Washington D.C. RPCV Event: Inauguration of the REACH Living Theater
On September 22nd, the Peace Corps community will be center stage for the opening of the REACH living theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Activities for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, families, and friends will be hosted all day long with special screenings of "A Towering Task" in the afternoon.
PCPF has secured six (6) tickets for the Sunday, September 22 at 10am entrance slots which includes exhibits such as the PC Oral History Project, replica of a volunteer's home, a reading nook, augmented reality stations that offer a glimpse into volunteers' lives, a trade show, and a language learning activity. These activities will covered the multi-layered histories of the Peace Corps, countries of service, the impact of the agency's volunteers, and other fun interactive learning and sharing opportunities. You can learn more about the event here.
If you would like to attend, please email Ina Hysi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets will be given on a first come first serve basis. While weekend tickets are sold out, check out the Kennedy Center site for weekday tickets.
BUD KEITH FUND TRAINS BLIND IN JEWELRY MAKING
From May through July, six blind Panamanians learned to string beads into necklaces and bracelets. PCPF’s Bud Keith Scholarship Fund worked with the Patronato Luz del Ciego in Panama to help fund the instructor and materials. The Patronato selected the participants and provided sighted volunteers who supported the students. The gentleman in the photo above is the instructor, who is also blind. He’s been making jewelry for a living for five years. We hope that at least some of the class follow in his footsteps.
Members of the class are applying for artisan licenses and plan to try selling their work at crafts fairs in the fall. If some succeed in marketing their products, we will support them with training in more advanced jewelry making, such as wire wrap.
To learn more about the work of the Bud Keith Fund, or to donate, click here.
News From Panama
In the province of Los Santos, community members have voiced concerns over increased swells and their effect on eroding and potentially dividing the island of Isla Caña.
As Panama prepares to host the international event in 2022, plans for sports arena construction projects are underway.
Over the last view months, the district of Arraijan has suffered greatly with limited to no access to drinking water due to maintenance issues within the system.
Peace Corps Panama Updates
In the Thick of Training Season- A big congratulations to our recently sworn-in SAS and WASH volunteers of G85, and a thank you to all who joined us via Facebook Live to watch the ceremony. This first week of September, our CEC and TELLS teams are enjoying the technical week of IST with G84, watching them hone their skills in the field. G83 also celebrates their mid-service mark this month.
Share Your Memories
PC Panama Needs You!: PC Panama has worked very hard this last year to develop its social media platforms. For its very popular "Throwback Thursdays", the office would like to feature RPCV photos from their service. You can send your photos to DDPT Daniel Hinkle at email@example.com.
RPCV Spotlight: We show up. For if not us, then who?
by Annie O'Donnell
As a PCV in Panama, at some point you found yourself doing something completely wild. A job you probably never would have done in the US. Like, convincing people to stop eating turtles. Or fixing the aqueduct that served the whole town (no pressure). Or teaching teachers how to teach when you’ve never taught a day in your life. You knew you weren’t completely prepared, but you talked to some people, learned some things and figured; well, if not me, who? And you went for it. We don’t always know what we’re in for- but we go, and just showing up is 80% of life.
Just showing up is what landed me in El Paso, TX last February to volunteer with Annuciation House, a non-profit who has supported over 50,000 migrants and counting. I had quit my job in Seattle and was gallivanting across SE Asia with plans to travel until I ran out of money (old habits die hard) when I saw the Facebook post about needing Spanish speakers at the border. They were looking for people who could be endlessly flexible, an ability to jump in with little instruction or explanation-so it’s no wonder they were reaching out for RPCVs. After traveling solo for two months, being “needed” was appealing and so was having a sense of purpose again so I got the first flight out of Hanoi I could find, and 21 hours later, made it to El Paso.
Casa de Oscar Romero, the shelter I would be at for the next two weeks, was 5 minutes from the airport, and just down the street from Customs and Border Protection (CBP)- the idea that people could be dropped off after leaving detention, and an easy hop to the airport. Very bare bones- the shelter contained 2 small front offices where volunteers would do intake of every family that was dropped off and answer 6 constantly ringing cell phones to coordinate travel plans with the migrants sponsors in the US- each person had a destination and someone who was helping them to get there.
Of the thousands I met, I am choosing to tell about Miguel. He reminded me of a tio from my Peace Corps community, Caisan, and perhaps you had one like him, too. Quiet and stern, Miguel portrayed all the signs of a hard-working farmer who had seen tough years over his lifetime. He was thin but strong, skin tanned from spending his days in the field. Arriving at the shelter with only a child’s purple backpack, Miguel kept his eyes averted as we explained to the newly arriving group that they were no longer detained, that here, they were welcome- that we would be helping them coordinate with their sponsors for the final leg of their journey.
The intake interviews we do as volunteers are pretty quick, about 15 minutes with each family, but can last hours to get through big groups. We send people off to get a hot meal from the dining hall, take a shower or go through the clothes closet for a clean change while they wait. Miguel preferred to wait. Holding onto the backpack, he sat patiently, never looking up, grunting responses to his neighbor talking non-stop next to him. Finally, I called him in.
I welcomed him with a smile and introduced myself in Spanish. He gave me a gruff ‘mucho gusto’ with a firm handshake. Left with little time before the next group would arrive, I launched into the interview. I wrote down his name, where we he was coming from- El Salvador. I asked Miguel if he was traveling alone when finally he looked up at me briefly. I noticed the calcium spots in his eyes- signs of years of staring into a hot sun. ‘No’, he said, ‘I was traveling with my granddaughter. She is 6. They separated us at the center and I haven’t seen her in 3 days. I asked where she was, and no one would tell me’. He looks down at the backpack and tries to gently smooth out the straps he’d been gripping.
