24 communities, 63 participants.
Multiple stories of friendships and cultural exchanges blossoming among true amigos all over the Azuero Peninsula.
Northeast of the peninsula, 30 minutes away from the busy city of Chitré, the community of Los Castillos hosts volunteers Sophia and Sarah. As Thursday comes around, supervisor Lizzie takes a bus to check on their immersion into their new home. They catch up on one-on-one interviews as part of Weekly Participant Check-In and talk about their progress on their community service project and their well-being. As dinner approaches and they wait for host mom, Ana Teresa, to finish dinner, Lizzie observes as the girls keep up their nightly tradition of playing Uno (the card game) with their host brothers in full-on competitive mode that lights the room with delight and bliss. Isn’t wonderful how laughter sounds the same in any language?
In the morning, the roosters encourage Lizzie to wake up and catch a 20-minute ride in the community representante’s pickup truck to the town of Llano de la Cruz, where she will spend the day with participants Avery and Marky. She hears cheering from the soccer field, just across the church, and recognizes her volunteers as their heights tower in comparison to the flood of children around them. As she approaches, her arrival goes unnoticed but the local youth burst into cheers around Avery and Marky as they drop to the ground and perform push ups. On a bet with their new amigos, Avery and Marky promised to not speak a single English word throughout their entire time in community. If that promise is broken, the boys are to perform three push ups every time a word slips out. Lizzie predicts the boys will definitely get their daily exercise as she notices the kids sneakily trapping them into speaking English.
Meanwhile, west of the Azuero, supervisor Evan arrived at Cerro Gordo’s primary school to join Nisha, Jose, and Jade as they lead day camps for local kids. To his surprise, he is welcomed by the delicious smell of rice, beans, and chicken on an occasion that feels more like fiesta. After attending camps with the AMIGOS volunteers the entire week, the boys and girls (7–15-year-olds) from the area surprised the girls with a community potluck of food, dancing to Pindin music (traditional Panamanian music) and various activities of all sorts. How unique is it that an entire community welcomes you as one of their own only after 8 short days?
It feels like an absolute privilege to witness it all first hand, but true respect and love seem like something our partner communities are not shy about sharing. Host sister Viviana in Las Lomas is eleven years old and after two short days, with participants Eva, Jennifer, and Sage, demonstrated her admiring by saying three of the few words she knows in English to her new host sisters: “I love you.” What a true warm welcome into the new family.
All of our participants are in the middle of memories they will reminisce over throughout their lives. We are proud to say these memories go both ways and each community is ecstatic to spend more and more time with each and every one of them.