting used to hearing Spanish all the time and our brains are twisting around words but I know it will get easier.
We started off the day eating breakfast at our Hostel, La Posada, and then walked down to a nearby park for games and ice breakers. We are starting to get to know each other and form a solid group dynamic, as well as set some goals for ourselves. Our group is really excited about Learning more Spanish and we decided to make our breakfasts “Spanish conversation time”.
After a little rest in the afternoon we walked along the Cinta Costera to the colonial part of the city called Casco Viejo where we ventured around the historic sites. Our guide, Gonzo, showed us the development of the city and the changes it’s seen throughout its’ history. We saw statues of Simon Bolivar and other important governmental buildings too.
After our tour we got to eat at an intimate restaurant called René Café where we were able to try some different foods, some traditional Panamanian food and mixed with other food from different cultures. We definitely covered a lot in one day but can get some sleep and get ready for tomorrow and our first service project!
Jared and Bella
July 10, 2017
Hello! On our 2nd day of our trip the group ventured to the famous Panama Canal! We were able to watch a large ship pass through the Miraflores Locks and then continued on to watch an interesting video on the canal’s history. After a delicious lunch (with lots of rice!) we relaxed and took a break from the hot and humid weather. The 2nd part of the day was spent at a local non profit for children with cancer called FANLYC. We helped them prepare for their upcoming fundraiser by painting signs with a few of the children and other Panamanian volunteers. It was a good way to practice Spanish and get to know more people in the community. We finished the day by practicing balancing on the slack line at our hostel, and playing a game called Psychiatrist, which was hilarious and a great way to bond even more, all while downing a couple of cookies. I say it was a day well spent!
July 11, 2017
We started off the day with breakfast and a salsa class at our hostel. None of us were very good but Jared managed to invent a new dance called “the Quaid,” which was just shaking your shoulders and nothing else. After some down time we loaded up two jeeps and headed up the curvy and hilly road to Kuna Yala. It was a wild ride snaking through the dense forest, but our drivers were pros and nailed it. Once we arrived at the dock it was a short boat ride from the coast to our own little private island, Nubisidub. The island itself can’t be more than 50 yards across. If I stand in the water on one side I can see the water on the other side! After a little swimming we headed to dinner and prepared our lesson plans for the next day at the school.
July 12, 2017
Today we started off with a nice pancake breakfast made by Marcos, the owner of the island. Actually, his wife owns the island as the Kuna have a matriarchal society, but she was away in the city buying supplies. After eating we headed to another island for a short service project. We had planned a few mini English lessons and games for the elementary kids. It was interesting to say the least. We had to put our Spanish skills into high gear or else they wouldn’t understand us. While it was difficult, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. We could see that the kids were having fun and I think we all had a good time. After playing some basketball and soccer out in the courtyard with the kids, we headed back to our island and swam for hours. My day ended with a little bit of a sunburn! Ouch!
July 13, 2017
Today on day 6 we decided to take advantage of the great weather and go island hopping around Kuna Yala! After breakfast we took a boat to Dog Island, which seemed to be very popular for tourists. There was a sunken ship right off the coast so we took our snorkels out and explored all the different types of fish swimming around. After a quick snack and a few beach naps we took the boat to an island with a “natural swimming pool” which was a sandbar with water about 2 feet deep and we saw some starfish as well! Next, we took the boat to a family’s island for lunch. They served us whole fried fish, which were delicious. After eating we hung out and listened to music and played with their dog, Maria. Once we returned to our island we had some down time to nap in our hammocks, read, and go for another swim before dinner. We are all getting used to being called to meals by the conch shell that Marcos, the owner, uses when the food is ready.
