Our blog features hot-off-the press Few for Change news, facts and figures about Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé and tips from our exploits in the DIY philanthropy world.
On Saturday, February 23, 2013, members of a remote Panamanian village gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of 16 high-achieving middle and high school students participating in Few for Change, a scholarship program founded in 2009 by alumni of a study abroad program in Panama coordinated by the School for International Training (SIT). Four Few for Change volunteers were on hand in Quebrada Guabo, 250 miles west of Panama City, to congratulate the students, who would not be able to continue their studies without this critical financial assistance.
Few for Change Co-Director Brooks Winner and his fellow volunteers conceived of the program after a semester studying in Panama through SIT. They saw it as a way to give back to the communities and families that had hosted them during their studies, and have raised nearly $20,000 over the past four years, awarding 19 three-year $1,050 scholarships for students. These awards cover educational expenses for the students, such as tuition, food, clothing, transportation, and books. Few for Change serves multiple communities in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, a semi-autonomous Indigenous state in Panama, similar to a US reservation.
Written by Katie Clay
“It smells like Panama.”
This was Tim’s first observation as we exited Tocumen airport in Panama City. It was true, it did smell like Panama and it felt so good to be back.
Until this year, Gillian, one of our volunteer staff had been working in Panama and right before the school year started, she would host an “entrega” ceremony to present the students with their scholarships. This year, Gillian is working in Guatemala, but we really felt that we needed a presence at the entrega ceremony so Brooks, Lily, Tim and I decided to make the trip to Panama to meet our students for the first time and present them with their scholarships. (more…)
My standards for twelve year olds are low. I base them off my own career, which was quite grim: fights with my mother over PG-13 movies (all my friends were allowed to see Pearl Harbor in theatres, why couldn’t I) and drama over my choreographed dance routine for my sixth grade graduation. If you were to look back at my schoolwork from this time, you would notice that I still hadn’t mastered my “theres” and certainly didn’t know how to spell definitely. So, though I know that we do fund a handful of twelve year-olds, I tend to think of all our students as sixteen, the age where I might have felt capable of applying to a scholarship program or been allowed to walk hours to school by myself.
What cultural blog isn’t complete without a musical post? I have to say, attempting to cram all of my favorite Panamanian music into one blog post is a little daunting. I may just have to write a second installment for all the great tunes I can’t fit into this post.
The music of Panama is as diverse as its people–mestizos, blacks, Chinese, Ngöbe-Buglé, Emberá Wounaan, Kuna, Naso Teribe– and the foreign cultures that have played a role in the country’s history–Spanish, Caribbean, African and American influences. Whether it’s salsa, merengue, cumbia, plena, saloma, tamborito, mejorana, reggae, típico (folklórico), reggaeton, or la murga, Panama boasts incredibly talented musicians and a rich musical history. Carnavales, the largest festival of the year is a smorgasbord of all of these different genres. During the day, more traditional tamborito, típico, and la murga is heard throughout the streets. As it transitions to night, the sounds of salsa, merengue, cumbia, plena, and reggaeton take over in the dance halls. (more…)
Few for Change Co-Director Gillian Locascio returned from Panama last spring after spending over a year working for a community health organization in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé (or Ngäbe-Buglé, as it is sometimes spelled). In this post, she reflects on the protests that she witnessed while in Panama (featured in a recent post about the Barro Blanco dam) and why she has decided to serve as a human right accompanier in Guatemala.
February 5, 2012. Panama.
The roads had been closed for five days.
In Bocas province, cars were stranded along the roadside without gas.
In Panama City, supermarkets were running out of food.
In Chiriqui, trucks lined the highway, filled with rotting vegetables.
The protesters were demanding the presence of President Martinelli for dialogue regarding proposed mining and hydroelectric projects in their state.
Instead of dialogue, before dawn on February 5th cell phone service was cut. The national guard rolled in with armored vehicles and helicopter backup to unblock the highway.
Up in the mountains where I lived, we sat glued to our radios, trying with the rest of the country to decode what was actually going on, from all of the rumors and official stories.
One dead. . . three dead. . . two dead. . . the protesters were armed. . . no, it was the police who were armed. . . foreigners had been taken hostage. . . no, they were in refuge waiting out the conflict. . .
For three days, the confusing stream of half-information continued.
Finally, on February 7, a truce was called. The protesters withdrew from the roads. The government released the scores of people—including minors, women, injured persons—that they had held in jails throughout the country. The long process of negotiations began.
