After a three plane rides and a full day of travelling, we were finally at our destination: Bocas Del Toro, a series of islands just off the coast of Panama.
I chose to spend my March Break making a difference, along with 29 other students and six teachers from my school, Dunbarton High School, in Toronto. We worked alongside Give & Surf, a non-profit organization whose mission is to give back to the community of Bahia Honda, a local community within Bocas Del Toro.
Give & Surf is an organization that empowers locals in the Bahia Honda region of Bocas Del Toro, Panama through education and community development. While helping out, volunteers do various jobs such as teaching the students of Monso Chi Escuelita—the preschool—or working hard keeping the school looking the best it can. Give & Surf is coordinated by Neil Christiansen, a New Jersey native with the ultimate dream of giving back.
We spent a total of 12 days spent in Panama, with five continuous days at the worksite. Our main project was installing two natural septic tanks at two homes within the community. We also worked on various small tasks around the school, including cleaning and organizing the library, rebuilding the walls of the preschool, building a fence around a community garden and 104 stairs out of mud and wood. The hard working conditions such as intense downpours and heat could not stop us; we completed each task with smiles on our faces, reminding ourselves we were doing this for the children of the island.
Give & Surf organized various activities for us to participate in to give us the total island experience. Some were relaxing, such as a day snorkeling and tanning on a catamaran. But others were terrifying for me: after work one day we toured a bat cave and, needless to say, walking around a dark cave with hundreds of bats flying around and spiders as big as my hand is not my thing. We also toured a local chocolate farm, and of course, surfed the waves of Panama.
This experience really opened my eyes up to how fortunate we are to be living in Canada. Seeing the children of the school smiling even though everyday they have to paddle more than a mile across the bay to get to school or that they have to go to a school with no chairs or air-conditioning, was truly uplifting. Even though we worked on minor tasks throughout our visit, I know we made a difference for the students in Bahia Honda—just like I know they made a difference for me.