Despedida from Community, Debriefing, Panama City and Departure Back Home
Our project is coming to an end and we do not want to say goodbye. At times “see you later” works as a replacement, but such a promise doesn’t seem appropriate, at times, to share with people that have meant something so pure and truthful to us. With that said, we will compare it to a sunset. Like sunsets, our experience had a beautiful beginning, allowed us to enjoy our days in the sun and will come to a close gracefully and beautifully. Like any sunset, this just means this chapter of our experience is over until another sun comes up to give us a brand new journey.
The Despedidas (goodbye parties) started in each community, as our last Field Notes explained, and carried over to the big Despedida event AMIGOS hosted with our partner agency MIDES (The Ministry of Social Development in Panama). Around 200 people showed up as they rolled up to the ballroom, at Club de Leones Chitre, with vans full of community members, young and older, that wanted to stay with the participants until the very last minute. They came wearing their “party best”, which included handmade Panamanian hats for the gentleman and traditional pearl flower hair clips for the ladies. But the locals were not the only ones. As gifts to the participants, they dressed them up with the same accessories. It seems that with AMIGOS, the cultural exchange never seems to stop.
The event lasted about two hours and included traditional Pollera dances from a professional couple and another from a group of children all dressed for the part in colorful, lively, costumes. Our partner agency MIDES also gave a stellar performance with matching outfits as the ladies sang and danced to traditional Pindin music and the man played the instruments. During the Despedida, certificates of participation and completion were passed to local Representante officials, host families, communities and partner agency members. After lunch, as things began to wind down, came the lloradera (the crying). Everywhere you looked there were deep, intimate moments between participants and host families as they attempted to let go and go their separate ways. Speaking from an outsider, AMIGOS staff perspective, I have never felt more love in a room than what was happening as these families said goodbye. Words were barely exchanged, but the careful embraces were everywhere. Some didn’t seem to find a way to let go of each other, as participants and community members struggled to find last words worthy enough of how much they meant to each other. In the end, a quote from the President & CEO of AMIGOS, Sara Nathan, comes to mind: “This is where we find the power of AMIGOS. This power is in the transformation that comes from the deep humility, empathy and connection we build at an age where our whole life is ahead of us”.
Flash forward and we finally were able to gather all participants and their luggage into buses and off we were to CEDESAM institute in the province of Cocle, where we would host debriefing activities. Our six supervisors took over this part as they facilitated, during the two days, activities and games that made participants deeply reflect over the journey they took over during these five weeks. Some activities included: 1. A bonfire we started in the properly during night one, 2. The distribution of their own completion certificates that had each person called dance their way across the room to retrieve the document from their supervisor. In the end, the crowd pleaser was the trip to the beach staff was able to arrange where all 71 people in our project, plus lifeguards, headed to Playa Farallon, where we all enjoyed calm waters, white sand and a gorgeous Panamanian sunset for 2 hours.
And just like that, their last full day in country had arrived and we were determined to make it count. We kicked it off by taking everyone to the Mayflower entrance of the Panama Canal where we witnessed two grand ships make their way past the locks and the water levels change as it passed them through. In the afternoon, the busses took us to Casco Viejo, an older commercial and residential area near the water in Panama City, filled with Spanish architecture buildings and adorable local shops. Participants had a couple of hours to enjoy each other’s presence for the last time as they bought souvenirs and shared ice cream with each other and their supervisor. Later in the evening, each route (each supervisor’s communities) performed hilarious skits they made about their supervisor and time in community. To finalize our journey, Project Director Cara Sandels led a candle lighting activity where everyone had a chance to step into the circle made and share anything they would like to reflect with the group. It was beautiful for staff to witness how much each participants had grown and to say goodbye to people we had grown to care so much about.
Here’s to one of the prettiest sunsets I have ever seen in my life. This one sure will be hard to beat.