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About Evelyne Meyer

Head of Language Travel Consultants at Habla Ya Spanish Schools

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Interview with Volunteer Director at Habla Ya Bocas del Toro

Posted by | June 16th, 2014

If you’ve “liked” our facebook page, you may have seen our occasional job openings, either as a Language Travel Consultant or as a Volunteer Director and Front Desk Assistant. You may have wondered whether you fit the profile, or you may have asked yourself whether this is something you had the guts to do.

It is very tempting to get a job on a gorgeous island in the tropics, but truth is the unknown can be scary. It can be frightening to commit to spending 6+ months in a country you don’t know, hearing a new language and being surrounded by total strangers. You may have wanted to apply, but have not done so because you don’t know what you are getting yourself into, or because it is hard for you to picture what it will be like. For some, leaving their families and friends for a long period of time is an important factor to consider.

But fear not, we are nice people, and we will treat you well, we promise! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let me introduce you to our newest staff and Habla Ya family member Ludovic Jolly. This laid back, young Frenchmen joined us a little earlier this year, and decided to join our team in order to work as our new Volunteer Coordinator.

Here's Ludo at the front desk of Habla Ya Bocas del Toro
Here's Ludo at the front desk of Habla Ya Bocas del Toro

We were looking for a dynamic and motivated person, with a fun personality and a willingness to help the community. Ludo fits all the requirements, and is now officially part of the family. His role is to welcome students at the reception desk, provide customer service, and set up volunteer projects for those who want to give back to the community while studying Spanish with us.

I first met Ludo through a common hobby, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Bocas del Toro, where we meet 3 times per week to train. Ludo was working as an independent massage therapist back then to finance his trip in Latin America, but decided that he wanted a more stable job opportunity (preferably in a place where he could surf!). When I told him about what we do at Habla Ya, he was instantly excited about the idea, and joined a week later.

But instead of me doing all the talking, why don’t we let Ludo answer all your questions about what it is like to work at Habla Ya Spanish Schools. Maybe his story will inspire you to embark on a similar adventure.

What do you think made you a suitable candidate for this position? What does it take to do what you do?

First of all, I have always been looking at opportunities to work in a sustainable business operation, especially one that works with volunteers to help the local community. Volunteering is definitely an activity that I’ve always wanted to invest time, effort and money in.

I had also been working as a volunteer in Costa Rica, during which I studied permaculture farming and sustainable living solutions, which became my passion and personal project in life. I eventually ended-up being in charge of volunteer projects involving other volunteers, which allowed me to develop leadership skills and the sufficient knowledge to put new projects together.

Another advantage that I have is that my Spanish is fluent now, so I knew communication wouldn’t be a problem for this position that involves frequent meetings with non-English speakers and communicating with the local community.

What was your first impression of our school and the staff when you started with us?

What I noted can be summarized in just a few words: professionalism, enthusiasm and vision! As I first walked into the school's building, I could immediately appreciate the tidiness and the sense of detail of the structure. Then I got to meet the different staff members and found myself immersed in a really positive and enthusiastic atmosphere, as we've instantly started to joke around with the teachers and staff members, who were very welcoming and warm. Finally, when discussing the goals and objectives of the school regarding the volunteering projects, I felt that I wanted to contribute because they matched my personal expectations of a smartly run, and truly community oriented volunteer program!

Did you already speak Spanish before coming to Panama? How did you learn the language?

Yes, I learned Spanish in Costa Rica in a similar establishment, and I'm actually really happy to have a chance to immerse myself again in an educational environment. Here I can benefit from the teachers helping me improve my formal Spanish, which got tainted with incorrect grammar along the years living in a more rural environment.

Do you feel you have improved your Spanish during your time in Panama, and does it help you with your current position?

Yes, I'm definitely learning new vocabulary and a different accent in Panama, thus training my ear which gives me a better comprehension.

What were your first thoughts when you were told about the job opening at Habla Ya? What made you want to apply?

I had been looking for such a work opportunity for a little while already, so I got really interested right away. Then, witnessing the great deal of professionalism put into the operational part of the school and meeting the staff made me want to apply the very same second I discovered those different aspects!

What are some of your ideas for new projects that you would like to implement at Habla Ya?

I would love to work on improving the (barely) existing waste management system, and incorporate plant based infrastructural solutions, creating a local food production system based on organic waste reuse, thus facilitating access to healthy foods, and run educative programs to raise awareness about sustainable living solutions that people could implement in their home.

Do you have a funny story to share, that happened to you so far?

