Volunteering in Panama

By Lark Newell

It is heartening and encouraging to see both ex-pats and Panamanians working diligently side by side, striving to make Panama a better country for all.  No resentment.  No rancor.  Only mutual respect and co-operation while working towards a common goal.

Throughout the country there are so many  ongoing charitable organizations constantly at work that it would be impossible to address them all in this one article.  Panama City has exceptional orphanages, just to name one.  David has a Teen Challenge recovery centre, also just naming one.

But the entire Chiriqui province is a constant charitable work in progress and I am so very proud to live amongst these caring, compassionate, and tireless people.

Boquete alone has Amigos de Animales to deal with the pet/stray animal population.  Citizens as well as kind-hearted veterinarians donate their time to find good homes for these animals, stop cruelty to animals, as well as holding free spaying/neutering clinics.

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There are selfless ladies here who spend hours upon hours knitting baby clothes and making quilts for the poor, another group which raises money in order to provide musical instruments so that the schools are able to offer a band program to those students so inclined, and the list goes on and on.

Bid 4 Boquete is a huge year round project that holds numerous events throughout the year and culminates in a huge silent auction.  The result of all of this hard work by so many volunteers is tens of thousands of dollars which are divided among all of the above organizations and more.

Sadly, here in Panama, as in every other country, we have a percentage of very poor, disadvantaged people.  Most of the ones here in Chiriqui consist of the local Ngobe Bugle from the Comarca.

Some of them have succeeded in obtaining gainful employment and a proper education, thus having an improved standard of living, but unfortunately many are miserably, heart-wrenchingly poor.  They reside in cement or wooden one room hovels devoid of electricity and plumbing, and consisting of dirt floors and bare essentials.  The fight to obtain enough food to feed their children is constant.  Many of their physical needs are just not being met.  But they are proud people who are unfailingly clean, happy, and industrious.  Often my eyes fill when I observe them lovingly interacting with their children.  Family is everything to them and that is rewarded by the joyful, boisterous, fun-loving behavior of the children with the snapping, mischievous brown eyes.

And here is where generous, kind hearted people like Olga Suarez and her like-minded friends come in.  They are a very special group of people, not under the aegis of a particular charity or organization, but a group of passionate souls dedicated to the improvement of the well being of the less fortunate citizens of Panama.

Prior to Christmas this year a letter was put forward online by Olga, requesting assistance.  There were many families who were in desperate need of food, clothing, and other necessities.  So she put out her call for help and, thankfully, it was forthcoming – in spades.  Here is an excerpt from the heartfelt thankyou letter she emailed later:

“We started with three needy families who were able to get…….a full year of tuition and supplies for school, toys, clothes, and food.  Ten kids benefited from that effort……For this thankyou many times over.  You are all angels for these people and they are forever grateful.  The look in the kids’ eyes was priceless………..Then we were pointed in the direction of two indigenous families who lived in below acceptable conditions.  One family lives in a makeshift home with tin walls and roof, and twelve kids to feed………Today Connie, my husband, and myself were able to deliver shoes, clothes, toys, and most importantly, food………”

“Mr. Charbit has very generously offered to fund an outreach program that will provide a healthy breakfast to the kids of the elementary school……..This will help more than one hundred and fifty children who must walk several kilometers to school, often in the rain without umbrellas or even shoes, and who do not eat breakfast……”

“Thank you all.  We are able to help out five families in need and make over twenty children happy this holiday season.”

And the compassion did not end there.  A few days ago another email circulated from our angel of mercy.  I quote, again in part:

“As you know, back to school in Panama is March 2nd and through the Charbit Foundation we have teamed up with……..the elementary school to provide assistance for those of extreme poverty and/or special needs……these children do not eat breakfast and often rely on school-provided lunches as their only meals.  Additionally they often lack shoes, clothing, and school supplies……….We have been advised that there are approximately ninety-one children who will be unable to buy uniforms, shoes, and school supplies so therefore, we reach out to you again and ask that you….help us help these children.  Any help you can provide in donations, notebooks, pencils, backpacks, socks, shoes, raincoats, etc. will be immensely appreciated.”

Happily, retirement allows so many of us ex-pats to participate in rewarding endeavors such as these.  Whether it be donating school supplies, clothing, and Christmas toys to the poor among us, attending and/or volunteering for other charitable events, or directing attention to these extremely necessary and worthwhile causes, we are at a time in our lives when we can make a huge difference.  In Panama it is indeed a labour of love.  Watching these kind, generous souls, Panamanians and gringos alike, laboring to provide assistance where it is desperately needed, is an experience beyond all others.

A bit more about Panama here!

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