Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mission Trip to Llano Grande

Once I returned from vacation, it was back to work! Literally, the morning after I returned, I drove out with 40 other students and 3 other professors to the interior of Panama to go on a 2 week mission trip. Before I tell you all about it, here is a picture of the super cute group I spent 2 weeks with!
Part of the 12th Grade from San Cristobal
Llano Grande was our chosen destination for our mission trip. This mission trip is something that the rising seniors of San Cristobal do every single year, but the students are split into 3 groups. Our group was the group going to a place called Llano Grande, another group went to a community called Marignon, and the third group went to Chiru. These are all communities within the interior of Panama, simply meaning that they are located in an area of Panama that is less developed and much more rural.

The mission trip as a whole was simply amazing to me, for several reasons. I'm still attempting to wrap my head around the entire experience, but I'll try to start explaining why it absolutely blew my mind.

First of all, it was led by the students themselves. They held a vote and elected a Coordinator, an Assistant Coordinator, a Secretary, a Treasurer, Head of Discipline, and several teams such as the Tool Team, the Health Team, and the Nutrients Team. These students and teams were in charge of making sure that everything ran smoothly within their respective areas, and to my amazement, they were extremely efficient, organized, and respectful towards one another and the professors.

I think the reason that I was so impressed was because for 2 weeks, they had to live under very different conditions. To help you imagine it, I'll make a list of things they (including the professors) had to do:
-After work every morning, they had to hand-wash their clothes out in a field
-There were no showers, so the latrines turned into the shower. They filled a bucket with water and bathed with what little water they had
-The bathroom didn't have electricity nor a sink so they needed to bring lanterns and brush their teeth/wash their face in the front of the school from a small water source
-The girls slept in a classroom on cots with 26 girls
-The boys slept in another classroom on cots with 18 boys
-They were only allowed to use their cell phones for 20 minutes each day to call home (that was my personal favorite and naturally most distressing problem for everyone)
-They were able to experience all the different forms and species of insects including scorpions! We saw a few of those in our bedroom - yikes! But mainly mosquitos and more mosquitos, and other bugs that like to visit during the night

Simply put, the living conditions weren't the most luxurious, but as always with mission trips or experiences of this type, it allowed everyone to really understand how privileged and blessed they are, and how easy it is to take for granted what you have. This definitely includes myself! As much as the students saw me as a professor who knew what was going on, I was much more like them in the aspect that everything was completely new to me and I certainly haven't been on that long of a trip like this!

But, before I analyze the whole trip, I'll describe a typical day and include a few pictures!

First of all, every day there is a different kitchen team which is made up of 4 students. This team has to wake up at 4:30 to start making breakfast for the whole camp. Breakfast normally took 2.5 hours to make considering it was for 44 people, and the rest of the group woke up at 6:30 in order to be ready for breakfast at 7.
Two girls on the kitchen team preparing chicken

Half of the girl's room. It was basically like one bed
After breakfast, work started at 8. The kids had to work from 8-12, which is a pretty long time considering they were working right under the sun. They did all kinds of work, depending on the day. Painting, cutting the grass and weeds with machetes (seriously), painting, mowing the lawn, cleaning the school, replacing and repairing water pipes, digging a hole to burn trash, and whatever other tasks needed to be completed. Even though it was serious physical labor, the kids always had a positive attitude and rarely complained about the work they had to do, which really amazed me! Here are a few pictures of them working:

Typical day in the field with a machete - terrifying

After a long day of work!
Also, every day there is another team called the Bible School team. This is a group of 3 students that teach Math, English, and do Bible activities (kind of like Vacation Bible School) for kids from the community. The ages of the kids ranged from 3-12. There was always a really great outcome, usually about 20 kids. That was my favorite activity to watch, because at the end of the day, the students (the 12th graders) were so good with the little kids but also always exhausted and admitted that teaching isn't an easy job. Here are a few pictures from the classes:

After work, we had lunch at 12. During the time all the other students were working (whether in the field or in the classroom) the kitchen team stayed in the kitchen for the past 4 hours (from 8-12) to prepare lunch. After lunch, at 1:00 the girls can shower. At 2:00, the boys can shower. At 3:00, the professors can shower. 4-5:30 is free time for the students where they either played soccer, volleyball, or just hung out, and 5:30-5:50 was time to call home! At 6:00 we had dinner, and after dinner there was typically a night time activity such as preparing a skit or doing research on the local community to learn more.  Then lights out was at 10:00, and at 4:30 am the next morning (for the professors and the kitchen team), it was time to do it all over again!

