Winter 2020 El Bochinche



PCPF Updates

PCPF SUPPORTS COFFEE PROJECT IN COCLE

PCPF is proud to support PCV Rachel from Cocle as she helps her community establish a small coffee business. Rachel is working with the local coffee cooperativa to obtain a piladora (huller) which will help the group add value to the commodity they are selling and take the first steps in establishing a coffee processing plant. Rachel is incorporating training on money management, goal-setting, registries, and leadership in the project to ensure the success and sustainability of the business. SUERTE Rachel! Learn more about Rachel's project.


BUD KEITH FUND PROVIDES ON-THE-JOB TRAINING FOR THE BLIND

In 2015, PCPF’s Bud Keith Scholarship Fund for the Blind and Panama’s Patronato Luz Del Ciego received a request from Panama’s vocational training agency, INADEH. Would we provide training for three blind people to enable them to continue working for the agency? One was a manager who suddenly lost his vision in a traffic accident, one was a mail room clerk whose vision had gradually deteriorated, and one was a blind psychologist whose fingers no longer permitted her to type. We accepted the assignment and with that began our on-the-job training program.


The goals are not just to improve the income of the trainees but also to add to the meager ranks of productive blind people in Panama, pioneers in the workplace who may inspire and open doors for the students we sponsor. Getting an employer to hire a blind person is hard; it's easier to convince employers to retain skilled employees who have become visually impaired after they have proven to be productive workers. Several of the training sessions were requested by employers who did not want to lose employees with failing eyesight.



That was the case with Banco Nacional employee Gustavo Quintero, who lost his vision to diabetes. The Patronato provided him with mobility and computer training in hope of enabling him to retain his job. Because of his work schedule, he wasn't able to attend computer classes during the day, so we funded training outside normal work hours. As a result, the bank kept him employed. Gustavo performed so well after his 2017 training that Banco Nacional asked the Patronato to provide additional training that would enable him to handle more responsibility.


We paid for that additional help, which enables him to use the bank's special software to review and approve loans.


In 2019, we provided on-the-job computer training to eight people. After our training, a blind employee of chicken and egg producer El Toledano became an inventory manager. A receptionist at a clinic was able to keep her job despite the clinic’s switch to computerized patient records. A telephone operator at the Radisson Hotel was able to stay in her job despite deteriorating vision. An attorney with failing sight kept his job by learning to use special software to prepare legal documents.


To learn more about the work of the Bud Keith Fund, or to donate, click here.



SHOW YOUR LOVE FOR PCPF

This Valentin'es day, don't forget to show love to PCPF. If you are buying a gift on Amazon, please consider using the PCPF Amazon Smile Link. A percentage of your total is donated to PCPF at no additional cost to you.



News From Panama

PANAMA CELEBRATES 20 YEARS SINCE THE CANAL TRANSFER

At midnight on December 31, 2019, Panama celebrated 20 years of sovereignty over the Panama Canal and Canal Zone. That same day in 1999 marked the final step of ending US military occupation of the territory surrounding the Panama Canal and transferred its operation to the Panama Canal Authority. At the celebratory ceremony climate change and its implications for the Canal was a major topic. Read more about it here.


PANAMA WORKS TO PREVENT CORONAVIRU

As much of the rest of the world has done, Panama has taken caution by conducting monitoring of over 200 travelers entering the country by way of China. As of now, there are no reported cases of Coronavirus in Panama. China air has also stopped all flights to Panama for the month of February. Read more here.


US GOLFER WINS PANAMA CHAMPIONSHIP

All eyes in the golf world were on Panama this week as US golfer Davis Riley won the Panama Championship tournament at the Club de Golf in Panama city. It was his first ever professional tournament. Read the whole story here


VIENEN LOS CARNAVALES!

From February 25th through 28th Panama welcomes the 2020 Carnavales celebrations! Get info on festivities and view photos from last year.


GUAU! THE MOST EXPENSIVE COFFEE COMES FROM PANAMA?

Yes, it does indeed. In 2019 a pound of Geisha coffee, harvested in Boquete Chiriqui, sold for over $1,000. Although the geisha variety is grown in other countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Brazil, the unique environmental conditions of Panama have made the taste of the bean grown there the most recognized among them all. Coffee Review ranked it #1 in the world, earning 98/100 points, in 2019. The coffee industry bring more than $200 million to the Panamanian economy every year. Read all about it here.


