Renée Ramirez
Renée Ramirez
Panama, 2022-2023
My name is Renée and I’m spending a year in Panamá working with Fundación Calicanto. Calicanto is a Panamanian organization combatting gender-based violence through social and economic empowerment programs. I’m a Nashville girl and graduated from Belmont in 2021 with a double major in Entrepreneurship and Economics. This is such a privilege, thanks for following along! Read More About Renée →

Felices Fiestas Patrias, Panamá!

November is really special in Panama as we celebrate five different national holidays throughout the month. There have been flags everywhere, huge parades, bands, and cultural performances the last couple of weeks which has been such a cool thing to participate in. Sharing a bit more about my experience below!

Highlights
  • Attended a design thinking workshop hosted by HIAS for key organizations supporting the rapidly growing refugee community in Panama.
  • Playing a volleyball game with three other people named Renee (honestly such a wild experience)
  • 4 Panamanian restaurants made it onto The World’s 100 Best Restaurants List for Latin America!!!
Work Projects:

I just finished a research project on global and Panamanian workforce development trends to utilize in the Academia Calicanto project. Will be incorporating the most important data points in the project presentation this upcoming week. I’ve spent the rest of my time writing reports for some of our key partners recently. These reports are centered on the impact of our program over the last three cohorts and draw on a lot of data points from the monitoring and evaluation process I designed earlier in the year. It has been gratifying to see the positive economic and psychological impact of our program in women’s lives and to be able to clearly see and communicate that impact through a process I designed.

Including two major performance indicators (Exposure to Violence and Resilience Scale) below so you can see our impact in cohort 60. Obviously, these numbers vary depending on the cohort, but even slight changes in these two areas of impact translate into a greatly increased quality of life for many women which is worth celebrating.

1. Exposure to violence, a key focus of our CAPTA program saw a 64% decrease from the beginning of CAPTA to the end of our follow-up period. At the beginning of the program, 19 women, comprising 54% of the cohort were experiencing some form of physical, psychological, or economic violence. Supported by the empowerment training, community, and psychological attention of the program, that number was reduced to 22% by graduation and 19% by the end of the 6-month follow-up process.

2. The average resilience score pre-CAPTA was 77 and post-CAPTA was 144. Overall, this cohort experienced a collective increase of 86% in their resilience scoring, jumping a total of 68-points from the beginning of CAPTA to the end of their participation in Seguimientos.

Something New

The Fiestas Patrias officially started at 12am on the 3rd with local marching bands playing at neighborhood parks throughout the city to ring in the celebration. My apartment is literally right next to a park, so I had a great view as the band set up and played for an hour. At one point they performed an all-trumpet rendition of Titi me Preguntó which was honestly my favorite thing last week. It was such a special moment to observe the band arrive and quietly file into position while crowds of people waited with hushed expectations for 12am to come.

The following day, I went downtown with friends for the first parade of the month. It was so loud and so fun! There were probably 40 different bands of varying sizes marching throughout the streets that day. There were dancers wearing traditional costumes, marching bands, people throwing drums, baton twirlers, etc., etc., etc. On the way home, we stopped and bought tamales, patacones, and salchichas from a couple of street vendors which was so fun and yummy.

*For all those curious the 3rd – 5th celebrate Panama’s independence from Colombia, the official creation of their national flag, and the independence of the province of Colón from Colombia. The 10th recognizes the independence of the region of La Villa de Los Santos and the 28th celebrates Panama’s independence from Spain.

I hope you’re doing well!
Cuidense,

Renée

 

10 Months In

Hola amigos, sharing some updates from Panama!  November is the heaviest month rain-wise so it’s been raining more and more as we get through October. Last week our street flooded and completely submerged the cars on the street. Thankfully it subsided quickly but was wild to observe from my apartment.