For the next few months, human rights organizations worked to untangle what had happened. They walked the hillsides talking to communities, tallying any wounded, imprisoned, violated, or missing. They talked to various groups and scoured video and picture evidence uploaded onto YouTube.
Somehow, in the midst of all of the misinformation and propaganda, it seemed of utmost importance to get the facts right.
The first installment of the new Cultural section of the Few for Change blog!
This month we’re featuring a recipe for hojaldres, a Panamanian fried bread that’s similar to fried dough, but is usually eaten at breakfast time (yum!). We made hojaldres at our staff retreat in July, and relished the memory of eating fried food before noon. We even invented a new breakfast sandwich, a cultural fusion celebrating the finest in both Panamanian and American cuisine. Behold, the Pan-American: a strip of bacon nestled inside folded hojaldres. ¡Disfrutalo!
In the latest from the Few for Change blog, Co-Director Brooks Winner discusses the impact of hydroelectric dams on the Ngöbe people and how they have fought to protect their communities.
Clean. Renewable. Green. What images come to mind when you hear these words together? Wind turbines spinning slowly above rolling hills? Solar panels on a rooftop, collecting energy from the sun to power a home? An electric car rolling silently down a city street? These are the types of symbols that many in the U.S. have come to associate with renewable energy; pastoral, idyllic, beautiful images that evoke visions of a better, brighter future free from polluting fossil fuels.
Now let me run another image by you: a valley, recently flooded, filled with water that covers an entire village, leaving the tops of thatched roof houses as the only signs of the community that once thrived here.
Doesn’t sound so green to you? For the people of the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, this is the reality of renewable energy. Giant hydroelectric dams such as the Barro Blanco dam are popping up throughout western Panama, destroying entire communities and ecosystems. Rather than conjure images of hope and opportunity, these renewable energy projects leave paths of destruction. Instead of brighter futures, they bring shattered pasts and unsettled presents.
The one thing I’ve learned living in Panama is to expect the unexpected. Since first studying abroad in Panama with SIT in 2007, my Panamanian experience has been a combination of various trips. Following undergrad, I returned to work for a Panama-based NGO and spent January 2009 through February 2010 in an isolated river valley 50 mi east of Panama City. I returned again to this same area in 2011 for three months to lead trips for American high school students into the rainforest and spent my free time with my Panamanian novio. Jorge, more commonly known as Cholo, and I met in 2007 when I first arrived in the village of La Zahina to conduct field research and teach English following the end of my study abroad semester.
We’ve maintained a complicated relationship, not seeing each other for up to a year at a time and speaking only sporadically, but always reconnecting when I appear in Panama. When I left in 2010, things were uncertain since I knew I was enrolling in a graduate program and expected not to return to Panama for two years or so. All that changed late one night in July when I received a panicked phone call from Cholo’s niece Yesica. After repeated questioning, it finally sunk in what she was telling me. “Se le cortó la mano.” His hand was cut off. Five words I definitely didn’t ever think I would hear in my life. (more…)
When I visited the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé last summer, Few for Change Co-Director Gillian Locascio and I stopped by the health center so that she could look for a doctor she needed to see about some research she was doing. The doctor wasn’t there, but a nurse was, as were a waiting room full of women and children. My mom and I quickly used the bathroom, and also quickly discovered that there was no toilet paper or soap. This was considered a very nice facility, and one of the larger health centers. One of the great things about health care in the Comarca, however, is that it is all free of charge. This is huge for the many, many people who would be completely blocked from receiving services if they had to pay. Despite this, health status in indigenous regions of Panama is much lower than in Panama as a whole. For example, infant mortality is almost twice as high in indigenous regions than the national average. Average life expectancy is also significantly lower in indigenous regions (PAHO).1 (more…)
Back in May we announced via our Facebook page (like us!) the beginning of an exciting partnership between Few for Change and The School Fund. Now that we’ve been working with them for a few months, we’ve decided to tell you a little bit more about the organization here on our blog. Their innovative approach to person-to-person fundraising will allow Few for Change to reach more donors and more students and is a great example of do-it-yourself (DIY) philanthropy done right.
About the School Fund
It’s pretty awesome!
Few for Change + The School Fund = Awesome!
We at Few for Change are especially excited about our partnership with the School Fund because it provides our current supporters with an even more transparent and interactive connection with our scholars, while also expanding our reach through the School Fund’s broad network of partners and supporters. Our donors can now choose to sponsor a student directly through our page the School Fund site, or the give to our general fund, helping expand our scholarship fund and add new students to our program. To check out our page on the School Fund’s website or sponsor a student visit www.theschoolfund.org/fewforchange.