July 14, 2017
Today, we ventured off of our private Kuna Yala island (called Nubisidub) and took a boat ride with Kevin, our guide, to Carti. Carti is the largest our of all the Kuna Yala islands and inhabits about 2,000 people. At the Council building we learned a lot about the Kuna religion, government, and culture from one of the communities top leaders. Here we learned that Kuna people sleep in hammocks and that they are even buried in them! I always thought hammocks were for relaxing but now I know you can literally take ‘em to the grave! Next, we visited the Kuna museum and learned about the symbolisms behind the designs of the various molas, which are traditional Kuna fabrics. For example, the hummingbird represents communication and alerts you when someone will come to visit. The crosses represent the traditional Kuna house structure, and the T symbol represents healing. For lunch, we enjoyed some delicious chicken and Kevin even bought us some fresh fruit as a gift. Next, we went to the school and taught a little bit of English and played some games. Simon Says was their favorite! We also were able to observe the kids dancing traditional Kuna dance. They were practicing for a national competition and wanted to perfect some of their moves in front of an audience. Visiting the island really opened up my eyes and made me realize how the world is a much bigger place than just white picket fences and shopping malls. The Kuna people truly believe that “if you lose your culture, you lose your soul.” After this enlightening visit, we headed back to our short-term home island and snorkeled around the waters to discover massive sea urchins. We then finished the day off with a home cooked meal and lied awake listening to the crackling of the thunder and lightening! What a day!
July 15, 2017
Leaving the Kuna Yala islands this morning. There wasn’t nearly as much remorse as one would expect when departing with a picturesque, straight – from – Hollywood, Caribbean island. Although we were in paradise for the last few days, we were all very excited to clean our hair and bodies in what is probably the most unsung hero of a human invention: the shower. After our lovely final breakfast, composed of pancakes and eggs, we drove thought the mountainous jungle towards our Panama City hostel. When first coming to the hostel, most of us felt like we were real ruffians for foregoing so much luxury. Now, we have an expanded appreciation for the beauty of electrical sockets, flushing toilets, showers, and other things we had previously taken for granted. For dinner we took a short walk to the chic restaurant, Crepes & Waffles. We had some exceptional crepes and waffles in a setting that was as sophisticated as that of a high-class restaurant in New York! Tomorrow we meet our homestay families after a 6 hour bus ride. To prepare for our home stays, we acted out various possible scenarios that highlighted challenges and funny moments that accompany language and cultural barriers. We are very excited!
July 16, 2017
Today, while uneventful because it was a travel day, it was also one of the most nerve-wracking days thus far. Today was the day we travel to Santa Fe to meet our host families. We had breakfast, consisting of fruit and cereals, and board of the bus for a 6 hour long drive. We watched Moana and stopped by grocery store where some of us bought peanut butter and others stocked up on candy, Some of of the best comforts in the world! We also had a traditional Panamanian lunch where some of us got fish, others chicken, and others opted for the vegetarian portobello mushroom dish.
After the grocery store stop it was time to read letters from our host families and meet them 30 minutes later. Every family had written each one of us a letter welcome us into their homes and telling us a little bit about themselves. When we arrive to Santa Fe our families met us in a little Pavilion and we were all introduced. It was terrifying! But they were all very sweet. Some families were very shy and it was hard to talk with them while others were more outgoing.
The first night was spent in our new homes, having dinner there for the first time. Jill and Ari made rounds to check on how we were doing. We are looking forward to the activities to come!
July 17, 2017
For anyone who would ever think otherwise, Mixing concrete is hard work. Today we went to a local elementary school called El Carmen and mixed concrete to continue a sports field Global Works has already started. Without having previously planned it, we also acted as a wonderous source of classroom diversion for the kids who were in school there. We mixed about three batches of concrete, switching positions every so often so we would not get too tired. The kids from the school were so nice and brought us popsicles.
After that we headed back to our home stay families for lunch and for some free time. One of our host dad’s, who is a chicken farmer, showed us around the farm. This was certainly an experience one could not have anywhere else!
Later on we had a meeting in preparation for our English lessons we’re going to be giving to the local school tomorrow. There was also time for some soccer!
After dinners in our respective homes, our whole group met up with all of our families and we had a fun night playing bingo with candy as the prizes. It was fun to all be together. Very excited for another day tomorrow!
