May 4, 2010
One of the main tasks of CED (Community Economic Development, the part of Peace Corps Panama of which we are a part) is to provide training programs. The main offering is called PML, Program Management and Leadership. Volunteers sometimes offer this training in their communities. Peg and I responded to a request for training from a volunteer named Angela. She lives in a community near Penonome, about 7 1/2 hours from our community. I think she is perfectly capable of doing the training on her own but it is easier when you have help. In addition can present us as the ‘experts from afar.’
We left on Sunday May 2 from our community with another volunteer whose boyfriend has a car. They gave us a ride to David, then we took the bus to Penonome and another to Angela’s community, the latter a small van about 20 years old with many non-essential parts missing, such as a muffler and door handles.
Angela’s is a community of about 700 people. It’s at an approximate altitude of 1200 meters, about the same as our community, and so it is much cooler than Penonome at sea level or thereabouts. Farming is the primary occupation. Angela works with the school teaching computer use, and has several English classes outside of school. She also works with a cooperative whose members are the focus of the training program.
Angela had already made some beautiful charts. She, Kate and Karen are famous among the volunteers for their ability to whip out some very nice presentations. Mostly we use newsprint but their’s are worthy of better material, perhaps some kind of board.
We went through her charts in preparation for the next day. I was doing my section for the first time, and to complicate matters further I missed a training where the whole course was presented, so I had to rely upon what I learned during pres-service training, now some six months in the past. Angela’s charts helped me prepare better. Peg had already done most of her presentation in our own community so she did not need to prepare as much.
The next morning we walked to the lower part of town where we were to meet. We got there early and no one was there. The president of the coop arrived around 9 with chairs, tables and a tripod for holding charts. We did not get started until around 10, chatting with the farmers as they arrived, neatly dressed wearing the typical straw hats of rural Panama, their smiles revealing worn and missing teeth, women in inexpensive but neat, very clean clothes and big, welcoming smiles. One elderly woman walked on the blacktop without shoes, her feet as strong looking as I have seen. I was soon very charmed by these simple appearing and friendly people. Not long after we began I realized the humble appearances and limited education masked significant levels of intelligence and experience. That would be the most striking thing of the day for me, other than how well Angela managed the event.
My bit took the first three, er, two hours since we did not start until 10. I talked about what they valued most, got some replies, then gave them a list and asked them to pick the top four. Amistad, friendship, got the most votes, but learning was right up there. I wondered whether they were saying that because they were attending a workshop and wanted to be complimentary of us. Latin Americans go out of their way to be kind and welcoming, sometimes stretching or even ignoring the truth to do so. But the topic came up in a different context later and the elderly woman without shoes talked about how she wanted to improve her life and the best way was to learn, so maybe I was being a bit too cynical.
The part of the training we delivered is on the personal level versus the organizational or community level, so we did not talk much about their cooperative, which is an effort to bring down food costs by allowing members to take advantage of bulk prices. They are seeking funding for a larger building. As things stand, it is too tiny to do any good.
Peg and Angela were very helpful keeping me in order, as sometimes I lost the logical flow of the topics one from the next. Angela was very well prepared not only with the charts but also the handouts, not to mention all the meals.
At the end I decided to see if we could get them to arrive on time the next day. I told them if they were going to come at 10 then we would too. Peg noted that respect was an important value to them, and was it respectful of the people who came on time to arrive so late?
The next day we started at 9:20. I doubt they will continue to arrive on time for other events, but we will find out. More volunteers are coming next week to finish the training.
Some other observations:
The members live in the same area of the lower part of town. A school teacher is annoying Angela, being rather seductive. Angela’s house is very attractive. Unlike many here, it has a ceiling, so the metal roof does not show from inside and it stays cooler. Her kitchen is not accessible from the rest of the house. The house is in an orange orchard, a picturesque setting that costs her all of $50 a month. There are mango trees nearby, the fruit dropping to the ground. The people can not get enough for them to make harvesting worthwhile. There is supposedly a nearby location where you can see both oceans at once.