Carlos, the School Director, can be quite sarcastic and likes to joke around with people. Some of us recently rescued a malnourished cat from town and were taking care of It. Without wanting any harm, a teacher took it to his class, which he shouldn't have done, since the cat hadn't been vaccinated and the classrooms are shared with other students who are allergic to animals. So Carlos wrote an email remembering all staff members to please not take any animals into the classrooms and he also mentioned in that email (to all the staff members) that I was not allowed to bring geckos and lizards as my pets to the school anymore. Of course I had never done that, but since then some teachers have been asking me about my geckos =)

My co-workers and new friends at the Front Desk: Carlos (left) and Dominique (right)
My co-workers and new friends at the front desk: Carlos (left) and Dominique (right)

Do you miss home sometimes? What do you miss the most? What is it you definitely don’t miss?

I feel home pretty much anywhere on this planet as long as it is warm and as long as there are waves to surf, and I haven't been back to my home country (France) in more than 2 years now. I do miss it a bit, but I find it really hard to go back as this job and the people I´ve met here mean a lot to me. It is not really about what I miss, but more about who I miss, which is my close friends and family members.

On the other hand, I definitely do not miss my country as the social dynamics there have been really stuck on materialistic, superficial so called "problems", but on a more optimistic note I'm looking forward for it to reorient toward a more "solutions seeking" attitude, so that I'll be able to bring the knowledge I gathered overseas to help.

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Posted in Ecotourism, Experience, Habla Ya, Interviews, Staff, Sustainable Development, Volunteer

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Where to study Spanish in Panama: Boquete or Bocas del Toro?

Posted by | May 6th, 2014

This post focuses on the Panama locations where you can currently find an Habla Ya Spanish School: Boquete and Bocas del Toro (Habla Ya Panama City is planned to open its doors by the end of 2014). If you'd like to know more about where else in Panama you can learn Spanish click here...

One question I hear a lot from future students about our two schools is: Where should I study Spanish? Which location is better, Boquete or Bocas del Toro?

There is no correct answer to this question, because neither is better or worse. Both locations are very different from each other, and choosing which one fits you best is simply a matter of personal preference.

In fact, it should be quite simple for you to make up your mind. Just ask yourself, are you a beach or a mountain type of person? If you prefer the beach, your answer is Bocas. If you're more inclined to the highlands, then go to Boquete. As simple as that because the quality at both schools is the same. And as a rule of thumb, if you're staying in Panama for more than two weeks, we certainly recommend giving both locations a try! In this way, you'll be able to experience different parts of Panama: not only are the tours, climate and surroundings very different from one location to the other, but the people and each town's culture would make you think that you're in totally different countries.

Warm Caribbean waters? Bocas del Toro... for sure!
Warm Caribbean waters? Bocas del Toro... for sure!

So, if you're studying Spanish in Panama for three weeks or more, end your Spanish program at your preferred location, and try to start your trip by spending about 1/3 of your time at the location that would be your second option. It's also good to know that despite the fact that you're studying at separate schools, there is no need to worries about loss of academic continuity and you will obviously get the discounted rates that come from booking several weeks of classes.

If you're a foodie, you'll find tons of amazing restaurants in both towns. And in terms of convenience, both are small towns and it's quite easy and inexpensive to get around, although Bocas could have an edge as it's flat and you can easily cycle anywhere in town and taxis are available at almost any hour, as opposed to Boquete where after 9 p.m. it's more difficult to flag down a cab.

If the outdoors and hiking is your thing, Boquete!
If the outdoors and hiking is your thing, Boquete!

If you still have a hard time choosing between Caribbean beaches and Central American mountains, here is a list of pros and cons for you to consider. And when I say "pros and cons" it's really all relative to each person, because one "con" could be a "pro" for someone else!

Lets start with Boquete...

Pros:

  • The climate. Temperatures are nice (sometimes warm but not hot!) during the day (70° to 80° F, or 21° - 28° C), and fresh at night (60° to 70° F, or 15° - 20° C), all year round. If you don’t tolerate the plastering heat very well, Boquete will be your little piece of paradise as it's an average 7-8°C fresher than the lowlands.
  • Lots of outdoor activities are available, such as hiking, rafting, ziplining, coffee tours, hot springs, rock climbing, horseback riding and more. It’s not called the Eco-Adventure Capital of Panama for nothing!
  • Its delicious coffee. It is worth stopping in Boquete to learn how coffee is produced by visiting a coffee farm, and tasting the delicious product. After all, Boquete makes some of the best coffee in the world.
  • Fresh fruit & vegetables. You will find a large variety of fresh veggies from different farms at a very low price. Chiriqui is the province that provides veggies to the rest of the country.
  • Proximity to David (30 minute drive) and all its perks, like big supermarkets, modern hospitals, an international airport, a bus terminal with routes to the rest of the country, and shopping centers.
  • Authentic immersion in Panamanian culture. Boquete is famous, yet not as touristy as other places in Panama. If you are looking for a true Spanish immersion, Boquete is the place to be.
  • Safety. Boquete is probably one of the safest places I know! Even teenagers can come to Boquete without their parents to study Spanish with us, while staying with a local host family. You can walk anywhere by yourself and feel safe. Of course you should always take the usual security measures, just as you would back at home. Being on vacation should not translate into being careless.