Highlights Recently
  • Graduation of CAPTA 63!
  • Tiff is back in Panama!!!
  • Finding a closer and prettier location of one of my favorite restaurants.
  • Listening to podcasts from Onsite Workshop
  • Longboarding along Cinta Costera
Work Projects
I am in the weeds coordinating the launch of our course demo for Academia Calicanto. This last week I made major revisions to the course content, finding and including some learning resources that add a lot of value to the course. I am also tailoring a CRM platform to organize our client data for the future sales process. Most recently I met with our Communications manager to hash out our strategic launch plan. Based on our meeting, I realized that I need to adjust our timeline to accommodate the development of some key launch materials to promote the project. While I am actively adding more tools and skills to my project management skillset, I consistently struggle with estimating the amount of time a project or task needs (not me with ADHD over here). I’m grateful to have a team to help ground me and set realistic time expectations. In my brain absolutely every task only takes about one week to accomplish haha.
Some little wins recently have been
  • Figuring out how to embed a Spotify episode, writing basic HTML without having to google “how to write basic HTML”.
  • Finding excellent learning resources from a Madrid-based positive psychological institute to enrich our courses.
  • Utilizing data from the impact tracking process I designed in key partner reports.
Something New
I am taking Spanish lessons 3x a week right now to actively improve my speaking in a professional context. As I am managing the Academia Calicanto project, a lot of my work in the upcoming year will be pitching and presenting the resource to partners and potential clients in Spanish. While I thrive in every aspect of pitching and presentation environments (thanks Belmont DECA), doing so in Spanish is HARD. I think knowing how well I could do this particular type of work in English makes it even more difficult to struggle in Spanish.

My teacher and I have decided to focus on Spanish literature as a way to help me master more complex verb structures. I feel very much like a sponge and am enjoying gaining a deeper understanding of culture and history through the writing of Latin American authors. Most of the topics include gender equality/women’s rights and current political events but we’ve also read poetry and short stories. Right now I am reading Arráncame la Vida and a collection of essays chronicling the feminist movement in Mexico. Both center on gender equality and women’s rights which are particularly relevant to my work and on a personal level.

Something I’ve Learned

I’ve been reflecting recently and have realized just how much I have grown in my professional capacity and habits.  My project management, assertive communication skills, and my personal management habits. I know what I need to be able to focus throughout the day, have the context to give myself breaks and grace when my brain is tired, an understanding of what type of energy a task will take and what type of energy I have to give at that particular moment. I graduated in 2021 towards the first end of the pandemic and really struggled my first year in the workforce to understand how to work from home and manage myself, especially in this world of program/project/organizational development where things can be so open-ended. It was a professional burden that also impacted me personally. I am grateful to have a deeper understanding of the ways I am wired, and productive ways to structure and manage myself to produce the most excellent work.

Something I’m Grateful for
I am grateful for balanced rhythms. I’ve gotten into the habit of hiking each Sunday morning which has been a really life-giving practice for me. Since returning from my visit back to Nashville, I have clarity on the activities I want to prioritize and friendships I want to invest in. I am grateful for the space to take things slow. To not need to figure out or build up my entire life in one week or year even, but for the grace to slowly choose, lean into the communities that are lifegiving, and continue to learn and be surprised by my options.
I hope you’re doing well!
Cuidense,

Renée

Quick Trip Home

I flew back to Panama from Nashville last Thursday and have been getting settled again. Believe it or not, I was able to bring back my sewing machine, longboard, and full-size blender from home. Had to leave my cast iron behind because I am a mere mortal at the end of the day. Apart from being freaked out by how spread out and generally well-off Nashville is, being back home felt really normal. I only went to 9 out of the 22 restaurants I wanted to visit but went to  Portland Brew almost every day so no real complaints over here.

Highlights
– Seeing family and my best friends!!!!
– Listening to the Mujeres Que Suenan podcast about Latina artists.
– Weekend trip to visit my grandma and aunt on Cape Cod <3
– Finding a great work environment at Ciudad del Saber

Work Projects
I am currently working to launch our initial course demo for Escuela Calicanto! This week, that looks like sharing the demo with our team internally, working through notes on the Spanish copy and course flow, and restraining myself from making thousands of tiny unimportant changes to the design. I’ll be spending the next couple of days creating a strategy for who and how we will be sharing it, drafting copy to share it with our first participants, and building out a basic framework on Airtable to easily sort and understand the data we’ll receive from it.

This demo isn’t just a mockup of a final product. It is primarily a customer discovery tool, allowing us to understand what our target market wants and needs through surveys about various aspects of the client experience. I decided to format our customer discovery efforts into a course on the same platform we will be using for the final product. Essentially, this is a shareable tool that allows us to build awareness of the product before it’s officially launched while collecting data about what our target market wants and needs.

