The Panama School where our community service will take place
I’m a little surprised by the poverty in Panama. I think it might be worse than what I observed in Moshi, Tanzania. An American company has bought 70% of Bocas Del Toro land in the hopes of attracting snowbirds normally bound for Florida. The problem is that they care little about the indigenous people who take pride in the small, sparse communities that they have created and have no lofty hopes of being saved by Westerners who believe that their way of life is envied by those who don’t have it.
Many of the Americans who are vacationing on this island have no knowledge of its native inhabitants, and they simply don’t care. They are willfully ignorant, and believe that a Western lifestyle is some sort of salvation. I beg to differ.
When I travel to sub-developed countries I am continually reminded of how over-stimulated Canadians are. They demand instant gratification, with little thought given to the consequences of their selfish actions. If they are not entertained for each minute of the day, they quickly become bored. I’ve been plugged in to the Internet off and on since I arrived, but I wouldn’t argue that it has made my life any more efficient, in fact, I’m kind of a slave to the technology that we insist makes our lives easier.
The other adults who I am travelling with are never without their smart phones or tablets, and it’s been challenging eliciting any stimulating conversation from them at the dinner table because they would rather keep in touch with their cyber universe. I am quick to point out that they will return home in a week, and to be present in their current environment. But they don’t listen to me.
Education on Bocas Del Toro is sub par to say the least. This is definitely a hyper-relaxed area of the country and children tend to go to school for only two hours a day, and if it rains, classes are cancelled. We’re in the rainforest after all. Teachers educate a class of multiple age groups, so the students don’t get the specialized attention that they need to advance, but then again, why bother — there isn’t a lot of opportunity.
The view from the school
What strikes me most is how quiet, reserved and proud the Panamanian people are. They prefer being by themselves and are naturally skeptical of outsiders, especially those intent on exploiting their land in the name of Western values.
We take for granted how free our children are to be goofy, to develop their own personalities. To be spoiled. In countries like Panama the children begin work at a young age and never have the adolescence, that now in places like Canada, extends well into our 30s.
The playground, built by volunteers like us
It’s a scary world we live in. And it’s frightening how so many individuals in North America and other developed regions believe that they are somehow more valuable based on where they were born, as though perhaps they did something right in a previous life. Most countries achieved their wealth by less than ethical means, sure they have economic freedom (and even that is arguable considering global debts), but do they have morals?
Though I am a believer in democracy, I think it’s incorrect to assume that little office factory workers, and their lack of perspective, is worthy of emulating, or that it will benefit those in countries where the land is more valuable than currency. I think we have a lot to learn about being still and respecting the earth, and Panamanians can lead us in that lesson.
For now we’ll continue to visit these countries and snap our pictures and pretend that we’re worldly.
My vegetarian meal