Welcoming our new volunteers after their Swear In Ceremony
Three months ago I said goodbye to my sweet little community in Bocas del Toro and moved across the country to start my new job as the Regional Coordinator for Darien and Panama Este.
My days have been filled with site visits, meetings with communities and development agencies, adjusting to life outside the campo, and so, so many smoothies. While I'm still getting used to the loud noises of "city life" (there's a busy road right in front of my house) and miss my friends and nearly endless supply of fresh chocolate, life in the Darien has gotten off to a good start.
As an update to this blog about accepting my new position a few months back, here's what I'm up to nowadays:
Visiting volunteers- Volunteer support is a big part of my new role as Regional Leader, so I make a point to visit volunteers in their sites and listen to whats going on- the good, the bad, and the ugly (Peace Corps volunteers can have some of the grossest issues imaginable.) I also like to meet a few community members while I'm there, since seeing their love and respect for their volunteer is one of the sweetest things to brighten up my day.
Hosting volunteers- Since I live in the regional hub, many volunteers stay at my house on the way into or out of their sites. It can be really challenging and stressful to serve as a volunteer in remote access sites, so I love to surprise visitors with homemade dinners or a package of cookies to go. Massy has taken to his role as house dog quite well and also likes to encourage volunteers with ample snuggles and excited tail waggles.
He seems to be adapting quite nicely.
Developing relationships with development agencies and NGOs- Peace Corps volunteers come into their communities with little to no money for projects, with the goal of obtaining locally sustainable projects and funding. Oftentimes we work as the link between our rural communities and Panamanian and/or international development agencies. When campaigning for your cause, it always helps to have an in with the people that make decisions about what communities receive projects, so another big part of my job is building relationships between Peace Corps and these gatekeepers and decision-makers. I've had to completely re-learn how to network, since many of the things that would be a definite "No" in the United States are very common here. For example, it is very common to text about business , use personal email addresses and phone numbers, and to start a meeting without asking all about the other person's family, children, birthday party that happened last week would be considered rude. My personal secret weapon to Panamanian agency relations? Bringing a home baked cake. It works every time.
Planning regional events- In addition to quarterly meetings for all regional volunteers and office representatives, I also plan agency visits and fun volunteer activities. Peace Corps Panama volunteers generally get together after each regional meeting to do something fun and spend time together. Regions like Bocas del Toro and Cocle (and essentially every province except for Darien) have beautiful beaches, but out here on the East side we have to be slightly more creative. So, every few months we host a big goat roast. It's a fun day filled with cooking, friends, and so much food, and it was my job to plan it. I kept waiting on something to ruin it (there's no way I could get lucky enough for it to turn out well the first time...) but other than our goat arriving 3 hours later and 30 pounds heavier than promised, it was a great day.
The Darien + Este volunteers
Goat Roast Time!
Scouting for future Peace Corps communities- One of my favorite parts of this job has been to see all of the work that goes into preparing a community before the volunteer even arrives in country. In Panama, communities must formally request a volunteer and then host town meetings to present the future host family and community guide to Peace Corps representatives. Seeing their anticipation and calming their worries has been one of the sweetest and most eye-opening experiences thus far.
"What if they don't like our food?"
"You're sure it's okay we can't give them electricity?"
"Can the blue-eyed ones see in the dark like cats?"
"Are they going to get married and have babies and live here forever?"
Oftentimes I feel like volunteers (myself included) can get so wrapped up in their own experiences that we forget that our new neighbors and community members have also worked and sacrificed so that we can be part of their families and homes. As I help to prepare communities to receive volunteers, I appreciate so much more my own community. I may have a new house across the country, but my sweet village will always be my Panamanian home.
Hiking into a new Peace Corps community