Peace Corps Panama Updates

G85 IN SERVICE TRAINING (IST)

Congrats to the Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) and Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) volunteers of G85 for successfully completing their first 5 months of service! The group enjoyed their Reconnect IST with their fellow PCVs and staff members by having that necessary check-in time, brushing up on technical skills, and preparing themselves for their return to site and the next few months of service.


READY OR NOT, HERE COMES G86!

Group 86 comprised of Teaching English, Leadership, & Lifeskills (TELLS) and Community Environmental Conservation (CEC) volunteers is gearing up for their arrival to country. In a few weeks their Pre-service training will begin.


Keep up to speed with the latest from Peace Corps Panama by following them Facebook and Instagram



50 Year RPCV Reunion

There is still time for you to join an RPCV reunion in Azuero organized by Bonnie Birker. Here is what you need to know:


When: Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020

Planned activities:

  • Friday – 4:00 pm: Welcome and dinner at Gran Azuero Hotel in Chitre

  • Saturday –11:00 am – 2:00 pm: A matanza-type event at the Guararé Bongo Farm for host families and friends from your sites (that includes food, drinks, music, and dancers, etc.) The cost will be $10-$15 per person. Please reach out to Bonnie for the exact location

  • Saturday 3:00 – 7:00 pm: Updates on interesting projects that RPCVs and PCVs have done/are doing (i.e. Las Minas cacao project, Jake Slussers work with STRI/Los Asientos, Azuero Eco Project in Pedasi, La Laguna computer center and the Pajaro Jai in Mensabe).

  • Saturday 7:00pm: Dinner with local PCVs and hearing their stories

             

Lodging: 

Special price at the Gran Azuero Hotel in Chitre (reservas@hotelazuero.com) but you are free to chose your own location.


Please reach out to Bonnie (bonnie.birker@gmail.com) to let her know if you can make it and if you have any questions about the event.


RPCV Spotlight- Peace Corps: An Inflection Point

by Tricia Akers

As we enter a new decade, I reflect on the past 10 years and think of how a decision in 2010 has shaped my life since. Deciding to serve in the Peace Corps is the inflection point in my life.


As a college senior in 2010, I sat talking about post-graduation volunteer opportunities with my dorm’s graduate student resident assistant, Mirjam Wit (RPCV Panama 2005-2007), who was getting her MBA at Notre Dame. I was nervous about the two-year commitment required for Peace Corps. She assured me that the second year is your opportunity to deeply connect with your community and to actually achieve the community’s goals. Little did I know that her reassurance, my discovery of the Master’s International Peace Corps Program at the University of South Florida, and my final decision to apply for Peace Corps would define the next decade of my life.


The following Fall, I began the coursework component of the Master’s International (MI) Environmental Engineering program at USF. And, I promptly found the love of my life. A fellow MI student, he shared the same passion for learning about different cultures, promoting social justice, and applying engineering skills for good. Study and coffee dates defined our first nine months of dating until the moment came when I was assigned to serve as an Environmental Health (EH) Volunteer in Panama and he was assigned to serve as a Health Volunteer in Madagascar – over 9,000 miles apart.


Arriving in Panama in August 2011, I quickly learned what I could convey in a 160-character text message to Madagascar, because $0.20 per day for an international text was a big expense on a Peace Corps budget! Understanding that daily text messages would have been a luxury for pre-2010 Panama PCVs or any PCV without cell signal, I still felt disconnected. In turn, I found support in the 15 other Group 69 EH PCVs, my closest PCV on Isla de San Cristóbal, and in time my community members. The relationships are what endured.

My time in Panama is a blur of latrine construction, agriculture and business seminars, and health charlas punctuated by eating fresh cacao brownies with Kim Woods (RPCV Panama 2010-2013) in San Cristóbal and watching action movies dubbed in Spanish with community members on my laptop (when my solar panel allowed for a full charge). When the Gender and Development (GAD) budget did not allow for my community’s applicants to attend the 2013 GAD Camp, I called on Bocas del Toro and Comarca Ngӓbe-Buglé PCVs to collaborate for a second GAD Camp. Hosted by fellow G69 Jacy Woodruff’s community, the GAD Camp brought together 44 youth for the leadership seminar covering self-esteem, self-image, goal-setting, and sexual education. I cherish the relationships formed during my time in Panama, but my years there are now only a part of my Peace Corps experience.