I knew about this process. I learned the hard way, flying out of an intake interview earlier in the week, enraged that an uncle had been separated from his nephew- sure that this was another mistake, an oversight of the inundated CBP. But this was the system. CBP rules were that any child under 18, traveling without their legal guardian would go to a special holding group where a designated group would make contact with the family. The idea was that this would be safer for the child, in the case that that they were kid-napped. A rule perhaps built on good intention, or perhaps to try to dissuade people from crossing.
Miguel had been warned about this standard, too. He knew the risk, but was bringing his granddaughter to the United States where she would be re-united with his daughter- her mother, for the first time in 3 years. The only thing I could do for Miguel was to offer him a phone call to his daughter. As the phone rang, Miguel gripped and smoothed out the purple backpack nervously. I tried to give him as much privacy as I could in the small room. I was as uncomfortable as he was.
I heard his daughter answer. “Anny, soy yo”- his daughter shared my same name. He immediately asked if she had heard about his granddaughter. She spoke for a long time. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but her voice sounded calm, explaining to her father; yes, she had heard from her- someone was looking after her, no, she didn’t know when the child would be allowed to travel to her. Anna had done her homework- she knew what would happen to her daughter from accounts of mothers who had gone through the same. She had discussed this with her father, she told me later, but nothing would prepare him mentally for when it would actually happen. He had spent every day of the last three years with the child, caring for her in the mother’s absence. I never asked what made Anna decide to leave her child, I figured it was a calculated and tough decision made out of desperation and hope.
With so little space at the shelter, we encouraged people with situations like Miguel’s to continue with their travel plans- to go to his daughter while waiting to hear about the child. It’s difficult, but most people go. Miguel wouldn’t. He didn’t know where his granddaughter was, but as long as he knew she was somewhere in that town, there was no reason that would justify him choosing to travel even further from there.
It would take 3 days to convince Miguel that the process would be long, and that he should travel. He came to the office every day- morning and night, waiting silently until someone could call Anna for him, to find out if his granddaughter was on her way to her mother. In the meantime, Miguel, not used to being idle, busied himself fixing everything he could in the shelter with limited tools and resources. He unclogged drains and toilets- over burdened by so much use, or fixed leaks in sinks, reinforced loose hinges. When he couldn’t find anything to do, he would sit on his small cot in the overflow room (the 150 bunks were often full) and stare at the backpack.
Anna finally convinced her father to allow her to buy him a plane ticket to Virginia. From his face, I could tell it was one of the hardest decisions Miguel had ever made. That day, Miguel finally loaded into the van with the rest of the group going to the airport. I gave my usual spiel- explaining to people about their transfers, ensuring them that if they got this far, they could surely navigate the airport, that they would be fine- they would get where they were going. Most had a sense of joy and relief, and a bit of angst for the journey. Miguel looked defeated. He managed a smile and thanked me for my time with him. I wished I could assure him that all would be alright, that he would see his granddaughter, but I knew better than to make those promises.
I have to have faith that Miguel and his granddaughter were reunited, but I will never know the outcome. The way things are these days, there’s a lot we will never be allowed to know. Will there be an end to this immigration crisis? Will families like Miguel’s ever be able to stop worrying? Will there be a time that my family in Panama will be forced to flee? If so, what will I do?
The current political affairs, the dire state of the environment, the hate and racism that still permeates our culture- we are living in a world of uncertainty. But as RPCVs, we do know one thing- we can show up. We’ve done it before- we showed up once as strangers in a strange land, we were welcomed, and we did something. Even if all the turtles aren’t saved, or the aqueduct has fallen into disrepair, and all our lessons have been forgotten- we showed up.
Most of us are back now. But we are still capable of showing up. Whether it be in El Paso, or in your job as a civil servant, or as a volunteer in myriad issues for needy beings. Or as the person in the room that advocates for those not being considered, or someone who steps in when someone is being treated unfairly- those are some ways that we have to continue to show up- because it not us, then who?
Volunteers are still needed at Annunciation House. For more information, visit https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/.
G65 CEC Caisan, Chirirqui
Regional Coordinator, Azuero 2013
Calling All Azuero RPCVs - 2020 Reunion in Panama
Azuero RPCVs mark your calendars for February 28 2020! Fellow RPCV Bonnie Birker is leading an effort for a reunion in Panama to remember our stories (of 50 years ago for some of us), see old sites and friends in host villages, and get updates on Azuero today. More details will be coming in the coming months but if you would like to attend, please contact Bonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tentative plans are to gather the group on Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday the 29th, 2020. (the week after Carnival) and to hold most of the activities in Azuero – using Gran Azuero Hotel in Chitre for lodging and around Guararé for a gathering point. Potential activities include:
A matanza-type event at the Guararé Bongo Farm for host families and friends from your sites
Socializing with stories and picture shows
An activity for homenaje with the 2 governor
Updates on interesting projects that PCVs have done/are doing (e.g. Las Minas cacao, Los Asientos, Azuero Earth Project in Pedasi, and update on Pajaro Jai in Mensabe/Las Tablas).
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Third Goal Activities
Do you continue to be involved in projects in Panama? Are you sharing your Peace Corps experience with other? We would love to feature you in the RPCV spotlight! Please fill out this this Google Form and let us know about the wonderful work you are doing.
Looking for RPCV Career Support?
Check out the PC Headquarters Career Center online or in person to help support you in finding your perfect career path post-service. Check out their web resources here .
Considering Grad School?
As RPCVs we are eligible for life to apply for grad school financial support through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship. Find out more about participating universities and their respective programs here .