As most of you know, I studied business in college and was really excited to work in business education and development here in Panama. As most of you also know, now that I'm in Panama I almost never work with business-related stuff. Well friends, all that is starting to change!
In addition to the women's baking and business classes that I've been holding, several great opportunities have recently surfaced which have given me awesome platforms on which I'm able to work with my nerdy passion of business education. This past week I helped lead a regional Agri-Business Seminar where we taught about 25 rural farmers about group organization, personal finance, basic marketing principles, and basic legal principles.
It was a really interesting and educational experience for all us- facilitators included! Though I never would have considered giving a training on simple marketing themes a challenge, I was definitely thrown a curveball when I realized that not only were many of them lacking in basic education, but some people as advanced as store owners- store owners!- had never even used a calculator.
The four-day seminar was held in my friend Brennan's site, which is about an hour and a half away from mine. Sadly, Brennan developed an awful skin infection and wasn't able to be there during the seminar, but he was such a trooper and had everything organized and prepared for us. Participants were housed with host families during their stay and though host family interactions have become almost second nature for us as volunteers, this was the first time many of the participants had ever spent the night in a place without their families. The way that they warmed up to each other and enjoyed sharing both companionship and knowledge was great to see
Now that I've done the sessions with the help of a few other great volunteers, I'm excited to bring them back to my community, since their truly is such a great need for this kind of information and training. I can't even tell you how many times people have asked me how I know how to make my money last until the end of the month. There's a saying here that goes something like, "When there's food, eat it." Though I don't want to lead you to believe that people in my area are starving, as they most certainly are not, there is a tendency to immediately use up any extra resources they have in an unplanned way. For example, when I would buy TONS of groceries for my host family, they would cook nearly everything I bought the first night and leave us with a huge feast that was never finished and then following days with nothing but the boiled green bananas that they harvest for free. Same goes with money- when it's there, they spend it on things they don't necessarily need because that's what they've always done.
I'm so grateful to have had such a great opportunity, and none of it would have happened without Lila, an incredible volunteer who is finishing up her term as Peace Corps Panama's Agri-Business Coordinator (and will be working towards her MBA at an Ivy League this fall!) I definitely learned a lot and am especially excited to share another bit of related news....
I've been selected to serve as one of this coming year's National Agri-Business Coordinators!
Though we're still working through what exactly that means for me, I know that I'll be co-coordinating with another great volunteer located much closer to Panama City, and that we'll be in charge of training the incoming volunteers in Agribusiness themes this June, establishing and maintaining relationships with Panamanian agencies, helping other volunteers with business trainings in their sites, and potentially leading bigger seminars like this one.
It looks like I have a lot of work throughout the next few months and as odd as it may sound, to have a packed work schedule is exactly what I wanted!
*P.S. If while reading the title of this post in your head you also automatically sang "...to defeat the huns" then we're on the same wavelength.