Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why I Can't Leave Panama

Boquete is a very interesting little place, a town now, rather than a village. Because of its proximity to the States, and its tropical weather it has become a very popular place for Americans (not all, but most) to re-settle.

The people are incredibly friendly, everyone waves or says Buenos, the taxis and buses beep their horns, if you are walking,  cars will stop and offer you a lift.

There is a large focus on health here, organic or hydroponically grown veges, the fruits are amazing, as are the local markets with friendly Panamanians to look after you.  Every tuesday morning the community holds a market where you can buy (or sell) a cross section of wonderful things, from organic soaps, creams, fruit and vege, and  European breads, to bags, stunning (local made) jewelery, books and hand made cards.

The mornings are generally beautiful, warm and sunny, the tropical rain will come in the afternoons, sometimes not at all. The temperatures are lovely,  there is a  cool breeze because we are in the mountains, as opposed to Panama City, Santiago and David which are very hot and muggy. There is no Dengue Fever, Malaria, Yellow Fever, etc here, in fact even when in the rainforest, I haven't really been bitten by mosquitoes.

There is always something going on here, so depending upon the length of stay, there could be time for one to become involved with the community.

Once a month a volunteer organisation called Amigos de Animales, started by a most amazing woman Ruby, holds a free sterilisation clinic. I know of nothing like this elsewhere in the western world. People bring in strays, neighbours animals, indigenous animals, whatever, and a dedicated team of vets and volunteers will sterilise theses animals and nurse them back from anaesthetic thereby reducing the over population of the towns dogs and cats. If someone can pay, excellent, if they can't,  they are not turned away. If the vets find a tumour (very common here) or similar, they will remove that whilst the animal is under. It's amazing. On average the clinic will take care of 80 - 90 animals on the clinic day. This was such an amazing experience for me, I put off leaving just so I could be here for the next clinics.   Every Tuesday the mainstay volunteers for Amigos de Animales are at the local morning market, promoting, taking donations, and finding homes for animals up for adoption.

In Chorcha (about 1.5 hrs from Boquete) there is Alouatta Lodge, a rescue rehabilitation centre for Howler monkeys. The centre is run by Steve and Michelle, (Michelle is a Kiwi) and achance to get up close and personal with these wonderful creatures. I have helped Michelle as kitchen hand when she has tours through for lunch, as well as prepping and painting the first cottage they have built for people to stay. Again such an amazing experience. If there was a male out there who wanted to help with building, welding, laying in more paths for the forest walks, or similar skills, Alouatta would brings such rewards.

Jungla is a rescue centre about 15 minutes from the town square. Run by a minute dedicated woman called Dorothy her love and passion for the animals is amazing. She has created not only a haven for those animals who have come from abused circumstances, but also a little retreat for the Panamanian and Indigenous kids to come after school where they can hang out and be with the animals. We clean the cages and feed the animals and take 'up close and personal tours' as well.  She really needs people to help with new marketing ideas, and if there someone who was a whizz at putting together a very simple website, please come. You can stay at Jungla, if you wish, hang out with Manchita or Rocketta (two of the monkeys, really friendly) and just be in this amazing place.

Unexpected Moments of Magic Foundation supports Hogar Trister, the local orphanage. Here the kids will steal your heart away in a New York minute, they are clever and funny, love to learn and so love the volunteers who come to spend time with them. The environment is quite controlled to protect the kids, however, just very recently we were able to take them on an excursion to Jungla for the morning. We are hoping that has set a precedence. UMMF also organises volunteers to the local schools to teach English and crafts, however basic Spanish would be a re-requisite for this placement.  The other projects I have pretty much sought out for myself since getting here. There is also a new opportunity here for pre med, med or nursing assistance at the local Boquete clinic.

Apart from all of that I have spread my wings into some other areas, of course I have been able to do that since I have chosen to stay here for a while. The brand new local library is almost finished,  and at the moment we are trying to get over 9,000.00 books catalogued into the computer and onto the shelves in preparation for the opening.

Several times a year the Foundation de Integration (Disability centre) carries out a donation run for money and food to assist with the 120 families they feed each month,  and once a year there is 'Bid for Boquete',  a huge auction in February run to raise funds for four major charities here in Boquete.   The lady I am staying with is one of the main organisers for this event, so we have been photographing and cataloguing donated pieces for the auction as well as soliciting such, and I find I am now organising to produce a calendar of the Extreme Adventure guys, the proceeds of which will go to Bid for Boquete.

It is very easy to make friends here, I went up to Chorcha for three weeks, and when I returned to Boquete I had been missed. Its heart warming to say the least. It is an easy community to become involved with, and they are incredibly appreciative of anything you do. I wanted to go somewhere to make a difference, and here I feel as though I am doing that. To be honest, since this is my first time volunteering I had no idea what to expect, but I chose this placement because of the region, and the opportunity to learn a little Spanish.

I expected to be here for three months, so far I have been here for just over four, and with Alouatta Lodge, the 'Bid for Boquete' charity auction, and Amigos de Animales projects I will be applying for an extension to my visa.

Vicki Whittle

For information on becoming involved in the Panama Volunteer Program or to apply online go to