Monday, October 5, 2015

From Panama City to Changuinola

Panama City

Street Art in Panama City
Map of El Parque Metropolitanio
When I arrived in Panama City on September 14th I was driven to San Lucas Episcopal Cathedral. While at San Lucas I was able to reunited with Elly Withers. Elly is the other YASCer stationed in Panama. She is stationed in Panama City and her mission trip is focused on Promesa, a sustainable agriculture program that works with the indigenous people of Panama. Elly arrived in Panama a week before I did, and she was able to show me around. We hiked trails at El Parque Metropolitanio, ran up Gorgas Road to the huge Panamanian flag waving on top of the mountain overlooking Panama City, attended a Central American Independence Day party put on by the ambassadors of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and attended mass at San Lucas Cathedral. While I was in the city I was able to sample foods from all over Central America. The real purpose of my week in Panama City was to familiarize myself with my new country, meet people, and learn some of the history of Panama and the Episcopal Church in Panama. Two leaders in the church were responsible for our orientation. Walter and Eric spent a couple of days showing us around the city and with the help of historical documentaries they were able to teach and discuss with us the history of Panama.


On September 22nd I traveled to Changuinola. Changunola is in the northern part of Panama in a region known as Bocas del Toro. It has the feel of a small town, spread out over a large area. I am living in the rectory of La Transifguración. La Transifguración (The Transfiguration) is one of two churches that I will work with to help build youth programs. The other church is San Miguel Arcangel (Saint Michael the Archangel) in Guabito. Guabito is on the northern border of Panama next to Costa Rica. In the Bocas region there are four churches, and while none of the churches has a priest, they all have very dedicated parishioners. The lack of a priest has meant that all four congregations have created a culture of working together as a region to support each other. When one church needs to raise money, plan a party, or spread news, representatives from all four churches meet and discuss the business at hand. Along with La Transifguración and San Miguel Arcangel there is also San Jorje (Saint George) in Almirante, and Santa Maria (Saint Mary) in Bocas Island.
Rectory at La Transfiguracion

After my arrival in Changuinola I went right to work. I immediately met the senior warden of La Transifguración, Eunice Vassle. She took me to a meeting where the HIV/AIDS group that I will work with began planning a raffle to raise money for the organization. Eunice also took me to Nutre Hogar, the malnourished children’s center in Changuinola. There are around 15 children ranging from newborn babies to 7 years old. The malnourished children are dropped off at Nutre Hogar and nursed back to health. There is a small, dedicated staff of volunteers that works at Nutre Hogar. This past Saturday I went with some of these volunteers and walked the streets of Changuinola asking for donations for Nutre Hogar. Since Nutre Hogar has been in existence since 1988 many of the people in the local community know and respect the work that Nutre Hogar does and were eager to give what they could.
Street Performance in Changuinola

One thing I noticed while working with two churches and two different non-profit organizations is that there is a serious need for volunteers. Any programs I design or participate in will need to have volunteers in order to be sustainable after my year in Panama is over. The best volunteers are young adults who are in either high school or university. They are best because they have more free time and energy to help. In order to meet more young adults who can potentially help with some of these programs I joined the local rugby team. Over the next two months I plan on meeting as many people as I can. I will form as many relationships as I can in order to form my own network here. As I continue to meet people my Spanish will also improve. I can understand when people speak to me in Spanish, but speaking the language is still a bit of a challenge. While I am working on building my network, I will slowly start to meet the children of the community. La Transifguración has a field where many children come to play after school. I plan on beginning to form a youth group by meeting these children and offering them water while they play soccer. I will use that opportunity to begin conversations with them. From those conversations I will eventually learn what programs are needed or would be of interest to the children.

There is much work to be done and I will try to keep this blog updated weekly.

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