February 10, 2003 - Penn State University: An Adventure in Panama and Costa Rica

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Panama: Peace Corps Panama : The Peace Corps in Panama: February 10, 2003 - Penn State University: An Adventure in Panama and Costa Rica

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 8:18 pm: Edit Post

An Adventure in Panama and Costa Rica

An Adventure in Panama and Costa Rica

An Adventure in Panama and Costa Rica

by Mary Alice Gettings

Nutrition and Health Agent, Beaver County

As I prepared for a trip to Panama and Costa Rica in January, it never crossed my mind that I would be teaching the natives of an Indian Village the "hokey-pokey." We shared one of our American customs after they had asked us to participate in one of their dances. This was only one of the many highlights of an adventure to Central America.

This tour included visits to a Chiquita™ banana plantation, a palm oil processing factory and a palm plantation, a citrus grove and juice concentrate processing plant, and a coffee plantation and processing plant. It was interesting to see all this food processing in action. I will never eat a banana, drink a cup of coffee, or drink a glass of orange juice without thinking about what I had been exposed to and learned. These tours included a first-hand look at the process of collecting the food and the various ways these foods are processed. In addition, we learned a great deal about the labor costs and the price these products are sold to the U.S. What is even more amazing is how much we pay for the product as a result of import costs.

The trip to the Indian Village was quite a cultural experience. But, it may have been more of a cultural experience for the village people. We were the first group of tourists to ever tour their village! Our American tour guide made a connection with the Peace Corps volunteer (from Boston) working with the village to plan this experience. We first had to take a boat across a stream to gain access to the village (they just recently opened a bridge that can now be used instead). We were greeted with smiles and faces full of intrigue. Our first stop was to see the "Medicine Man." I found this fascinating in view of my interest in the medicinal uses of herbs. As we toured through the village, we were able to see much of the poverty that these people experience. Only 25 of 80 thatch huts have electricity. Our next stop was the "craft house," where women of the village produce their traditional Indian dresses, purses made from pineapple leaf fiber, and beaded bracelets. We were given the opportunity to watch the women extract the fiber from the pineapple leaf and weave these into attractive purses. We then had the chance to purchase their hand-made goods. Since this was the first time they sold their goods to visitors, it was interesting to see how big the eyes of the children got as we Americans were passing our dollars to the woman in charge.

One of the more poignant evenings was a visit to a local orphanage for girls. The 60 girls sang songs for us, while children from the area that attend the school but are not residents of the orphanage performed dance routines reflecting the various regions of Panama. The girls took us on a tour of the orphanage, including their chapel, sleeping quarters, and kitchen. When touring the kitchen, they pulled broccoli and corn from the refrigerator that was rotting and moldy. They receive decaying produce from local markets for their consumption. Experiences like these always make me feel appreciative of the life I have been privileged to live.

We also had the opportunity to visit an old sugar mill, which I found quite interesting. I had never chewed on a piece of sugar cane or drank the water from the plant. This "old" mill used an ox-driven mechanism to extract the sugar water from the plant. We then watched how it was placed in molds, heated, and resulted in the end product - raw sugar.

Throughout this trip, I met with a Cooperative Extension employee with program emphasis in nutrition and an elementary school teacher who wanted to discuss nutrition education for her students and their parents. I am currently working on obtaining curriculum in Spanish that is appropriate for their native eating habits. In addition, Deanna Behring and I have met to discuss how we can make this travel opportunity available to other extension agents throughout the state.

Our tour guide was a former extension agent in the beekeeping area, so I was able to learn a great deal about their system. When I asked him if they have 4-H, he looked at me quite puzzled. After explaining what 4-H is, he said, "We have that, but it is called 4-S." This is just one of the many differences between the two organizations.

In addition to what I have discussed above, we visited a hot spring, pineapple grove, butterfly farm, and the cloud and rain forest. It was much more than a trip, it was a true adventure that I will never forget.

If you are interested in more information about this trip, please call me and I will put you in contact with Tom McCormack, a Beaver County beekeeper. He has been traveling to Panama for the past nine years teaching beekeeping as part of the "Farmer-to-Farmer" program and more recently through the Peace Corps. Tom is planning three 10-day trips in January and February 2003.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Panama; COS - Costa Rica; Special Interests - Beekeeping



By Michael Smith (pu108419.student.princeton.edu - on Monday, March 19, 2007 - 6:55 pm: Edit Post

I would be very interested to have the contact details of this Tom McCormack. I live in Panama, and have some experience in beekeeping. I am currently looking for an internship, and have my own funding, but am looking for some good cause to work for. I am fluent in english and spanish. Please forward any information you might have to: smithleemichael@hotmail.com.
Thanks very much,
Michael Smith

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