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Discover C participants have made it to their community stays after a busy few days of training, orientation, and getting to know each other. The students arrived late on Wednesday night and enjoyed some fresh empanadas before hitting the hay to recover from their travel. Thursday morning the group traveled to the Cocle province for briefing: a time to learn about Panama, the projects, and themselves.

Thursday afternoon, participants arrived at the Centro de Desarrollo Sostenible Ambiental (CEDESAM), the Center for Sustainable Environmental Development. This impressive facility is dedicated to protecting Panama’s environment through research, education, seed collection, and reforestation.

Professor Jose Mendoza welcomed the group to the center and begin their orientation with an overview of Panamanian history. He started his presentation in 1850 when Panama was used as a short cut by boat and railroad for settlers and prospectors from the U.S. who were headed to California from the east coast during the gold rush. Profe’s charismatic personality charmed the volunteers into paying attention and learning despite their jet lag.

Next participants discussed their definitions of cultural and reflected on differences they had experienced so far. This lead into a broader discussion of diversity fueled by a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Friday morning we were joined by Doña Lourdes who works at MINSA, the Panamanian health ministry and one of our partnering agencies. She spoke with the group about the educational themes they will share with the children in the schools. She thanked the AMIGOS group for their support in working with children and told the group she believes education children about healthy habits is critical for preventing illness in the future.

The highlight of Friday was exploring the CEDESAM grounds on a tour led by facility Director Bolívar Jaén. He showed us their collection of over 150 tree seeds, their nursery, and explained the importance of caring for the environment. He said that over the past 10 years the climate in Panama has changed so significantly that entire ecosystems are collapsing and many species of plants and trees are on the brink of extinction. We were all inspired by the effort his team puts into environmental conservation.

We spent the rest of the day wrapping up our training, reflecting on time in Panama so far, and getting ready to depart for their community stays the next day.

Saturday morning we loaded up the trucks with luggage, supplies, excited participants, and hit the road. Half the group headed to San Miguel Arriba and the other half went on their way to Pajonal. We had a great time together at briefing learning, sharing, and growing as leaders but now is when the real adventure begins!

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