The last letter from Panama
Hello Niagaran students and faculty,
When my last letter left off, I had just returned from the community of Quebrada de Hacha, located on the far western edge of the NgÃ¶be-BuglÃ© Comarca. After our weekend here, Fr. Joe Fitzgerald and I took off for David, followed by a bus of about 15 individuals from Hacha. The Diocese of David collaborated to have one huge Mass at a gym in David, inviting all parishes within the diocese to attend. We were attending to represent not only the community of Quebrada de Hacha, but also the entire NgÃ¶be-BuglÃ© Comarca classifi ed under the parish of Soloy.
After the Mass, the bishop presented each parish with their own commemorative picture of the event, allowing each parish to send up representatives and be recognized as a part of the larger church body under the Diocese of David. This was a major milestone for those in the Comarca because, until now, the Comarca parish was not very well known outside being an area that was impoverished and required aid. Now, the Comarca was being recognized as an equal member of the diocesan body - not just a welfare community.
Upon arrival back in Soloy, I met up with members of the PeaceCorp and MEDO, both of which were preparing for the arrival of new PeaceCorp volunteers within two weeks. These new volunteers would undergo a large chunk of training in Soloy before being deployed all throughout the Comarca and other areas in the ChiriquÃ Province. I had been looking forward to working with the PeaceCorp in adapting these individuals to life in the Comarca, but my plans changed, and I left Soloy before the new volunteers arrived.
Now, some of you may have thought you saw me on campus recently. Do not worry; you are not crazy, but instead, yes, I have returned to the United States almost two full months earlier than expected. After reevaluating my situation in Panama and the prospects of future services opportunities available to me, the next two months in Panama did not look to be that productive. There were very few service opportunities available to me in the future that would fully utilize my time and talents and allow me to have an impact on the communities I came to serve. With this in mind, I made the decision to cut my trip short and return home to New York someplace I know where there are a variety of organizations that I can put forth my full effort into.
Although I left Panama early with the sense that I did not accomplish all I could have, or make as big of an impact as I could have, I have walked away with many important life lessons. Not only do I now have a renewed sense of what is important in life, but I also have a more appreciative understanding of the setbacks that can be experienced in service.
Too often we overlook the basic blessings in our lives with the notion that we are entitled to them; hot water for showers, heat for our rooms, delicious food for the dining hall, convenient parking for our cars, the attentive support of faculty and friends for our current and future endeavors (just to name a few). How frequently do we remember that a decent size of the world goes without clean water (forget even hot water), enough food to sustain the body (how often do we physically starve to death in Clet?), transportation (try walking to Military Road Tops or even to Main Street in Lewiston), and even education (how many classes are you blowing off this semester or are taking for an easy A?)!
While sitting on the runway in Panama City, the passenger in the seat next to me on the airplane asked me how long I was in Panama. After I told her how I had worked in the Comarca with the indigenous people for two months, I received the usual reply; why? According to many Panamanians I talked to, including this passenger, the indigenous people I worked with are dishonest, ignorant, greedy people who need to become civilized. This was the same sentiment I heard all over Panama, and it got me thinking about my work. Had I experienced dishonesty, ignorance, greed, and incivility during my time in the Comarca? Truth be told, my answer was yes, and was also followed by, on more than just one, two, three occasions. There were so many times in the Comarca that I felt more abused than appreciated, and more of a burden than a relief to those I came to serve. Too often I felt my service was going to ungrateful individuals, and I watched as many improvements I made throughout Soloy were abused, themselves, to the point of digressing back to where I started. Yet, even through all this adversity, I know deep down that if the call came out, I would certainly return to the Comarca again to help.
Why you may be asking? After all the challenges, setbacks and abuses, why would I return? The answer is pretty simple. When we go out into the world to do the work of St. Vincent de Paul, we cannot pick and choose who or where we are going to serve. We cannot ignore the undeserving or ungrateful and yet always turn our attention to those that are appreciative. We must take the good with the bad and try to rise above them. We must not be afraid to experience setbacks when trying to do good in this world. We must not be afraid to experience the unknown, or the inopportune when doing the service of St. Vincent de Paul. No matter what the outcome of our endeavors are, we must take our experiences - good and bad - and make them into opportunities for ourselves and those we serve.
I graduated in May of 2009. Two months later, I was in the mountains of Panama living in poverty and trying to serve those of a radically different culture and lifestyle than my own. Now, I am seeing where the Vincentian spirit will take me next. But this was just my story, and there are many others who have graduated and done other extraordinary service opportunities. So take a chance and get regularly involved with service now. See where the Vincentian spirit may take you!
Until the next adventure,