Instead of emailing multiple surveys to a handful of partners who are helping us out of the goodness of their hearts, this is a complete mini-course that includes an introduction to the foundation and product, real learning modules, and the surveys that support our research efforts. As a tool, it is hopefully more engaging and definitely a more strategic use of our time and resources. While I am always growing, I feel content working on this project. It combines business development with the nonprofit sector which has become my professional niche in a very natural way over the last couple of years.

Something New
I’ve been reading a couple of fiction books recently which is very new for me! I’m more of a biography, history, and hundred-page report on “Women Run *SMEs in Central America” person. I bought this YA mystery book called el ‘Misterio de la Isla Tokland‘ from an older man in the park last month and have really been enjoying it. I think the fact that it is in Spanish is acting as a buffer for my brain. I am too focused on trying to understand the Spanish and then solve the mystery so I can’t even think about the fact that it’s not real.

I am also listening to the book ‘Shantaram’ which is really lovely. It is about an Australian convict who escapes prison and flees to India in the 80s. The author makes some observations about human dignity and resilience in the midst of difficulty and poverty that I really connect with.

*Small and medium enterprises
**After a quick Google search while writing this, I discovered that there is a tv show about Shantaram launching 10/14 on Apple tv and it is strongly autobiographical (guess my taste hasn’t changed much after all 🙂

Something I’m Grateful for
I am grateful for safe friendships. Getting to spend time with some of my dearest friends in Nashville the last few weeks really filled me up. I am so grateful to have steady, mature, and present friendships – people to grow with, lean on, and love. It is such a gift and one that I am even more aware of now that I live in a different country.

I hope you’re doing well!
Cuidense,
Renée

A Sense of Place

Qué tal chicos, espero que estén bien! I’m currently typing this with one hand as I injured my thumb playing volleyball last week. I just arrived in Nashville for a brief visit with my family. It’s been so sweet to see my mom, siblings, and closest friends.

Highlights Recently have been
  • Eating more fonda food!
  • Making appetizers for a friend’s sunset boat cruise business.
  • Setting a standing day to work from home with friends.
  • Graduation of CAPTA 62!!
Current Projects

I am continuing to build out the course demo for our customer discovery efforts. This work includes designing learning materials on Canva, developing questions and surveys for potential clients to answer, and ensuring that the whole demo is clear and cohesive. I am really enjoying the digital design part of this process!

This week I’ve been focused on fine-tuning the impact tracking process I developed over the summer. After sharing it with my team last month, we made a couple of key changes that have required updates throughout the rest of the process. Just finished updating the SOP document, creating graphs + process charts on miro, and translating it all into Spanish. Once I’ve reshared these updates with the team I’ll be fully focused on impact reporting for OIM and developing Escuela Calicanto. Looking forward to having just two projects on my plate in the coming months.

We have met in person as a team a lot more in the past couple of weeks which has been really enjoyable! About half of our team are psychologists and working with them has caused me to truly value the importance of psychological support in anti-poverty/empowerment/development work. From both personal experience and observing the effectiveness of our program I have come to understand that the ability to take advantage of opportunities and build meaningful connections) is so dependent on our psychological health as individuals. People are always more than the circumstances they are experiencing. AND living in consistent need comes with real physical and psychological stressors that influence all parts of one’s life. An individual could be presented with an excellent opportunity to improve their economic well-being, but if they’re experiencing repetitive negative thoughts, low self-esteem, cycles of shame and guilt due to unhealthy coping mechanisms, depression, domestic abuse, etc. their barriers to maximize that opportunity are so much greater. Silver bullets do not exist, but I have come to see psychological support as a key component in working with people in a community development capacity.


Something I’ve Learned
My coworkers are teaching me Panamanian slang through the music videos of the rapper, Papa Chan, which has been really funny. Obviously, every country in Latin America has its own slang and accents, but Panamanian style feels next level sometimes. There are SO many hybrid/unique words and people are SO proud of it. Linking a video they sent my way so you can fully appreciate it.
Something I’m Grateful for

I’ve been re-reading Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown recently which has been such a formative book in my life. I first read it in the Writers who Walk LLC at Belmont (an equally formative class) and her writing on belonging paired with the practice of walking daily helped me process and care for myself in the midst of heavy life-changing events. The concept of belonging to yourself so fully that you belong everywhere and nowhere at once has been so helpful in my life as a Honduran American woman raised in the United States. There can be so many questions to answer, realities to straddle, things to learn, and boxes to check regarding my heritage. Navigating it growing up was absolutely brutal at times and has shaped how I see the world. I am grateful for Dr. Brown’s work, to have found a sense of place in Panama, and to have grown in the way I see myself, others, and building a community.

