Archives - ‘Panama’

A variety of needs and roles in Embera Drua!!

February 28, 2009 | Eleni, Intern, Emberá Drúa Community

Getting to the internet, and doing my work has been proving more and more difficult…but I´m making it happen. I took an hour boat ride, then a cab, then 2 buses to get to this location. Really learning the meaning of remote!!

Working with the Embera Drua has been very fascinating to say the least. I am feeling integrated and trusted by the community members and have found that my role ranges from translator for cultural discussions for tourists…in french, spanish and english…tutor, computer teacher, gardiner, general labourer….plumber!!…nurse even!! the needs here are great, and yet simple. They are great because of the location of this community, as mentioned above…very remote, so for the very simple need of seeing a doctor to remove a massive splinter buried inside the foot of a young girl…the need becomes great for anyone with a medical background. Also the finances to get into town and pay the doctor are great, something that to me would be very simple. Quite the dichotomy really. So, i had to sit by this girl, and insist and continue to steralize the equipment that would be carved into her foot. This was quite the experience, one that makes me truly grateful for health services in Canada and the fact that I live so close to accessing them. Since this day, I have been visting the girl 3 times a day cleaning the wound and yesterday she went to school….no infection! I am relieved.

It´s truly amazing how this community functions. They have worked with a lawyer from Panama City to get an NGO status. So, in essence the whole community and what they are doing-sustainable eco-tourism-is the NGO. This has allowed members in the community to study in a town about an hour away, and even support some members who are studying in university. The goal is to make the community of Embera Drua self-sufficient. They want to be able to depend on themselves in face of modernity, instead of always requiring outside assistance.

Doing the work I would like to do during the day has proved challenging. The fact that we have a computer is great, but the tour operators who visit do not want it to be seen by visitors…it ruins thier authentic experience. So I usually have to wait till the evening, and this is when families spend time together and rest after working all day…so it is hard to get the people I need to work with during this small window…then we have no power because the solar panel is out. hahaha quite the obstacles!! But, it couldnt be in a better place, because everyone is so very chilled out that we get the work done, when its humanly possible to get it done.

I have also been working with the women´s group doing different craft and artisan projects to generate more income for the women and their families. There is a store in the United States that wants to sell some bracelets from the Embera women, so we are working with the palm leaf called Chunga that comes in many differents colours, and is used primarily for basket weaving (of which I am also learning!!), to make different stitches for bracelets! The woman are wonderful and the conversations that are shared amongst this group is filled with laughter and teasing….and also lessons in the Embera dialect…mostly ways to tease the Embera men. Needless to say, very enjoyable.

And this session has to come to a close and my host sister just entered this cafe and is waiting on me to do some shopping for the family….duties, duties, duties!!


Warm blessing from Panama!!

February 2, 2009 | Eleni, Intern, Emberá Drúa Community

Hello Friends!!

I celebrating my 2nd week here in Panama with the Embera Drua indigenous community! Since my arrival, I have been warmly greeted by the hosting organization AFS Panama for about half a day and I was immediately picked up by the Chief (Noko)of the Embera community. I travelled for about an hour until I reached a lake with massive canoes waiting for me! With all my baggage (literal and symbolic) i climbed in and trekked up the Chagres River to the furthest and most remote community on the river system. It was explained as I arrived that my host family was changed last minute because the roof had blown off. So already a demand in flexibility…the few details I had about my placement changed dramatically. But, the home i was welcomed into was also the home of the Chief who picked me up from Panama City! What a treat to be welcomed into the home of the leader of the community.

Since my arrival, I have been steadily gaining an understanding of the community dynamics and how they earn their livelihood. Tourism is the main source of income, as such there is an interesting trade off that is happening here as far as cultural preservation and survival goes. The youth of this community have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders to make this project function for years to come…that is, if they want to continue living this lifestyle away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Many youth must travel to Panama city, about 3 hours away to receive an education past grade 6, and as one could imagine this is very time consuming and stress full.

In my first week here, I worked with the local Peace Corps volunteer on a donation project from an independent tourist who saw the need for access to a computer (or more!) and we managed to get a laptop donated to the community. It runs off of solar power and we are steadily working on a schedule to teach basic informatics to the youth who need this training the most. There is a feeling of inferiority when students travel to the city and have challenges using basic features of a computer, while the city kids are complete whizzes!! This project is the beginning of what I hope will be an opportunity for growth and educational access to the largest source of information we have in our present day. I have also been working on translating for a professor from the U.S. who is doing research on the impact of Spanish on the local language (Embera), as well as doing translation for a video-journalist also from the U.S. who is working for the Rotary Club. Some very fascinating people have crossed my path in my 2 weeks here, and I can only imagine this pattern will continue. The sentiment that is shared by anyone who has visited this unique community is that there is something very warm and powerful about this community and there is always a draw to stay longer.

I am often told how fortunate I am to be here for this amount of time and what a wonderful learning opportunity this is. All i can respond is: I take a big breathe, and take it one day at time!

I could write endlessly about my experiences here these past 2 weeks…but I am about to miss the only bus that will take me back to my remote jungle haven!!!!

Eleni giannopoulos
4th year student
International Studies and Modern Languages