On July 8 a group of 20 students from Seton Catholic, Central Catholic, Reynolds, Jesuit Portland and Columbia River arrived to Panama to build a court in the community of Cerro Batea, San Miguelito. This was a very different Courts for Kids project considering that the site of the project was in Panama City area rather than a rural area, but still in a section of Panama City area that is extremely marginalized and facing a reality of wide economic disparity and poverty. Panama City is the biggest city of Central America with booming economic development, yet working in San Miguelito and seeing first-hand the inequality that this community faces was a shocking, yet, very rewarding experience for this amazing group, which, despite many challenges and setbacks kept and incredible attitude, determination and vision to finish this court together with the people of Cerro Batea.
It was a construction marathon. Building a court is not an easy job even without accounting for many factors that are outside of our control, such as weather, the bureaucracy of working in a government school, a broken concrete mixer, a broken compactor, or just running things in a different way than our volunteers are used to in the US. But it was all a learning experience, and opportunity to grow as a group, and to grow with the community. It took us 6 days to complete it. The prep work was very delayed, the materials didn’t arrive on time and the weather didn’t always cooperate.
At times this seemed like an impossible task, but the group’s spirit was bigger than all the challenges we faced during the trip. Building a court is a fundamental component of a Courts for Kids project, but equally important are the human connections, the cultural exchanges, the mutual curiosity and respect that grows into an incredible working mass of friends and motivated people that can overcome whatever challenge is in the way. And this strong connection that grew among the team of volunteers and the community was reflected on the work of the court.
In between all the hard work and our sleeping time, we also enjoyed of very pleasant times with the people from the community/school; they made presentations for us and we could also share some of our culture with them- singing and dancing, or simply having little good conversations about how the life in the US is different to living in Panama and vice versa. Also impactful was having the opportunity to learn and practice Spanish as well as teach some English to the kids.
The work didn’t even felt unbearable because of being such a big group, and led by an eager group of student leaders. We laid down the entire amount of concrete in 3 days in an impressive and contagious atmosphere of work. We finished on high spirits, celebrating with the workers, the cooks, the teachers and of course, the kids. It was such a great, memorable moment.
The next day we had the inauguration of the court, with a lot of kids playing along with cultural presentations in the presence of everyone that made this project possible. After that we went to a very well deserved trip to the beach where we could relax and reflect on an amazing week of hard work and long lasting connections with the community and with the new friends we made among our group in the community of Cerro Batea of San Miguelito.
“I learned about myself that I don’t need as much in life than what I have. I lived a whole week or so with a lot less than what I have at home. I also learned that those people around the world in 3rd world countries or just people that don’t have much, are the happiest in the heart. And lastly my favorite memories are probably doing/teaching the hokie pokie to local women and dancing with them. Another memory that I will never forget is just interacting with the children and playing with them.” – Garret Wellman
“This was an outstanding trip to Panama! I was so happy to see the Reynolds ‘it’s heroic’ cadets + students working and serving alongside Seton, Central Catholic, Columbia River and Jesuit students. They all learned more about service learning and community support. Instead of reading history, they were making history, by hard work building a court, visiting with Panama students and teachers in the classroom, as well. We even had time to teach USA history from the NW. during a 5th grade class! We learned the value of giving back and not taking. I truly think and feel these students and teachers will remember us and the gifts we shared building this court together.” – Brian James
“At our last meeting on this trip someone brought up giving our dirty work clothes away to the pin the community and how happy they would be to have them. This led to someone asking: “Would we accept someone’s dirty clothes, and wear them around all the time?” Right away I thought: “No way” I am perfectly fine with my nice, clean clothes. This helped me realize that real difference between our two cultures. In America we are very fortunate and we have so many nice things and we don’t appreciate that enough down here in Panama most people have just enough to get by and they love and appreciate everything they have. They understand that having the new iphone or the newest clothes isn’t the reason why we are on Earth. They realize that family and the people that surround you are really the important things.
“This trip had many setbacks, but as I reflected on them they really didn’t upset me too much, I was remembering why this was and then I remembered how awesome the team was. I was very happy to be working out under the hot sun for hours because of the great people I was surrounded with. Everyone on this trip made it out to make it a successful trip.” – Aidan Ryan
“My favorite memory for this trip was getting to play with all the kids on the finished court. I learned from the community to be thankful for what I have. I learned that I need to branch out to my comfort and love more often.” – Ryan James
“The most difficult part of going home is leaving the people behind. I have heard many people say that some of the least fortunate people they have met, are also the happiest. It’s really hard to understand that until you see it with your own eyes and experienced it yourself. Here in Panama, I have been able to see that some of these people have absolutely nothing but I have never seen them without a smile on their face. Even though they have nothing to give, they give absolutely everything they can. That’s an interesting concept to think about.
“Throughout this trip I have learned so many things about different cultures. What it takes to be a hard worker and who I am as a person. I have seen myself grow so much, and in so many different ways. Before this trip I kept to myself and was very shy when it came to interact with other people that I didn’t know. It was way out of my comfort zone. So to come here knowing that I was going to be pushed out of that was already a challenge for me. Here I was forced into a leadership role, I spent every day creating friendships with people I never would have pictured myself hanging out with. Because of this, I don’t feel like a different person but a better version of who I was before.
“Some of the best memories from this trip weren’t necessarily one that occurred around building the court. There have been so many new friends and it blows my mind that some of us just met 10 days ago. This whole trip is something that I will never forget.” – Makienzy Brown
“Some of the most favorite memories from the trip are meeting people. On the second day here I met a kid named Marvi. He is 11 years old and likes soccer, goofing around and sugary food. I also met a 4 years old kid named Milo and a 6 years old named Fressi. Milo was great and loved watching soccer and Fressi loved running and jumping. Something I learned about the world is people will make due with what they have. The people here are a lot happier than people in the US. The things I am going to miss the most are the happy energetic people and the scenery. It is a lot greener than the US.” – James Johnson
“From the community I learned to be grateful and thankful for the small things and that smiling to some doesn’t have a language barrier. The workers were the hardest workers of my life. They were working really hard and hardly took a break.
“My favorite things of this trip were to learn Spanish and seeing how every day I would practice Spanish with the kids. They had an awesome attitude!” – Nathan Behrens
“My favorite memories from the trip were the activities we did. After a long day of work people would perform for us and it was amazing. Also, during our breaks from work many kids would ask questions about where I was from and what it was like in Oregon.
“I learned a lot about myself and I did something I have never done before as much as I was excited I was a little nervous. This trip taught me to don’t be scared of things just go into whatever you are going to do you may surprise yourself.
“The most difficult part of going home is leaving the kids and teachers. Also, the people you go on the trip with. You go through everything together and it is hard to say goodbye because you may not see those people again. But memories you’ll never forget. Everything on this trip has been really good experience for me. I am very thankful for this opportunity.” – Alli Escamilla