I hope you’re doing well!

Cuidense,
Renée

Bad Bunny is a Bug in my Brain

Hola queridos amigos! Sharing an update on my life and work in Panama. Most notably, attended a paella festival at the park by my house this past weekend. It was such a happy day. I may or may not have shirked all responsibilities for the morning and dragged my friends to walk around it with me. It was super tasty, but nowhere near Dr. Gonzalez’s infamous Nashville paella (if you’ve tried his, you know that the standard is verryyyy high).


Highlights

– Went to Marca Panama, an outdoor market where local farmers and vendors sell their produce. There were truck fulls of bananas which  I found so comforting (latina over here in case you had any doubts). There were also stalls of individual vendors selling produce. It made me so happy to take it all in. Planning on purchasing all my produce from there in the future and getting to know some of the owners. This is the world I want to get more connected with here in Panama.
– Got my new passport! (I lost mine running errands back in May oops).
– Finding some new Spanish artists (really liking Caloncho and Vicente Garcia these days)
– Getting to know the owners of a coffee shop on my street.


Work Projects

My team and I have been quite busy the last couple of weeks. Between preparing for this huge new contract with OIM, planning projects for the final quarter of the year, and participating in leadership trainings with our core management team, I’ve been stretched a little thin. I’ve been learning a lot from the leadership seminars and am applying new project management tools to lead myself first and then others within our team. I am becoming more and more organized in the way I approach, structure, and schedule my work which is bringing great clarity in my projects. I have found these sessions helpful but it’s been hard to focus for 3-4 hours at a time in Spanish. My pobrecita brain has been pretty drained recently.

My boss is moving to England starting in early September to participate in a fellowship with the London School of Economics. She will continue to work as Calicanto’s Executive Director but with a more strategic workload. While I am confident that our team is well equipped to manage these upcoming changes (we’ve been mostly remote for the last few years anyway) there are big changes occurring in the next couple of months. We’re culminating a 3-week leadership seminar with an all-team training meeting this upcoming week which will help us align for this next season.

On a more practical level, I am continuing with the market research for Escuela Calicanto. This week I have been working on a competitive analysis within Panama and Central America and designing questions for our client surveys. Sometimes I wish I was a machine and could generate perfect work really quickly. The reality is however that I need breaks, redirecting, coffee, encouragement, sleep, and a team to be able to work well. I am learning to embrace my silly humanness and lean into being an open and engaged team member above all else.


Something I’ve Learned

I’ve been in a ‘what am I going to do with the rest of my life!!!!’ head space the last couple of weeks. I’ve found myself absorbed in researching grad schools, looking at different cities, and trying to figure out what combination of degree programs suits my skill set and career path. For my sanity, I have accepted that I just don’t know right now. After hearing some trusted mentors (including my mom who knows me better than I often realize) tell me to chill out and enjoy my life, I’ve decided to let all those future plans go for the time being and focus on building deeper friendships here in Panama, lean into the activities that bring me joy, and take small steps to build a plan for when my Lumos project is done in January.

A couple of things I do know right now are:
– I want to live in Panama post-Lumos (thinking 3-5 years)
– I have great capacity for development and strategic planning, but truly thrive in people-facing environments.
– I love to cook, host, and teach.
– I love helping food-based small businesses develop strategies and operational processes.
– I want to work with food, migrant women, and small businesses.


Something Hard

My roommate and friend Tiff has been back in the States for a couple of months for a work training. I had visitors all throughout July and was enjoying living by myself but have reached a point where I really need to be around people more consistently. This has made me miss my friends even more! Wish I could meet up with my Tuesday crew for drinks, or hang out at Sevier Park with a coffee from Portland Brew. I’ll be visiting Nashville in a couple of months which I am looking forward to so much. Can’t wait to see my family and my people.
I have been walking at Cinta Costera, playing volleyball, and working with a couple of friends regularly here in Panama which I am grateful for. Building community all over again is not an easy or fast process pero, vale la pena.