At risk of writing a novel, I'll try to sum this all up quickly! I still don't really know if I can express how much these two weeks had an impact on my life, and even more so how these students and the community had an impact on my life. Granted that the majority of the students have been going to school together since Kindergarten, I was still amazed at how well they all worked together, respected each other, and got along. At that age, it's very easy to have cliques and different groups, but all of these students were literally best friends. It was pretty amazing! They were so sweet and supportive of one another, and most of them knew exactly who they were and had specific goals for their future. At the end of the two weeks, we had a closing meeting where each student had to talk about how they felt about their experience and suggest improvements or generally make comments about the experience. They all had profound things to say and I can honestly say I could see a dramatic difference in their attitudes and their outlook on their lives after the two weeks.

I'm really glad that every year these students have the opportunity to do something like this. I really think everyone should have to experience something like this in their lives, so I think these kids are really lucky that they had this opportunity and were able to share it together. Here are a few more pictures to close out the blog, and as always, thanks for keeping up!
The students set up a closing party for the kids of the community

Including a piƱata!

One of the students - Michelle

Another student - Andrea

Nicole and Mariana

The 3 Profesoras

The Whole Team!

Panamanian Christmas and Costa Rica Vacation

First of all, wow! I am so sorry I took such a long hiatus from my blog. The months of December and January have been super busy to say the least, but in the best way! Since so much has happened, I'm going to split the past two months into two blogs, but I have a feeling it's still going to be a long one, so I'll try and post a lot of pictures so you won't get bored!

It all started when this lady came to visit!

I was lucky enough to have my mom come down to Panama to celebrate Christmas as well as tour around Panama a bit! It was a drastically different Christmas for sure, but we were still definitely surrounded by some of the most caring and fun people that have allowed me to be part of their family for a year. At my house, we had a day-long party where closest family and friends of my host family attended. I literally ate more that day than I probably should've eaten in a week, but that's just part of the tradition of the holiday. Actually, in Panama the celebrations start at dinner time on Christmas Eve, and after you eat dinner at one house, you go to another house and eat another dinner, and so on until midnight hits. Once it's midnight, there is an ABSURD amount of fireworks that go off and last for hours, and as I observed from neighbors, some people just never go to sleep and party into Christmas Day! Here are a few other pictures from Christmas Day:
Joseph and my mom - new friends!

Panamanian Parents :)

Panamanian mama meets real mama
One of the coolest parts about a Panamanian Christmas is that the festivities last much longer than a few days. Most people hold parties at their house and attend other parties until January 7th. However, since my mom was a newbie in Panama, we decided to do some touring around, so here are a few highlights from our adventures:
Showing my mom the school

Super beautiful view of the city from The Causeway

Really cool flower clock on the coast

View of the city from the rainforest

Touring the Panama Canal
After we toured around Panama a bit, we were lucky enough to be able to take a quick trip to Costa Rica to go see some of our favorite people, and oldest friends, the Errante family! The Errantes have spent the past few Christmas' in Costa Rica, so we though we couldn't pass this opportunity up since we were so close! It also was at the perfect time to renew my visa for Panama, so it was perfect.  We spent most of our time surfing since they are a little surfer family, but I'm pretty confident I spent most of my time face planting. Apparently surfing isn't something you can just pick back up :) Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of me falling, but here are a few other highlights!
Crater at the top of Volcan Poas 

Sunset at Nosara Beach

So glad I got to see this beauty!
Emmy surfing - had to post pictures of these surfer girls!
Casey surfing (notice how I do NOT have a surfing picture)

Errante and Carter girls
The holidays were super busy but also so nice and relaxing after such a crazy few months of school. Most of all, I must admit that it was so comforting to see family and friends. After meeting so many new people, doing new things, learning a new culture, and adapting to a new way a life, there's something so underrated and comforting about familiarity. I couldn't have been happier to see these cuties, and was beyond heartbroken to see them go. But, as soon as I got home from Costa Rica, the next morning I had to wake up and go on a 2 week mission trip with the 12th grade students from our school!

Stay tuned, that adventure will be featured in the next blog.

As always, thanks for reading and for the support. I hope everyone had a great time during the holidays!