July 18, 2017
Today we started the day by heading back for a second day at El Carmen, where we are working on building a cement playing field for the school. Because of the climate, their field is always muddy and it’s difficult for the kids to play year round. Today we made one giant batch of concrete by mixing together loads of rock, sand, and cement mix. We were able to complete about the same amount of the playing field as the day before. We also have 2 construction workers from the community who are helping us and they have been teaching us the proper technique, but they are still much faster at it than we are! After a few hours of work, we headed back to Santa Fe for lunch and a little relaxation time. We prepared for our English classes that we were giving later that afternoon in the school in Santa Fe. We felt more comfortable since we have worked in schools now a few times, and had solid lesson plans. This time we were able to watch each other teach which was interesting. One group focused on teaching body parts, while the other focused on parts of the house. The students did really well and were engaged and I think we could see our own improvement as well. After teaching we returned home for dinner and met up later to hang out with the whole group before heading to bed.
July 19, 2017
We woke up this morning to rain, which wasn’t a good thing as we were planning on going to a waterfall for the day! We had planned on helping a family who has lived by the waterfall for generations. They want to start an eco-tourism business in the area and needed help creating signs. But as we say, “cambio es parte del plan” or, “Change is part of the plan”. Instead, we had a scavenger hunt around town where we had to conduct mini interviews with Panamanians and find answers for some basic history questions and facts about Santa Fe. We felt a little scared at first to start conversations with people we didn’t know, but it got us out of our comfort zones and we practiced more Spanish, and we even learned a little more about Santa Fe and it’s unique cooperative. We also cleaned up litter in the main area of town before heading home for lunch. In the afternoon one of the host families taught us all how to make a traditional Panamanian treat called “ojaldre”. The mother has a workspace in her house where she has her own baking business. Ojaldre is like a sweet bread that is then fried and you can eat it with powdered sugar or syrup – everyone probably ate way too much, but you only go to Panama once, right?
July 20, 2017
This morning we completed our last day of work at the El Carmen school making the playing field. We also did some work in the garden, which some of the families were helping out with too. I had some fun with one of our little helpers, Diego. He was only about 12 years old, but he was running around all day, probably hauling more cement than we could! We also had some fun making dirt balls from the garden and he thought it was funny that I could juggle them. The director of the school organized a little ceremony for us and had certificates for each one of us. After saying goodbye we got ready for a fun afternoon at a local waterfall. When we arrived to the waterfall there was a shallow pool perfect for swimming. It was nice to finally feel relaxed and cool off after all the work we had done that morning! Unfortunately, Ben slipped on the rocks and we took him to the Santa Fe clinic where they took good care of him. He wanted Jill and Ari to document the whole experience while he was there. He’s all better now and will come home with a good story for his friends.
July 21, 2017
Today, after waking up and having a nice breakfast with our homestay families, we all gathered early at the town park to prepare for a fun few hours playing games with the children of the Santa Fe school. Día de Actividades went really well and it was fun to see all the kids having a blast. We played Tug of War, Spoon Races, Duck Duck Goose, and Blob Tag. After the events we all returned home tired and sweaty to eat lunch with our families. In the afternoon we met at Ben and Jonah’s homestay house to have a tour of the family’s organic farm. It was really interesting to see how much produce they were able to grow. Practically everything they ate came from their backyard- yucca, plantains, herbs, lettuce, chicken, and pork, not to mention the beauty that came from the variety of the plants. The owners of the farm, Yayo and Sobeida, were incredibly kind and funny. Sobeida made us fresh squeezed juice and fried bread, it was sooo delicious! After the tour it was time for dinner. Later in the evening we all walked to the Rancho with our families for our “Noche de Talento” Many people shared their talents, including singing, guitar, and even karate! A few kids from Santa Fe wanted to sing along to “Despacito” and it was really adorable. Our group preformed the Electric Slide for our home stay families.
July 22, 2017
Today we had a relaxing morning with our families. After eating breakfast we all hopped in a van and took a short drive to a nearby river. Although the river was quite cold and had a strong current, we were able to swim across with some helpful advice from our host mothers. After some swimming we all ate lunch together which was provided by our host mothers, and then danced to Bruno Mars and played volleyball with our families. We returned from the river in the early afternoon and spend some time with our families. Bella and I were able to go to the top of the mountain with our host father and see a beautiful view of the whole town! We got home in time to start getting ready for our “despedida” to say goodbye to our host families. All the girls went to one house to get ready and one of our host sisters did everyone’s hair while we finished up our speeches for the evening’s events. For the goodbye party each family brought a dish to share. My personal favorite was the “Pollo Dulce” or Sweet Chicken, which was a recipe that one of the moms had invented and now everyone wants her to make it at every party. We all had written letters to our host families in Spanish, which we took turns reading in front of the group. It was a little emotional even though we had only been here for a week. We danced the night away and headed home very tired and ready for bed. We said our last “buenas noches” to our families and headed to bed.
