“I found out about Cambio Creativo from an NGO festival that I had attended a few weeks back and after speaking with some of the volunteers, I decided that I was interested in volunteering as well. Rose, the co-founder, informed me that they often had people come in and do workshops for the kids, so i decided why not?! I had been working at an after-school program the fall before and I was interested in how a program like this might work in such a different community and country.
So off I went on a bus to Colon, Panama. I had no idea what to expect as Rose lead me through the tall marshy grasses to the remains of the old barracks. Cinder blocks were crumbling, there were few doors, and graffiti covered the walls, yet in between all of the craziness were clothes hung to dry and kids running around playing. She lead me to one of the barracks and introduced me to a man named Mikey. Mikey is Jamaican and was a former drug dealer turned preacher who now housed about 5 teenage boys who had no where else to go. He fed them, made sure they went to school and taught them about what is right and wrong.
Although the exterior resembled a slum, the interior of the barrack was filled with hope and warmth. The walls were painted aqua blue and adorned with collages and various drawings and paintings made by the children that attend the after-school program. It was honestly an inspiring place. And although my living situation was basic , I felt comfortable and safe.
The next day was the first day of my workshop. My plan was to teach about local Panamanian animals, since I had been living in the jungle for the last couple of months as a primate researcher, I’ve constantly heard local children confuse different species of animals. No tigers do not live in Panama. We started out by going on a little nature walk- we found this amazing little pool filled with tadpoles and examined each one until we could outline the different stages of development. For example, at first, one of the kids didn’t believe me that a tadpole becomes a frog, so I showed him a tadpole that had already developed legs. His face lit up as he put it all together; he was absolutely adorable.
After our walk we headed back to the classroom and colored in various sketches of animals that I had printed before arriving. We then cut the animals out and placed them in the location where they would naturally live on a poster we drew to represent the various levels of the ecosystem. I certainly agreed with the kids that it was super cool that iguanas can live in the jungle and can swim- that is incredible!
On Day 2 of the workshop we decided it would be fun to make water filters with the kids. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be drinkable water, but it would be water they could use to wash clothes. Making the water filters was a ton of fun and only required two coffee filters, some cotton balls and an old water bottle (which are plentiful with all of the trash on the streets outside). And they really did work! We could put in dark brown water and it would come out almost completely clear!
My time volunteering for the Cambio Creativo was very insightful and enjoyable. Although I had worked at an after-school program before there were a lot of similarities and differences that I did not foresee. For example, kids will be kids, it doesn’t matter where they are in the world. They want to explore and have fun- the key is to squeeze a little learning in there too Also, in the Bay Area in California we are privileged with having endless amounts of school supplies where as everything really had to be well planned in Colon. A trip to the grocery store to pick up supplies was not an easy feat. It was also a really fun experience to plan and execute a little science workshop- I hope it is something I can continue to do in the future. Thank you so much for all of the warmth and excitement Cambio Creativo!”