Something I’m Grateful for

This is silly, but I am grateful for the gym in my building, Bad Bunny’s ‘Un Verano Sin Ti’ album, and the older Chinese lady who watches me while I work out haha. Being physically healthy and able is a gift that is not lost on me. Have been walking in my neighborhood playing sports, boxing, etc., etc.,  and am grateful to be able to move and care for my body. Keeps me grounded 🙂

Esto es todo por el momento, gracias por leer, amigos.
Cuidense!

Renée

 

 

It’s Finally August!

Hi everyone! Happy August! I’ve spent the last couple of days working remotely with a handful of friends near Palmar beach. We’ve been working throughout the day and taking pauses to surf when the waves are good. It’s been such a treat. I had visitors throughout most of July which was wonderful but also a little crazy! Have enjoyed getting back into my rhythm and weekly routines.

Highlights
  • Downloading Goodreads!
  • Leadership workshop with the Calicanto team
  • Cooking + surfing + remote working with friends
  • Spending time with my childhood best friend
  • Leading a French Fry Blind Taste Test at a birthday party

Current Projects

I am tying up final loose ends on the impact stories process this week! Will be translating an SOP (standard operating procedure) document from English to Spanish, creating a power-point, and writing a couple of other implementation guidelines for the Communications and Conexiones teams. Sharing the final process with our teams to start implementing this Monday. Que chevere!
I’ve made good progress developing our customer discovery process over the last couple of weeks. Have divided the process into three phases to measure our potential client’s wants + pain points, technical experience in the course, and the most engaging content and learning methods. My next steps here are to divide the plan into action points for our team to get started on. I am anticipating finding individuals and companies to participate in this customer discovery process to be relatively straightforward since Fundación Calicanto is so well established in Panama.
Calicanto just won a 6-month contract working with IOM, the UN’s International Organization of Migration. Starting in September we will begin training 6 cohorts with a concentrated CAPTA program. Winning this contract was exciting news to our team and very well deserved. I will be supporting the team by developing monthly reports for each cohort and a final report in February summarizing the length of the contract. Looking forward to working with IOM and equipping migrants in Panama in the coming months!

 

Something New

I finally got access to Libby through my sister’s library card (ha). My book list has gotten looong recently which is exciting! Currently reading, The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes by O’Brien and Richards, At Your Best by Carey Nieuwhof, Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren, and re-reading Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Too many haha. I found a digital pdf of the Gospel in Solentiname by Ernesto Cardenal that I am so excited to get into! Cardenal was a Nicaraguan priest and poet who took an active role in the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1980s. He founded an arts-based-monastic community on the archipelago of Solentiname and this book is a commentary on the gospels by the peasant community he lived with. I’ve been really interested in liberation and Hispanic theology over the last couple of years as I deeply respect how it integrates political participation and social justice. The faith community I grew up in shaped me in many positive ways but in my experience focused more on image, comfort, and growing a movement than caring for people. Grateful to be able to read about and learn from different expressions of Christianity these days.

 

Something I’m Grateful for

My childhood best friend spent a week with me in Panama which felt so normal and fun. I introduced her to my friends and showed her my favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and spots throughout the city. Her friendship has been such a gift to me these last 10 years. I’m so grateful for the history we share and to be able to walk through life together as adults.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re doing well!

Cuidense,
Renée

Little Bit of Chaos and a Little Bit of Fun!

Hola from Panama!  Currently hidden away at a coffee shop catching up on tasks and work. My younger brother visited me the last couple of weeks which was so fun but meant a lot was put on the back burner during his visit. Looking forward to having some quiet time for my introverted self and getting back into a rhythm in my work!

 

Highlights
  • Exploring a couple of national parks.
  • Getting comfortable with more complex Spanish verb structures.
  • Showing my brother my favorite places in the city.
  • Finding a great dumpling restaurant!

Current Projects

I am continuing my projects designing a formal process to collect impact stories and further developing our Escuela Calicanto prototype. I’ve just completed the project scope of success stories and am now focusing on designing the actual materials and resources to execute them. The implementation of this is divided between the program team and communications team, so am taking care to structure the work and content of each resource from both of those perspectives.

