As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the great aspects of Peace Corps Panama is the opportunity we have to work outside of our specific sector to help improve both our communities and the country as a whole. Though every volunteer has different priorities and desires for these secondary projects, many choose to work with GAD, Gender and Development.
Here in Panama there are opportunities to organize smaller community-based GAD activities such as health and youth education seminars, but there also several larger events held throughout the country each year. One of the longest running and most successful events is the National GAD Youth Camp. Teens in every village which Peace Corps has a presence are eligible to attend, and spots are highly coveted. This year I applied to be a Volunteer facilitator, and was really excited to be chosen to attend (along with two of my kiddos!)
There was a race to put on the opposite gender's clothing; I don't normally dress like this.
We attended a TOT (Training of Trainers) shortly before our annual Thanksgiving celebration where we learned all about the week-long seminar and how to facilitate our own sessions. While I was assigned to teach a charla on Values, other volunteers received topics such as Self-Esteem, Goals, Career Planning and Sexual Health.
Finally, the week of GAD Camp arrived and I hiked out of site at 6:15 in the morning (yikes!) along with the two teenage girls who had been selected to represent our town. After a very long day of travel, we arrived in central Panama at nearly 10:00 pm that night. To accommodate the growing number of applicants, separate weeks were held for different provinces this year, meaning that the camp we attended hosted campers (and volunteers) from Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, Veraguas, and the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle.
Though all of the seminars were undoubtedly important for the kids to hear, for me the greatest part of the week was seeing them come out of their shells and get to know people and places that were completely new to them. Before GAD camp, the two teenagers from my town had never even left their families or their provinces!
It was also really interesting to watch interactions between the latinos and the indigenous teens. Though racism and bullying is sadly common between the two groups in Panama, it was incredibly encouraging to see them genuinely curious about each other’s cultures. There was even a talent show act in which they started out with a very basic and traditional indigenous dance but later burst into a latino style break-dance!
GAD Camp was tons of fun- for the campers and the facilitators- and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to see our work in action. Working in agribusiness, I'm starting to get used to having to wait for results, so to see the bigger smiles and budding self-confidence after less than a week was a huge blessing and morale booster!