NU alum teaches English to children in Soloy
Greetings, once again, my fellow Niagarans.
Since I last wrote you all, much has happened in Comarca, especially where I am located in Soloy. For two weeks I worked in the local collegio (high school), with the PeaceCorp volunteers. Our jobs included running the local computer lab located in the collegio and also teaching English to 7th and 8th graders.
Last week, the PeaceCorp volunteers left for a reunion, leaving me in charge to teach English to these students. For those of you who know me, children are not my liking.
Thankfully, the first day I was to teach by myself, the ministry of education, cancelled classes during the day to put on a presentation about its future hopes for education in Soloy.
My second day of teaching was disastrous. Most students here in the Comarca are content with the knowledge that they will be poor farmers when they graduate from the collegio. English, to them, is not an important subject. Instead, most of class was spent doing other homework or arguing with me over the homework project they were assigned.
In 30 minutes of class, maybe five were spent on learning English. It did not help that the fi rst lady of Panama was visiting the local health clinic nearby, and used the collegio as her landing site in her helicopter.
My last day of teaching English was, along with all of school in Soloy, cancelled. This was due to the tragic event that occurred one year ago on Sept 3, 2008.
Last year, the Rio Fonseca overfl owed its banks, wiping out a large chunk of the community that I am working in. There were a handful of deaths, but many were made homeless and watched as a lifetime of their possessions floated away. This past week, we had a remembrance Mass held at the MEDO volunteer house to bring all of the community together and discuss what was learned from the flood and how to deal with its effects, even after a full year. Many who attended have been squatters for the past year, living on land belonging to other farmers, neighbors, or, in one particularly tragic instance, living on land that the government promised to buy but still has not, resulting in legal issues.
The community is still trying to be rebuild, but, just like the tragedy with New Orleans more than four years ago, there is still much work to be done. Unfortunately, here in a poor community without much publicity or political clout. It is up to local leaders and foreign volunteers to lay the groundwork to rebuild, without much cooperation from either the Provincial or National governments.
This past weekend, I was also able to link up with Fr. Joe Fitzgerald, a Vincentian stationed in the ChiriquÃ Province in Panama, who serves the Comarca communities. We traveled to a community on the far outskirts of the Comarca called Quebrada de Hacha. This tiny community of just a few dozen families has become the basis for the Semillas de Esperanza program, and has shown great potential in the development of faith-based communities. We helped set up a weekly Bible study program and spent a good deal of time cleaning and upgrading the accommodations of the missionary house located behind the chapel.
The conditions in this house were so bad we spent two days living in the chapel instead!
Before I end this letter, here are a few things I have learned since coming to Panama that I would like to share with you all now.
The first is, Joni Mitchell said it best in her song Big Yellow Taxi (you may be familiar with the much more recent cover by the Counting Crows) when she said, Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? Until you have actually experienced the loss of family, friends, and your way of life, you will never truly know how blessed you are every day.
The second is that it does not matter where you are or what your denomination is. Once you are in the presence of God and his worshippers, you truly are among family.
Finally, John Steinbeck wrote it best when stating, The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
I know most of these are borrowed phrases from other people that you have already probably heard, but, until you personally experience these sayings day in and day out, you never really understand their full signifi cance.
Until next time, Vaya con dios!