I am leading the customer discovery and market research process of the Escuela Calicanto project. My work recently has been mapping out our potential clients, questions we’re seeking to answer and designing the best ways to collect that information. This is a two-month phase with a lot of data to be collected and sorted through. Trying to pace myself and set up firm parameters to stay focused. I’ve been re-reading *Designing for Growth: a Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers and it has been such a great reminder of the tools for success in this process. Some of the quotes that stood out to me this time around were:
  • “Place Small Bets Fast”
  • “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else” Yogi Berra “Explorers often get lost”.
  • In reference to using key design thinking tools “As you map unfamiliar terrain, reframe problems to see opportunities, and imagine alternative futures, you must constantly check your direction (as well as your watch and gas gauge).”
  • In reference to the importance of design criteria: “In the ‘what is’ process, you glean insight from many sources. As a result, growth projects can suffer from information overload. The design criteria distill the incoming data, separate the signal from the noise and tell you what to truly believe about an ideal solution. Projects that cannot generate concise design criteria become rudderless ships, floating in a sea of data and never arriving at terra firma.”

*(confession I borrowed Designing for Growth from the Hatchery at Belmont Junior year of college and never returned it oops!)

Something I’ve Learned

There have been nationwide protests in Panama over the last couple of weeks over rising fuel prices, the high cost of living, and government corruption. Primarily led by Suntracs, but joined by other unions and associations, protesters set up roadblocks on the Panamerican Hwy all throughout the country. I have been privileged to have been minimally impacted by the protests but have coworkers and friends living in Colón, Chiriquí, and Arraijan who haven’t been able to travel into the city and have experienced food and gas shortages. While it has been relatively orderly within the city, some people were stuck for hours having to spend the night sleeping on the road or like some of my friends, off-roading through campos to find another route. No need to worry as conditions are stable and expected to improve soon.  It has been interesting to observe (and a privilege to observe and not be impacted by) the nature of political participation here in Latin America. My Panamanian friends have told me that protests happen all the time here and are one of the main ways to hold leaders accountable.
While influenced by the U.S. in many aspects of society, Panamanian citizens have a completely different relationship with their government than we do in the States (Not saying that the U.S. is the standard because who are we kidding, but mentioning it because it is my reference point as an American citizen). Linking a couple of papers below that explore the history and state of political participation in Latin America in case you’re a sucker for this type of research like me.

Something I’m Grateful for

My younger brother Roy visited me the last two weeks and we had a lot of fun! I took him to my favorite coffee shops + restaurants, introduced him to all my friends, went on day trips, and just spent time hanging out. We both have pretty chaotic senses of humor which is fun. I am really happy he got to experience a bit of my world and explore Panama! Hoping he’ll catch the itch to study Spanish and travel more in the future.

That’s all for now!

Cuidense,

Renée

Cruising

It is almost July! How crazy is that? June has been a busy month for me. I have been helping out my team by taking photos at our in-person events which has been fun and an additional way to add value. Recently I have been structuring my work days around when I am most productive, spending time cooking elaborate dinners with friends and feeling more confident in my Spanish and place here. Life isn’t perfect, but I am cruising and very grateful!

Highlights
  • CAPTA 61 Graduation!
  • Cooking weekly dinners with friends
  • Starting Spanish lessons (again)
  • The breakfast burrito of my dreams!


Current Projects
I am juggling two projects with Calicanto right now. The first one is designing a permanent process to collect success stories for the foundation. Up to this point, we’ve interviewed our alumni sporadically, sharing their stories here and there in our communication efforts. Because of the recent codification of our follow-up process, incorporating a plan and timeline to collect our alumni’s stories is not only natural but pretty seamless. It has been a matter of designing the structure of our interviews, revising the questions we’re asking to ensure that we are telling their story with integrity, and then plugging it into the follow-up process. I have been using Miro in my work a lot recently as it lends itself really well to the design thinking process + helps me visualize and structure my work. Hoping to have this project finished by end of this week!
The second project I am working on is designing a client intake and registration process for our online CAPTA program. We are working to market our main empowerment course to Panamanian businesses + employers as a workforce development program. This will make our program more accessible while providing an additional revenue stream for the foundation. I have enjoyed the technical aspects of this particular project because it is a combination of business and nonprofit development which is my niche! Have been developing a lot of demos, preparing to start the customer discovery process, and mapping out our client experience. This type of work brings me a lot of joy and reminds me of my Entrepreneurship classes at Belmont which was such a fun time in my life ❤️.

