Organization: Youth Challenge International
In the February of 2009 10 students traveled to a small indigenous community in Silico Creek, Panama .The community consisted of 40 families with a total population of approximately 200. While there, the team worked side by side with community members (who are part of the Ngobe Bugle tribe) on an eco-tourism project. The community had initiated this project after the depletion of fish resources and inflation had significantly affected their way of life. The team constructed a hut, taught English, played with the children, and helped with a community cleanup campaign. All projects were carried out using local methods and tools. These projects not only helped the community but brought two cultures together by sharing a common goal that made Ryerson students part of the community.
Food preparation was done mostly by the team as we took turns in pairs preparing breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was the most interesting. We had to do it in the dark and use only our headlamps while sharing the kitchen with creepy crawly things that eventually became our friends. We ate simple food like porridge, eggs and peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, while for lunch and dinner we had traditional food from the community consisting of rice, beans, yucca, and pejibaye. Pejibaye was very popular among the group and it is very good for your eyes! Melba, one of the community members who cooked us lunch, taught us how to make a special kind of dough that we could fry. That turned out to be delicious little savoury doughnut type buns. Yummy!
The team was also engaged in cultural activities such as hearing stories about the community’s unique history – by candle light no less! This was a particularly unique experience as Arcardio, a community youth leader, came to speak with us unexpectedly one evening after we had finished dinner. Yasmine our translator and in country group leader, was there to help. However, after she was ready to go to bed the rest of us wanted to hear more. Together with Arcardio’s basic English, our basic Spanish, drawings, maps, patience, and curiosity, we spoke for hours sharing stories about our cultures. We sat in awe as Arcardio shared his experiences growing up in Silico Creek. His stories were inspiring, unique, and deeply rooted in his culture making us appreciate and understand, and connect with him and each other in ways that are hard to describe. The team also went on amazing jungle treks to take photographs for the community’s website. We participated in many rituals and outings that highlighted this unique and beautiful community. We even jumped off a cliff edge during a river excursion! And lived!!
On the last day of the project the Ngobe-Bugle community hosted a ceremony for us, in which the children preformed a traditional dance that we all eventually joined in on. After, we took lots of group photos as the community came out for our farewell. They cooked us a lovely dinner-with chicken! Meat had been void from our diets since we left Canada, and for some of us the prospect of eating meat was exciting! As we were waiting for the bus to arrive that would take us on a ten hour journey through the Panamanian jungle, the entire community came to see us off. Arcardio started a name game/chanting circle as we waited, which created a tangible energy filled with excitement and sadness. You could feel two cultures coming together through music and rhythm. This was the closest we had been all week, and now it was time to say good bye. Words cannot express the beauty of this moment. None of us will ever forget it! The bus arrived, the chanting and singing stopped, and it was time to go. When we got on the bus, a silence swept over the team as we quietly reflected on what we just experienced. And still now we are reflecting on just how significant it was for all of us.