Saturday, April 25, 2015

Change You Can See- Women's Empowerment in Panama

One of my favorite ladies in my community, Diana, is an outgoing mother of three girls.  Her daughters consistently rank at the top of their classes, and she serves as Treasurer of our community agricultural society.  She's smart, adventurous, and a proven family and community leader, so I chose her to attend a project management seminar early last year.  In a group of nearly 30 counterparts, she was one of only two women in attendance.  When another volunteer asked her what inspired to be a woman leader, she responded, "In high school [approximately 15 years ago] I went to GAD camp."

Gender and Development, GAD for short, is a worldwide Peace Corps initiative that is working to promote gender equality and understanding and has made incredible progress here in Panama.  For the past year I've worked as the National GAD Treasurer and I've really loved working in our gender and youth development programs.  Change is slow, especially in international development, but the transformation I've seen in participants of our week-long Health and Leadership seminars is incredible.  We host yearly seminars for youth (like Diana), women, and men.  In each week, they receive targeted sessions that teach them how to set goals, have healthy relationships and lifestyles, understand basic finance, and become leaders in their communities.  

Attending a GAD Youth Camp was one of my favorite experiences as a first year Peace Corps volunteer, and this year I was able to participate in another of our awesome events- The Healthy Women's Artisan Seminar.  

During the week, selected artisans from all over Panama traveled to the conference to hear the basic GAD sessions, learn new artisan techniques that they can use to earn an additional income, and break down some serious cultural stereotypes.  

For many women, this was the first time they had ever left their province, traveled alone, or interacted with women from outside of their close-knit communities.  At the beginning of the week most women, especially the indigenous Ngäbes who tend to be looked down upon by their fellow Panamanians, were quiet and reserved.  We did our best to make the seminar a safe and comfortable opportunity for the women to relax and get to know each other as people, and sure enough, it worked.  
By the end of the week, the ladies were spending hours at a time teaching each other artisan techniques, sharing their cultures, and talking about the lives and families they had back home.  The impact was immediately visible, and that's something you almost never get to see as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  

On the last night some of the women requested to say a few words about what the experience had meant to them and one of my favorites, a shy indigenous woman from a very reserved community, proudly and emotionally told us how much the experience had meant to her.  She said she was excited to share what she learned with her community, thanked us as volunteers for giving the women this incredibly unique opportunity, and ended just as she was about to get teary eyed.  

Moments like that are the reason that I'm here.  They don't happen often, but each one will be replayed in my mind over and over again, reminding me why we do what we do.  

On another uplifting and girl-power note If you have a moment (and some Spanish) you should watch the video below about three Panamanian indigenous women who traveled to India to spend 6 months learning about solar technology that can be used in their communities.  As an extra fun fact, these ladies live only a few hours away from me and are friends with some of the GAD seminar participants!

"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength." —G.D. Anderson

1 comment:

  1. Good morning, how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because through them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are very small countries with very few population, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this, I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Panama? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Panama in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally, I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez