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Up the Chagres River

By KYRA STENSLIE

Peace Corps Response Panama, 2012
Peace Corps Paraguay, 2006–2008

During my Peace Corps Response service in Panama, I was warmly accepted and treated as a valuable member of my host community, just as I had been as a two-year volunteer in Paraguay. My experience serving in Paraguay was life-changing and certainly worth repeating. The fond memories and life lessons I learned from that original experience are what inspired me to apply to Peace Corps Response. I was excited to once again have the opportunity to utilize my teaching skills and share my enthusiasm for learning in a new and distinct part of the world.

As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Panama, I created and taught a basic English curriculum to children and adults in an indigenous village.  The Embera tribe I lived and worked with reside on the Chagres River and depend on tourism for their livelihood. My role was to help facilitate communication between the Embera people and the daily tourists that visit their village. This was done through my daily English classes as well as informal conversation throughout their work day with tourists.

Each morning I awoke to the peace, quiet, and beauty of living in a secluded native village on the river. I quickly adapted to climbing up and down the ladder of my host family’s raised hut each day, sleeping in the fresh air on the wooden floorboards, and eating the traditional meal of fried tilapia and plantains. The quiet mornings always transitioned into busy afternoons with the arrival of tourists to the village. The Embera shared their traditional music, dance, and artisan crafts with the visitors. Living on government land prevents this tribe from growing crops, which is why they rely heavily on the income they make from tourist visits each day. In a small isolated village only accessible by dirt road and dug-out canoe, the few hours of international tourism brought a very unique clash to the otherwise remote conditions.

In addition to my daily classes, I worked in collaboration with APROCO (Asociación de Profesionales Costarricenses), a Costa-Rican organization in Panama City. My APROCO counterparts were teachers who had spent the last several years working in the Embera village in order to help promote literacy in both Spanish and the Embera language. They requested a Peace Corps Response Volunteer to aid their education work by focusing specifically on English language skills. I transferred my lesson plans and materials to my counterparts for the continuation of my teaching English project in the community.

Throughout my three months, I enjoyed watching my students progress and increase in their confidence to speak basic English. I was impressed by their motivation and desire to learn as a way to improve their education and to better share their culture with others. Being a Peace Corps Response Volunteer is an unforgettable and extremely worthwhile experience, and a brief opportunity to help make a difference. Experiencing the joys and challenges of a new culture, forming friendships around the world and seeing things through the eyes of the host community are what make a Peace Corps Response service so memorable and unique.

Last updated Jan 30 2014

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