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After leaving Isla Cañas on Tuesday afternoon, participants headed to CEDESAM, the Centro de Desarrollo Sostenible Ambiental or the Center for Sustainable Environmental Development. CEDESAM is located about 30 minutes outside of Discover AMIGOS Panama’s headquarter city of Penonomé.

As participants arrived to CEDESAM, they were greeted by Profe José Mendoza Samaniego. Profe, as he is known by all, is a retired teacher who now dedicates much of his time to supporting AMIGOS programming in Panama. Not only has he been a great support in the planning process for the Discover AMIGOS Panama project, but he has also been working alongside our two summer immersion projects in Coclé and Azuero. Profe is a huge advocate for environmental causes, especially reforestation, and has been educating young people in Panama and AMIGOS participants on topics of environmental conservation and sustainability for years.

Participants settled in to CEDESAM  and had their second phone call home to their parents. While it is difficult to have limited contact with loved ones back at home, participants have been able to be fully present in their experience in Panama. It has been incredible to see how anytime participants have downtime they immediately all get together to start playing games, talk, and bond with one another, something that oftentimes is lost in today’s era of social media.

At CEDESAM, participants had a typical Panamanian dinner: chicken, rice with lentils, and passion fruit juice!

The following morning, participants met with Profe José Mendoza to participate in an educational charla, or talk, about the work that CEDESAM does. The participants had the opportunity to learn about reforestation and see the semilleros or seedlings that CEDESAM uses in their reforestation efforts.

The participants listen to the explanation given by Profe José Mendoza about reforestation while Project Director Jessica Viales Lopez translates for the group.
The participants were able to learn about the semilleros, or seedlings, that CEDESAM uses in their reforestation efforts.
CEDESAM staff also helped lead the charla for Discover participants.
Profe José Mendoza started off by first explaining about CEDESAM and the important work the organization does before diving into more specific topics of environmental conservation.
Block A participants take a photo alongside Profe José Mendoza while at CEDESAM.

After the morning charlas at CEDESAM, the participants boarded the bus and traveled to Penonomé. The group went directly to the Centro de Promoción de la Salud or the Center for Health Promotion in Penonomé. Discover AMIGOS Panama works in collaboration with our fantastic partner agency MINSA, el Ministerio de Salud or the Ministry of Health. MINSA has helped Discover AMIGOS set up all of our work in the various communities around Penonomé and the public health work they do for the region is invaluable. Participants had the opportunity to meet our partners at MINSA, including Lic. Lourdes Pérez who has worked with the Project Directors to identify and set up our project in the six communities surrounding Penonomé.

Lic. Lourdes Pérez gave a talk to participants about the work that MINSA does and Lourdes later expressed how impressed she was by the active participation of the participants and how well many participants could speak Spanish!

Lic. Lourdes Pérez leads a talk about MINSA while Project Director Jessica Viales Lopez helps translate for the group.

After the talk with Lourdes, the participants enjoyed a catered lunch from a local restaurant of rice, black beans, fried chicken, and pasta salad. After getting their fill of food, participants were ready to head into community for the next part of their Discover AMIGOS experience: community visits and stays with host families! This Block A, we are working with three communities: Bella Vista, Aguas Blancas, and Sonadora. All three communities are located within 5-15 minutes from the headquarter city of Penonomé, yet they are all very rural with lots of natural beauty.

The participants of Aguas Blancas! Guille Caballero is the Senior Project Supervisor who is leading the Aguas Blancas group. Aguas Blancas has a beautiful school with a massive, gorgeous garden where participants will be working on the community-based initiative project that the school has planned as well as leading extracurricular activities with the kids from the school.
The participants of Bella Vista! Bella Vista means Beautiful View in English and it truly lives up to its name. Bella Vista is a small, incredibly beautiful community with red dirt roads that pass through the neighborhood of brightly painted homes. Nuria Arbelo is the Project Supervisor for Bella Vista and Jessica Viales Lopez is the Project Director who will also be supporting the participants in the community.
The participants of Sonadora! Sonadora has a small school located along a main highway that connects the surrounding rural communities to Penonomé. Most of the participants of Sonadora live in El Potrero, which is a neighborhood located next to the school and has incredibly gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. Emma Fredricks, Project Supervisor, and Courtney LaKroix (not pictured), Discover AMIGOS Mentor, will be working together to support participants in Sonadora!

One by one, the buses arrived to take the three groups of participants and their supervisors to their respective communities. It’s going to be a whole different type of adventure for the next six days!

Look out for our next daily update to learn more about Block A participants’ experience in community so far. Thanks for following our progress as we have reached the halfway mark of our 2 week program!