By Elías Santos Dubón, educational programming volunteer
My name is Elias, and I am from Honduras. Coming from a Central American country known for its hardships, I always had the impression that Panama was a rich country with a famous canal and economic luck. Although some of that turned out to true, what I never imagined was that in spite of the wealth, there are many places in Panama that are suffering the same hardships I see in my own country. I remember the first day we arrived in Colon on a bus from Panama City. Having seen tall buildings, clean streets and modern transportation, I was shocked to see the other side of the Canal in Colon with dilapidated buildings and littered streets.
Despite the fact that Colon was a forgotten city, I quickly learned to see beyond its physical appearance and see the great cultural wealth within its people and communities — something that seems to be lacking in its sister city of Panama. That feeling remained with me during my first days in the community of Coco Solo.
Surrounded by one of the largest ports in the Americas, the reality of the community of Coco Solo strikes a stark contrast to the millions of containers probably filled with enough goods to supply all the country’s citizens. In spite of the abandoned and crumbling buildings, when you enter Cambio Creativo’s center, the space where we work with the children, you feel transported to another world — the reality on the outside is one thing, but inside there is shining hope. During December and January I had the chance to be surrounded by youth, working with them in different workshops, such as crafts, recycled gifts, and holiday cookies. More than that, we shared and made an impact on each others’ lives.
Even though it was challenging to work without much infrastructure or support, the children’s energy motivated me to continue collaborating and helping develop the educational program. With support and inspiration from Michael Brown and Jesús Blanco we created an after-school program, hired a teacher, and conducted outreach to parents and students in Coco Solo. Then, in March we launched the program in Buena Vista.
Now, it’s been more than a month with the new program and I feel great pride with the progress and small successes each of the students, the program itself, and the staff has achieved in such a short period of time. The children who showed up from the beginning and gave me a hard time, have now united into a group that is inspiring other children in the community.
The transformation in their behavior and attitude to become leaders in their classrooms has been very inspiring for me. Although I feel sad to leave, I am certain they will be successful come the end of the school year and in the future. The months Elly and I have collaborated with Cambio Creativo have been educational and worthwhile. While in Panama, I met people with a big heart and vision for helping and supporting those most in need.
Thank you Michael, Jesús, Diana, Orlando, Melissa, Beatriz and the members of the Board of Directors for giving me the opportunity to be part of a great change which has changed my world perspective.