Hola chicos! Quickly approaching one month in Panamá and feeling at home! For my sanity and yours, I’ll be updating this blog by answering the same couple of questions every few weeks. See below 🙂
Highlights recently have been:
– A beach trip to Mamey Island!
– Hosting Tiff’s birthday party
– Working alongside the Calicanto team
– Nightly volleyball at Cinta Costera
– Team dinners/lunches/hangs
Work-wise, I am focusing on gaining more context and scope of the program I’ll be restructuring. My days have looked like informational interviews with team members, sorting and reading through data they have collected from alumni, sitting in on workshops for participants, and defining my objectives + timeline for the next couple of months. One word that keeps coming to mind and summarizes my work with Calicanto well is “cultivating”. There is so much potential within the program and need within the community they serve. Right now I feel as if I am working in a garden; pulling weeds, removing overgrown branches, clearing brush, tilling the soil, all to get to the point when it is time to sow seeds of a new program structure! Development is hard. It is very much a process of unfolding and working with ‘unformed’ potential for months can be tiring. I’ve learned over the last couple of years that there is a discipline of assessing needs, asking questions, doing research, and consistently prototyping until the best format for the program/business/whathaveyou becomes clear. Though it is challenging, I really enjoy this type of discovery process and I am so grateful for the trust the Calicanto team has shown me!
I listened to an interview with two of my favorite economists, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, the other day, and a quote from their book “Good Economics for Hard Times” struck a chord in me. It reads,
“What is common among a drought-affected farmer in India, a youth on the Southside of Chicago, and a 50-something white man who was just laid off – what is common is that while they have problems, they are not the problem. They are entitled to be seen for who they are and not to be defined by the difficulties besieging them. Time again, we have seen in our travels in developing countries that hope is the fuel that makes people go. Defining people by their problems is turning circumstances into essence; it denies hope. A natural response is then to wrap oneself into this identity with treacherous consequences for society at large.”
So good, right? Listening to the above helped me to understand and connect deeper with Calicanto’s work. One thing I deeply admire about this foundation is that their work is first and foremost one of inspiring hope. Their main objective is to equip women with psychological tools and support to inspire hope and empower them to seek out the best opportunities for themselves and their families. Entrepreneurship workshops, community advocacy tools, and all other resources they share are done second to teaching emotional health and self-respect/love.
Grocery shopping has been overwhelming for me. Even back in the States, I’d tend to get stressed grocery shopping and shopping in Panama has been even harder. Produce and prices are surprisingly comparable to Nashville so I often find myself comparing prices not only to other products in the store but also prices at home all in Spanish. I then bag the food in reusable bags while speaking with the clerk in Spanish, make sure I have the cash to tip, call and wait for an Uber in the heat, and then load and unload the car up to the 18th floor of my apartment. I did a big shopping trip last week and ended the day stress-eating Cheetos and taking a nap at 6 pm haha. Hoping it becomes easier with practice!
Something I’ve Learned
I’ve learned that when communicating impact there is a need for both quantitative data AND personal stories. A frequent conversation my boss, Gabriela, and I have is how success stories without data and data without real stories are at best an incomplete depiction and at worst completely ineffective in communicating impact. Filing this away and planning to develop this thought into some key practices to make sure we prioritize both in future program initiatives.
Something I’m Grateful for
I am grateful for the church team here literally every day – they feel like family! We all live within a 10-minute walk of each other so cycle through different apartments for dinners, meetings, movie nights, lunches, etc. We’re actually living our lives together and I am so grateful to be surrounded by such fun, mature, and kind people. This community has been such a clear display of God’s kindness to me. Whether it is a quick meeting with nothing to eat but ginger snap cookies or a day spent on an island in the Caribbean it has been so filling and fun to spend time with them!
In summary! I am feeling a little more settled, getting a little tanner, and speaking Spanish a little better every day. Until next time, friends.