Here are a few more of our adventures in Panama!
We went to an international Bilingual school and presented our Service Learning Projects about obesity. The interesting thing was that the students were actually really receptive to the information and eager to learn about nutrition. We noticed some trends that we were expecting based on our research. Carbohydrates (carbohidratos-I had to learn the word because they eat so many of them!) are a huge part of their diet. It is normal for them to eat potatoes, rice, arepas and pasta at one meal and not even include vegetables a lot of the time. What a shock to my system since I normally have a salad a day! Anyways, we taught them about My Plate and how important it is to have a balanced diet. They were very excited about the idea of balancing their meals and seemed eager to make some small changes in their day to day life. It was also very interesting because we were able to give the presentations in English as it was a bilingual school and their English was great! We were also able to give vaccines and I was able to comfort one girl who was very distraught about getting a vaccine. I can definitely say the Spanish I know has really come in handy!
We also made some home visits which was interesting. We went to this little house (if you could really call it that). It was made of some random sheets of plywood and corrugated metal. Inside the walls were covered with fabric to cover them up. In one corner right as you entered was a tiny bed that might have been mistaken for a dog bed but it was clear it was for a child. As it was on the dirt floor it was very dirty and it was strange that it was literally right next to the front door. The next part of the house was just a tiny little room again with fabric on the walls and dirt floors. In the back yard, where the whole family was, you could see trash everywhere and tires and what not. It looked very unsanitary. There were moscos (flies) and chickens abounding along with a few skinny dogs. About 7 little children were present in various amounts of dirty clothing. A young mom was holding her 2 month old little boy who was so precious! He just kept smiling at me, big and bright eyed. Well, the visit was for the 14 year old daughter who had miscarried her baby and was now pregnant again. They had been teaching her about how to take care of herself when pregnant now. The older sister had 5 children under the age of five and another on the way. It was sad because the sister and her mother were supposed to get pap smears but were unable because they couldn’t afford it. The nursing students are hoping they can discount the price even more so they can. Additionally, the 14 year old and the pregnant sister can’t afford their pregnancy exams because they are 8 dollars each and that is too much for them. The nursing students commented that they have been working for this family for a while and have only seen minimal improvement. Unfortunately, this house is the typical house of poverty in Panama with some I experienced even being worse.
Overall, these experiences have really demonstrated the poverty and hardship that exist in Panama. It is definitely difficult to see but also encouraging that nurses and nursing students are working so hard to help alleviate these problems. Panama has a long way to go in healthcare and population health but this also means there is a lot of room for other people to come in and also make an impact!
On a lighter note, the final experience I would like to share was also my favorite. We visited an indigenous Panamanian tribe in the Embera Village. The day started early with a long bus ride deep into a national forest. The village itself is only accessible by means of really long canoes each made from the trunk of large trees. The canoes themselves are very special to the tribe and they carefully select each tree but only during the full moon and then carve it into a canoe. After the canoe ride cam a hike through rain forest. It was indescribably beautiful with many different vines, flowers and foliage. The Embera men, clothed in loin clothes and beaded strands while carrying long, smooth walking sticks, led us through the rain forest to a secluded waterfall. On top of being gorgeous, the waterfall was wonderful as we were able to jump in and cool off. It felt like the first time in all of our trip that I was actually cool instead of burning hot! After enjoying the waterfall we took another hike and canoe ride to the actual village. There we were greeted by the indigenous men playing their traditional instruments and then invited to watch them dance their traditional dances. All of their music and dancing is based on nature with different songs and dances celebrating concepts such as birds, rain or lightning. Then we were invited to join them in dancing to a song which was great! Different children and village members came and grabbed our hands so we could dance to the music with them!
Next we were brought to one of their hutches that was built up on stilts. They are constructed from a specific tree’s bark that is really sturdy but light. The roof is made of palm fronds and fortified by the smoke from their stoves. They cooked us a lunch of fried fish and plantains along with the sweetest fruit I have ever tasted! It tasted heavenly and looked just as beautiful as it was served in a wrapped banana leaf and garnished with a hibiscus flower. Then they took the time to teach us about their culture highlighting the different products they hand make using the natural resources of the forest. It was very interesting. We also had the opportunity to get tattoos made from a tree there that last for about 2 weeks and we got to buy some of the handmade products from the different families of the village. Overall it was my favorite experience of the trip by far and I hope to maybe get the chance to return one day!