On March 19th a group of amazing volunteers from the University of Oregon College of Education arrived to Panama to work shoulder to shoulder with the community of Buena Vista in the province of Colon, a community recently relocated from Coco Solo, a destitute community on the Caribbean that had become inhabitable due to the expansion of the Panama Canal. This project meant 3 remarkable happenings for Courts for Kids, Panama and the community of Praderas de Buena Vista.
- This was the first Courts for Kids project in Panama ever and the first out of six for 2015!
- At the time we completed this court, Courts for Kids has helped provide the opportunity to play sports to every country in Central America.
- The community of Praderas de Buena Vista, a historically marginalized community, facing discrimination due to their afro roots, became empowered through this project, making possible what once seemed impossible.
It was almost midnight when we arrived to the community, and we were surprised to see a group of community members waiting for us with fireworks, huge smiles and hugs.
The next morning we enjoyed traditional Panamanian food from the community and we started the prep work for the court that was partially started by the community. The group connected very well with the locals and gained their respect very quickly. Having a group that was composed of 13 women out of 16 total team members resulted in a cultural challenge of demonstrating that women can work as hard as men, but it was overcome easily. We worked together despite a series of challenges, such as the mixer not working, the community running out of water and things happening on Panamanian time, which was a big test of patience for the group. Overcoming these challenges and delays, we worked extra hard, including evenings of work with headlamps. The last being a 15 hour- journey proposed by the volunteers and the community. And so, on our 5th day of work we finished the first court with Courts for Kids in Panama! Excitement and joy were
everywhere and both community members and volunteers went to bed with big smiles and great spirits.
In addition to the work, the two groups had plenty of time to connect with one another. Panamanians taught the US group some traditional dances, including a Congo dance that has been passed down for generations celebrating their African heritage. The US group taught the Panamanians how to Cha Cha Slide. Midway through the trip was the two year anniversary of the community, complete with more traditional dances from children, inspiring words from community leaders and culminating in an epic soccer showdown.
The day after finishing, the group went on a well-deserved city tour in Panama City: (Panama Canal, Causeway and Casco Viejo) where we could see the huge gap between the rich and the poor in the country. We could contrast what it is to live in both faces of reality for Panamanians.
The inauguration was beautiful. There were kids everywhere playing and enjoying the court. We played games, we had some beautiful words from our trip leaders and community members, we ate cake together and then lights went off in the community, but right on time for more fireworks, and a beautiful night full of bright stars, hopefully a foreshadowing of the future sports stars that will come out of Buena Vista!
A gigantic thank you to the Quest Foundation and all other sponsors who helped make this project possible.
Anibal Cardenas- CFK Panama Director
“My favorite memories of the trip are a mixture of the downtime and the intense working. It was so easy to get
down on ourselves or feel as though we weren’t going to get anything done when machines weren’t operating or water was inaccessible, but in the long run, these obstacles really brought the community and the UO group much closer, we busted out in song, played games, and spent the time to get to know each other much more than we would have if we were working non-stop. However, when everything was functioning we were an unstoppable team. It was amazing to witness the dedication and generosity of the community members who worked with us all hours of the day with us”
“My favorite memory is definitely a toss-up between the first night that we worked, and the night we spent singing songs to each other, and playing games. After having a party for Celino (A kid from the community that just turned 15 while we were there), my heart was so full and happy, it is pretty hard to compare that experience to anything else. It has really made me realized the capacity that I have to give to others, and the true value of small gestures of kindness”
I was taught to pity those who live in the face of poverty. However, this trip has made me pity the privileged.
I have seen more joy, strength and hope than I have ever experience at home, and the sense of humility and community has left me unwilling to leave. This trip has not only expanded my view of the world, but has let me begin to understand the true definition of privilege”
“I loved how eager the community was to show their culture and life with us, and how curious they were about our lives as well. I loved the dancing, the games, the home cooked meals, the exchange between learning Spanish and English and the incredible generosity that was demonstrated throughout”
“I didn’t realize that it was possible to completely immerse myself into another community, into this project, in a way that made the day to day stressors back home completely disappear, or seem unimportant. I feel like I will leave with a deeper, more complete understanding of what is important in life, in a more global sense of priorities than I previously had”