Monday, July 8, 2013

Chocolate Grows on Trees and I got to Work with Them.

As part of our Pre-Service Training Program, each future volunteer is matched with a current volunteer in their sector and spends a week getting to know what life is like as a volunteer.  

For my volunteer visit, I got to go to a small indigenous village in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  The volunteer I was matched with works in improving cacao production and management among farmers in her town, but she also works with tons of other projects in education and agri-business. 

Elementary school boys using machetes to clear space for a school garden

Getting to her site was a little rough.  From Panama City we took a 7 hour bus ride to Davíd, where Peace Corps had a hotel room for us (Air conditioning!  Internet!  Running water!).  After a relaxing night there, we had another 3.5 hour bus ride before meeting the volunteer for a 40 minute super strenuous hike uphill to the village.   

The view from my volunteer's house

The people there are Ngobe-Bugle, an indiginous group that speaks both Spanish and their traditional language- Ngäbere.  It was really cool to hear them go back and forth in between the languages, and I'd love to learn Ngäbere if I were to get placed in an indigenous site!  

While I was there we worked on building a school garden and also helped a local cacao farmer take inventory of the trees in his finca.  Basic concepts like inventory and record keeping aren't always utilized among low-income farmers in Panama, so teaching them to implement these important tasks can make a huge difference.  For example, the farmer we worked with estimated that he had 600 cacao trees, but after counting them we realized that he only had about 350.  Without a proper inventory count, any budgeting and planning he does would be completely off.  

The local elementary school

Cacao Trees

Cacao pods and the fresh chocolate that her neighbors brought us 

Our advisor will be meeting with us over the next few weeks to process our visits and understand what we like and don't like so that she can place us in sites that we can be productive and happy in.  I'm really excited to see where I'll be spending the next two years, and after this visit I'll definitely be crossing my fingers for Bocas!  

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