I know it’s been awhile since my last post. We just celebrated our 4th year living full-time in Pedasí and after so long, our life here goes on as just part of our everyday normal life. Yet, I must add that my everyday life here has been very busy and full of challenges and adventures.
Since the beginning of May, I have been part of a volunteer teaching team (3 teachers and 1 substitute teacher) for a program to teach English to 6 young adults (2 female, 4 male), ages 19-25. Each Panamanian student came to Pedasí from low-income homes in different areas of Panama: the Darian, Panama City, Santiago, Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro, and Los Santos. Their English speaking, reading and comprehension started at beginning levels. The goal was to bring there levels up to intermediate to advanced levels in order to pass the TEOFL or Oxford English Proficiency Exams within 3 months. If they passed these exams, they were offered the opportunity to attend a university in Switzerland. If one has ever looked at the TEOFL exam, it could be determined that it might be almost impossible to pass when we only had 3 months. The students stayed in what used to be a hostel with 4 bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, front room, and patios. Some could go home on the weekends if they had the money and time.
Classes were usually held in the front room or front patio; sometimes at our homes. They were taught 6 hours a day with a lunch break in between, Monday through Friday each week. In addition, we gave them homework almost every night and weekend. Sometimes we would take them on walks around town, to the beach or our homes just for a break and fun. Sometimes we would come to their place in the evenings to work with them individually, and some of them would go to homes on the weekends. I and the other teachers divided up the 3-hour sessions among us. There were a few weeks that both the other teachers were gone and I was responsible for teaching all day. Thanks to our substitute teacher who was willing to step in and help take on some of the classes for me.
We weren’t given a particular curriculum, just a couple of books about the TEOFL. So we were on our own to develop lesson plans, curriculum, and activities. Thank God for the internet which offers a lot of websites for ESL including worksheets, music activities, grammar, vocabulary, etc. I spent hours researching, developing, and printing lessons and worksheets before each class. About every 2 weeks, the students were required to take a TEOFL practice exam online to assess their progress. This included listening comprehension, speaking, reading comprehension, and writing. We had many challenges along the way, but persevered. Their last class was August 3rd, but 2 have continued until Sept. 15th. These 2 (1 female, 1 male) had lower test scores, and the coordinator fought to have them stay longer to give them a better chance of passing the Oxford English exam (which is easier than the TOEFL) and getting their Visa to go to the university in Switzerland. I and another teacher as well as our substitute agreed to continue, but this time we are teaching with a different curriculum for 4 hours a day with much more homework. It’s more one-on-one tutoring now, but there is still lots of prep. Our female student is also staying at our substitute’s home full-time and the male student will be spending weekends at another expat’s home. This way they will be immersed with speaking and hearing English more.
I am not sure what may happen with the other 4 students. If they pass the TOEFL, they will also have the same opportunity to attend a Swiss university. But some have said they may go to a university in Panama. Some have said they will seek employment in the travel or hotel industry which requires English proficiency. No matter what, they were grateful for this opportunity. I also feel so blessed to have this opportunity to be part of their lives for such a short time in helping them to advance in their future which will even benefit their families at home. A few of them have friended me on FaceBook so we can keep in touch.
Anyway, I have definitely been busy these past months and will continue to be for awhile. Besides teaching, I have still participated in monthly sterilization clinics and meetings with Animal Advocates, which is now part of a larger organization, SpayPanama. So now anyone can go to sppaypanamaanimals.com, click on the Pedasí red “Donate” button and donate directly to Animal Advocates to help subsidize the costs for our clinics. There are so many dogs and cats in the Pedasi district, which goes from Mariabé to Cañas, which need to be sterilized so we can keep the population down and for their health. It costs us about $30 per animal for the vet plus the costs of supplies. All those who help are volunteers. We have already sterilized over 200 cats and dogs this year and will be having a big SpayPanama clinic in Pedasi October 15th.
Mikkel and I were able to take a weekend off the end of May and traveled to Volcán. We had never been there before. It is located in the mountains on the other side of Barú volcano from Boquete. Much of our vegetables are grown and exported from there and Cerro Punta which is above Volcán. The town was much bigger than I thought; apparently it has grown substantially in the last few years. The weekend we were there, they were celebrating becoming the district seat. There was a horse parade with at least 1000 horses ridden up and down the main street. No way to cross over for a few hours. We visited a Haliconia farm for an annual open plant sale; I bought a gardenia plant and wish we could buy more, but did not have the space in our small rental car. Next we visited an animal rescue, Rachel’s Ark where wild animals from the jungle are taken in, some who have been hurt or abused, and then cared for and possibly introduced back into the wild. At that time, there were monkeys, an owl, a weasel, several coatimundis, rabbits, a jaguar, and a couple of sloths (which I got to hold). Then we visited Jenson’s coffee farm and had some delicious fresh roasted coffee and lemon pie. We stayed in a casita through AirBnB; our host was wonderful, inviting us for breakfast in her home and also to her church that Sunday morning. What a marvelous church offering both English translation of music and the message. They offer a community sports program and feed about 200 children twice a week, reaching out to the poor neighborhood nearby that is known for drugs, etc. We made some good friends and plan to come back to visit when possible.
There have been other events and activities here in Pedasí in the past few month, but maybe I will write about those later. One thing is that this wet season has brought more rain to this town than most of the local have seen in 10-12 years. Some of the torrential storms have brought floods, knocked down many trees, and caused power outages, For the first time in 4 years, our side patio was completely flooded with 1-2 inches of water one morning from the rain blowing in. Luckily the kitchen floor was just above the top of the water. Took me over an hour to sweep out all the water. Recently a local fisherman was killed strucked by lightning. The local towns of Las Tablas, Guararé, and Tonosí were flooded, displacing 450 families who have lost everything. The ground is so saturated and the rain just keeps coming almost every day with not very many breaks in-between. We have only have had a few full days of sunshine since June.
Video of flooding in Las Tablas.
That’s all for now, but I will try to find some time to write again. Hope you enjoy the pictures.