Something New
I started one on one Spanish lessons last week! I have a lifelong foundation in Spanish but identified recently that not feeling confident communicating in a professional context was holding me back and impacting the quality of my work.  I’ve kind of missed the student lifestyle and have enjoyed the structure of studying and class. My teacher was super impressed that I knew so many irregular verbs (ha) which is ALL thanks to my mom drilling them into my brain as a kid. I already feel more confident as I speak and am excited to improve. Every now and then, my brain revolts and there are days when I just can’t structure sentences well or only want to be around my American friends. Spanish has been a life-long learning process for me and one that I have become even more committed to since moving to Panama. I’ve put in too much work at this point to stop, so time to level up once again!

Something I’ve Learned
I have been reading “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren recently. Inspired by the 30 years of normal life that Jesus lived before starting his official ministry on earth, she communicates so clearly the type of Christian spirituality that I want to participate in. One that sees being faithful in my daily responsibilities as honoring to God, one that values being present and attentive to the needs and people in front of me over “doing big things for God”, one that accepts human limits instead of constantly striving to do, be, or get more, and one that accepts and loves people for who they are today, not who they will be, or how I might benefit from them in the future. I’ve loved sitting on my patio at night with a cup of mint tea and gingersnaps and reading this book. It has been such a breath of fresh air.

Something I’m Grateful for
I am really grateful to live close-ish to the beach. I have gotten into the habit of driving an hour every weekend to surf which has been really life-giving! Just getting out of the city is refreshing to me and then getting to surf and hang with friends at beautiful beaches in Panama is such a dream. A couple of weeks ago my friend Haley and I met up around 5 am, had coffee and the BEST breakfast burritos, and then drove to Chame to try to catch some waves (she caught them, I just practiced getting bodied by the waves and not dying haha). This last weekend I went surfing with some friends and then to a skate festival which was fun! I’ve really been enjoying being a part of this little community here.

Something I am looking forward to
My little brother who is much, much bigger than me is arriving on Sunday and I am SO excited. We’re really close and I can’t wait to show him my life here. I have a huge list of things I want to do with him, places to go, and people for him to meet. Can’t wait to see what he thinks of Panama.
Thanks for reading, I hope you’re doing well!
Cuidense,

Renée

Steady Now

Buenas from my little corner of the world! I’ve had a busy couple of weeks and am working on slowing down a bit. Working from home this week more to give myself a breather. In other news, I wrote a blog post for the foundation about our approach to empowerment expressed through the new follow-up process I designed. The Spanish version is live on our website and socials if you’re interested in reading more! English version to come soon 🙂  Read the post here.

Highlights
  • The blog post I wrote for Calicanto is live!
  • Solo day trip to the beach.
  • Hosting an impromtu double-surprise birthday for two Panamanian friends.
  • Finally finding tajín at the grocery store.

Current Projects
I’m working on two new projects right now – developing a project charter to incorporate site visits into our impact tracking process, and revising the internal operational structure for the CAPTA team (our primary program). Last week I went through the main digital program to experience the course from a participant’s perspective. My role in this project is mostly as a technical operations consultant. I am exploring a couple of new platforms and tools to consolidate the large amounts of information the team receives, reduce the number of tasks they do throughout the week, and frame the experience in a clear and engaging way for our participants. It was really interesting to experience the program from a participant’s perspective. I gained a deeper understanding of the psycho/social principles they are teaching and benefited from some of their modules on assertive communication and body language. Definitely have a better understanding of and appreciation for the uniqueness and utility of their program.

I have been adding value to the team by taking photos of some of their in-person workshops which has been fun. Yesterday Pandora hosted a workshop for alumni on customer service and sales, the week prior there were workshops on body language and creating a life plan. I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on these trainings and serving the team in a practical way.