After completing the MI program, Peace Corps even led us to Atlanta. With his non-competitive eligibility in hand, my then fiancé, now husband, accepted an offer at the EPA’s Region 4 office, the workplace of 37 RPCVs. Then, I leveraged my Peace Corps experience into a position at the CDC. In Peace Corps, I was building latrines, and at the CDC, I have been studying latrines. I transitioned from hauling bags of sand and gravel to build composting latrines alongside community members in Panama to processing composting latrine samples (i.e., poop plus ash) to evaluate the treatment efficacy of composting latrines in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.


In the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at the CDC, I had the pleasure of traveling to Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Kenya to train laboratory staff and to evaluate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) technologies. With each new country I visited, I brought with me my Peace Corps sensibilities – cultural respect, curiosity, and my “new food protocol.” Sitting down to lunch with the lab staff, I followed my new food protocol: wait, watch, and imitate. Learning how to gracefully scoop Ethiopian shiro (chickpea stew) with injera (sourdough-risen flatbread) reminded me of sitting down to my first bowl of sancocho with chicken neck – always best to wait, watch, and imitate!

Home to one of the most active Peace Corps affiliate groups, Atlanta’s Peace Corps community is where we have found our Atlanta family. As an Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (AARPCV) board member since 2016, I fill our calendar with AARPCV events, but nothing tops the community-building potlucks. At each AARPCV potluck, we go around in a circle to do introductions: name, Peace Corps country, years of service, current line of work, and maybe an interesting fact. At each of the past two potlucks, a newly-returned RPCV has introduced him/herself and described how AARPCV donated to their Peace Corps Partnership Program community project.


Their comments reassured me that my repetitive Facebook posts or emails to AARPCV to advertise punny t-shirts (e.g., an elephant image with the caption “Peace Corps Africa: Everywhere Else is Irrelephant” or a zebra or lemur image with the caption “Peace Corps: Earn Your Stripes”) are not in vain. AARPCV’s fundraising and donation decisions here have a meaningful and positive impact on a community thousands of miles away.


In 2018, RPCVs at the CDC in Atlanta officially formed the CDC Peace Corps Work Group (PCWG). The PCWG's mission is to promote collaboration between CDC and Peace Corps by bringing the unique perspectives of PCVs and RPCVs to CDC in order to further the goals of both agencies. CDC PCWG activities have included communicating through monthly newsletters, enhancing recruitment of RPCVs to CDC, maintaining CDC RPCV databases to assist with agency-wide responses, mentoring early career RPCVs at CDC, serving as liaisons between CDC and Peace Corps, and organizing special topic events and social events. My main role over the past two years as Professional Development Chair has been to improve the recruitment of qualified RPCVs to CDC, because CDC leadership recognizes that RPCVs enrich CDC’s workforce.


In the midst of all of this, my husband and I welcomed our son into the world. And, our Peace Corps services influence how we parent and our desire for him to see the world, appreciate cultural diversity, and express authentic gratitude. While only a toddler, he has a passport with multiple stamps. And, when we can’t leave the country, we will explore the rich diversity of Atlanta. In terms of gratitude, we are currently working on simply saying “thank you,” but we hope that our volunteering serves as an example of how to express gratitude.


As we move into 2020, I am extremely grateful for my Peace Corps service and the decision 10 years ago that became the inflection point in my life. In 2010, I had no idea that Peace Corps would lead me to find my husband and other lasting Peace Corps friendships, to call Atlanta my home, to pursue a career at the CDC (where I would regularly use my “new food protocol”). In 2020, I will continue to fundraise for AARPCV and PPCP projects, and I will continue to advocate for CDC and Peace Corps collaborations to advance the strengthening of health systems globally. 2020 will bring more opportunities to grow our Peace Corps experience.


Tricia

Announcements

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.


Resources

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 .

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