July 23, 2017
Time to leave Santa Fe! It was sad to say goodbye to our homestay families but we are all excited to see the beauty of Santa Catalina! The bus ride was long but we broke it up by making a few stops for snacks. For lunch we stopped at a buffet, which had you guessed it…chicken and rice! We watched a movie on the bus and stopped at a really pretty swimming hole too. Once we arrived in Santa Catalina it was high tide so we had to load our stuff onto a small boat and walk across the river to our beach bungalos. We had the afternoon to relax and swim. We were even able to rent surfboards and get some practice in before our official lesson in a few days. We had a fun dinner (the owners are Italian so they made yummy pasta!) at our hotel and went to bed with smiles on our faces. Shout out to getting a hot shower!
July 24, 2017
Today we did our final service project and it ended up being my favorite project that we did. Half of our group put up signs in the community that encouraged trash collection and being environmentally conscience. The other half of the group constructed garbage cans so that tourists from the islands would be able to put their trash somewhere. It’s amazing how long it takes to just make two poles stand up straight in order to being the construction of the trash receptacles. But once we were finished it looked really “pretty”, as our Panamanian helper, Luis, said. We all put our hand prints in the concrete and then snapped a group picture. We hope this is a project that the community can use for a long time. During lunch we surprised our leader, Jill, with a birthday brownie (and then again during dinner with a Nutella pizza) and then we hung out on the beach for the rest of the day. Some people swam while some surfed. I was trying to do a little bit of everything as the realization set in that we would be leaving Panama in a few days!
July 25, 2017
Today we woke up and had a very relaxed morning on the beach. Since we had some down time before lunch we wrote some enlightening letters to our future selves. After a delicious lunch at a family run restaurant in town, we headed back to our beach hotel and got ready for surfing lessons! While we were out catching some waves we saw some incredible storms rolling in but they were far enough away to not ruin our fun. The rain was refreshing and the sun setting was beautiful while we surfed. Right as we finished it started raining harder then we had ever seen and we had to sprint back to our little beach huts. We had a relaxing evening at the hotel and indulged in some coffee shakes. We chatted up one of the workers at the hotel and learned about his life in Venezuela. It was incredible to lean about his life and listen to his perspective. We were able to reflect about the day and surfing by walking down the beach and experiencing low tide. Our walk down the beach didn’t require a flashlight because the stars were so bright. We also saw some really cool glowing plankton when we kicked around in the water. Unfortunately the night ended when I stepped on a crab and it pinched my toe quite hard. But other than that it was a pretty phenomenal day!
July 26, 2017
Our second to last full day we traveled to Coiba Island on the Pacific coast of Panama. After a bumpy hour and 15 minute boat ride we took a hike through the rain forest and saw howler monkeys and a tarantula. We spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling (or in my case, napping) and playing with the hermit crabs. That swarmed us for our lunches. Adding on to the wildlife we saw, we stopped at the visitor center and watched Chapunchin Monkeys groom each other and tear open a coconut, which was really interesting and calming. On the ride home, some of us saw a whale and dolphins jumping out of the water right by the boat. To end the day and reflect on the trip, the group talked about the bonds we’ve made and what we’ve learned from our experience together. It was beautiful to listen to what everyone discovered about themselves and how they plan on changing their lives at home. Tears were definitely cried. Thank you all for this lovely journey!
July 27, 2017
On our last full day together we woke up early and had our last luxurious breakfast in our Oasis Hotel. We said our last goodbyes to the beautiful beach of Santa Catalina. We piled onto the bus and jammed out to music for the long ride back to Panama City. Once we arrived back to our home away from home, La Posada, we quickly showered and headed to lovely dinner, which overlooked the boats coming in to the harbor. We had made “plate awards” for everyone in the group and we were finally able to read what each person wrote for us. It was kind of like a mini year book , and it will be a great memory from the program. We finally came back to the hotel and packed up to get ready for the airport tomorrow!