Week Four: Fiesta Ambiental at Reserva Montuosa (Chepo, Azuero)
Participants officially passed the halfway point of their journey in Azuero, Panama and, to celebrate properly, we thought it would be perfect to host a Fiesta Ambiental in the beautiful Reserva Forestal El Montoso, a natural wildlife reserve near our communities in Las Minas. In true AMIGOS fashion, we planned a massive event with many partners ranging from local government agencies to non-profits.
We set aside a three day window in which participants and two local youth from each community were invited to attend our event from July 20-22nd. To help host such a massive event, project leadership coordinated with MiAMBIENTE (The Ministry of the Environment), MIDES (The Ministry of Social Development in Panama) and MEDUCA (The Ministry of Education). Our friends in both agencies helped us with transportation, food purchases and supported other activity planning to make sure that we could carry out a successful event! MiAmbiente facilitated access to the Reserva Montoso, where we worked hand-in-hand to carry out reforestation and trail-cleaning activities, made large planters out of recycled tires, and held a personal and professional development workshop.
Since our project’s theme this year is Community Health, we believed it to be appropriate to have our party theme be Ambiental (environment related) since most communities we work with are surrounded with an abundance of hills that host many species of wildlife and a variety of plants. Planning was underway for the event since project leadership arrived two months ago in country, and seeing such an engaging and lively event come to life was truly rewarding for us.
We all arrived at the community of Chepo Friday night and had a late dinner, reuniting all participants together again for the first time since briefing. We settled into two great dormitories in the Escuela Secundaria de Chepo (Chepo’s local boarding High School), which MEDUCA graciously provided us with as a free space to sleep. The next day came fast as the roosters, and loud Latin music from the phone of our Supervisors, reminded all the youth that it was 6AM and time to start our day. Since the kids, all together with local youth, were more than 100 total, project leadership split them into committees to help manage and facilitate different parts of the day. Saturday was our most activity-filled day and was kick-started with active, loud dinamicas (icebreakers), from Dinamica Committee members from the communities of Portobelillo and Menchaca, that woke up whoever might have skipped out on coffee.
With everybody awake and pumped, we split the youth into three groups and each went towards a different direction in the reserva to carry out some activities MiAmbiente asked our help with. The activities included: 1. Planting new trees across an area on one of the mountains; 2. Cleaning and clearing out pathways in the previously set trails inside the reserva. Because we put safety first, each group was headed with two AMIGOS supervisors, two EMT/ Red Cross responders, one park guard and one national police officer. The activities lasted about two hours and left our hearts and minds full of beautiful mountainous views and interesting facts about Panamanian nature.
After lunch, MiAMBIENTE directors led us through a workshop on how to turn old, beaten down tires into art! That included demonstrations on how to cut, flip and paint the tires to become big flower pots that would be displayed throughout the property. We split the youth into different stations where they washed, painted and set up about 15 tires total. Since Saturday was an active day, after dinner participants and local youth were given free time to relax and recharge for Day 3 of Fiesta Ambiental the next day.
Sunday was filled with guest speakers and interactive lectures from some more friends of AMIGOS. Organization IDEAS MAESTRAS, n non-profit focused on entrepreneurship training, gave a powerful presentation on entrepreneurship and how it should be applied to everyday life. CATHALAC, a water defense organization, talked about the importance of the preservation of water and respecting that we need to be part of the change so it doesn’t run out.
To wrap up the Fiesta, Supervisors set up some Olympic Games that rotated each community and their route into six different game stations. Stations included: Rock, paper scissors war, Dizzy bat run, Water balloon hot potato, shave the balloon, three legged run and race the balloon with no hands. After competing on a full rotation between the stations, the final was among four teams as they competed for first place in a game of Wheelbarrow Racing. The winners were Justin Sun, Gazel Isik, Athena Peters and their local youth from La Cuchilla and their reward was being able to skip to the front of the line during lunch time!
After cleaning out the common spaces we used in the Reserva and at the local school, we were packed up and ready to return home (yes, we refer to the communities as home now) at around 4pm on Sunday. We could not have thought of a better way to celebrate our halfway mark in the Azuero journey and would like to formally thank all who attended and our incredible partner agencies who made this event possible.