Something Difficult

Recently I’ve been much more aware of my physical and social limits. I’ve felt a lot of tension and anxiety in my body the last couple of weeks and have been adjusting my habits to try to decrease that. Taking a break from coffee and social media, going for walks each day, and doing breathing exercises before bed to help my brain slow down. I am letting myself experience things without puzzling through to understand it and taking care of myself with lots of healthy coping mechanisms. A journaling prompt that helps me stay grounded is writing down what I’m angry about, what I’m sad about, what I am grateful for, and what I am hopeful for.  (Copped from Pete Scazzero)  Feeling grateful for therapy, walks, and safe people.

Something Im Grateful for
These days I am grateful to have a car to drive! My best friend is traveling for a couple of weeks and has let me use her car while she’s gone. Last weekend I drove an hour to the beach and spent the day surfing, eating acaí bowls, and napping on the beach. It was such a refreshing time and I am grateful to have the flexibility to get out of the busy city and outside for a day.

 

My childhood best friend and little brother are going to be visiting me within the next month or so and I am so excited! Have been making lots of lists of things to do and prepping my apartment, cant wait to see them both.

That’s all for now, cuidense!

Renée

 

Reflections

Hi everyone! Breaking my normal blog structure to share some reflections on my time so far. May 18th just marked four months of being in Panama; it is wild to me how quickly life can change.

Every day I am filled with gratitude to be able to live my life here in Panama. I have a safe place to live, meaningful and inspiring work to do, growing friendships, activities and sports to participate in, a mature spiritual community, and margin to rest and learn. This experience has been such a gift to me and I am filled with anticipation for the next 8 months of my Lumos experience. Because some of my long-term goals involve working within Latin America, I have never viewed this move as just a trip, but rather as the start of a new season in my life.

Personally, I’ve been learning a lot too. Simply being in a new city has pushed me to be more engaged and outgoing. Rebuilding a community in a new place means I need to be actively engaged as I relate to people, be friendly, initiate conversations, and let go of my default mode of being quiet. I’ve noticed my reflex of saying less out of fear of talking too much has changed. I’m learning how to let other people get to know who I am and openly communicate what type of person I am without feeling bad about talking about myself. Speaking in Spanish and being the new person in almost every environment has helped with this a lot. I am stronger, more mature, and more confident which I think comes with the territory of moving to a new country.

I’m learning a lot about my surroundings as well. I gain new Spanish vocabulary every week which is fun and very useful. Recently I’ve learned about the production of Geisha coffee in Panama, the circular food industry, the history of protests and government participation, spatial injustice through the development of urban areas, international influences on the culture in Panama, and the history of Colón. I am grateful for this margin in my life to learn and further develop skills. Right now I am reading a historical account on the Panama Canal (which is fascinating) and finally tackling my 14-year rhythm struggle on the guitar.

I am learning how to work well, taking note of the times of day I am most productive, incorporating walks and breaks into my days, and letting go of what I’m guessing is American guilt that I am not being productive enough. And what can I say about my work except that it is such a privilege to be able to design processes and programs to serve women more effectively. I am honing design thinking skills, learning about the importance of psychological support in empowerment, the best ways to include beneficiaries in our work,  and understanding how professional relationships are conducted in Latin America.

The other day I remembered an article I read at 14 about nonprofits offering vocational training for women working as prostitutes in developing countries. I was so touched and inspired that I tore the pages out of the magazine, wrote on a sticky note, “God will you use me to change this?” and put it in a drawer to read and reread often. A lot of time and hard life experiences have passed since those days, but I have been reminded recently why I was so passionate about working in the nonprofit and community development world. It is becoming clear again that vocationally, I want my work to center on supporting women and young adults experiencing economic vulnerability in Latin America. That could look like a variety of things in the future, but taking my background and strengths into account will likely involve developing small business training resources, creating educational curriculums and programs, along with advocacy, economic research, and policy writing. Anything could happen!

In summary, I am seeing renewal in my life. Something I am so grateful for and something I have very much needed. Navigating my  20s is still hard, living with grief is still hard, and being far from some of my favorite people is hard. But my cup is very much overflowing. Thanks for following along and thanks for cheering me on.

I hope you’re doing well!

Renée

P.S. We just started implementing the follow-up process I designed for Calicanto and have gotten REALLY excellent feedback from the cohort! I’m writing a blog post for the foundation that I’ll link in my next Lumos post so you can understand what I’ve been working on recently.

P.P.S. Maybe the biggest highlight of my life thus far is that I scored a goal with a header playing soccer with friends last week. What a thrill!