Cons:

  • Very little nightlife. If you came to party, you hit the wrong spot. You will find the occasional party at a hostel or at someone’s house, but don’t expect clubs and bars to be going off every other day. There are only a few bars where the party can sometimes can get going, mainly Zanzibar and La Cabaña (and only on the weekends).
  • The beach is a couple of hours away. If you like the beach, you may prefer to go to Bocas del Toro instead. The closest beach on the Pacific side from Boquete is about 1 hour away by car (La Barqueta), which can be inconvenient if you want to go more frequently than just on the weekends (don't miss the Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park!).
  • The weather in Boquete can be quite frustrating during rainy season, especially during certain parts of September, October and November when it rains the most. The good news is that during these months, it usually (not always!) only rains in the afternoon, and mornings should be nice and sunny.

Imagine yourself breathing fresh mountain air every morning while enjoying some of the world's best coffee to start your day... if this is what you're looking for, pick Boquete!
Imagine yourself breathing fresh mountain air every morning while enjoying some of the world's best coffee to start your day... if this is what you're looking for, pick Boquete!

Now let’s move to Bocas del Toro...

Pros:

  • Great nightlife. You will find a variety of bars and clubs to keep yourself entertained every single night... for weeks and weeks on. Be careful though, classes start at 8am the next day =). If the party temptation is too great for you, stick to Boquete!
  • Loads of stunning beaches. If you are a beach bum and love watersports, you’ve hit the jackpot. Did I say world class surfing? Check out some surf videos from Bocas del Toro...
  • Watersports. World class surf, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and sailing.
  • The local, day to day food is better than in Boquete. That one is purely subjective, I apologize for that. I just love the coconut flavored rice so much!
  • Lots of things to do to workout, with Zumba, Fitness, Yoga, Muay Thai or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes every day of the week.
  • The weather. It is very warm and humid, so no need to worry about bringing much clothing or moisturizer.
  • Demographics. If you are in your twenties or thirties like myself, you will find more people of your age group in Bocas del Toro. Probably because of its weather and nightlife.

Cons:

  • A useless hospital. If you ever get ill, try to help yourself with over the counter meds, because the local hospital is pretty much useless. The staff there is not very helpful, the infrastructure is decadent, and the medical care is… let’s just say not great. If it’s really bad, go to Changuinola or David, where you will receive excellent medical care.
  • Bad tap water. It’s a small island, so you can’t drink the tap water. You will need to buy bottled water, or refill your used bottles with filtered rainwater, which is available at our school.
  • It is hot and humid. Did I say tropical island in the Caribbean?
  • It can get quite touristy, specially in high season (this is relative to the rest of Panama, as tourism in Panama is much less than neighboring countries such as Costa Rica), so you will bump into other travelers a lot. That being said, there are plenty of spots where you will be completely on your own if you ask the right people (us).
  • Not teen-proof. Bocas is not the place where I would send my teenager on vacation alone to learn Spanish, because the temptation to go out and party will just be too much.

Postcard perfect beaches every single day of the week? Bocas is a no brainer!
Postcard perfect beaches every single day of the week? Bocas is a no brainer!

This list combines facts with my personal opinion. Having lived in both places for several years, I can compare them both quite well and you may have sensed my personal preference for Bocas del Toro. That has mainly to with the fact that I have made many friends here, who are about my age and have similar interests to me. I am 34 years old, have no kids, and enjoy the free, easy-going and laid back atmosphere that Bocas has to offer.

As a traveler these things might be irrelevant of course, as both places are absolutely amazing to visit. My recommendation is to visit both if you have the time to do so, and split your Spanish learning vacation between locations, staying a more wherever you think you'll feel happier!

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Posted in Bocas del Toro, Boquete, Experience, Habla Ya

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Muay Thai & Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Classes in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Posted by | April 14th, 2014

Last year, my colleague Emily Becker published a blog post about where you can work out in Bocas del Toro, and the various fitness and yoga classes you can take part in. But his was before Ray Torralba moved to our lovely town, in order to teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai classes to adults and kids in Bocas del Toro. Therefore I would like to share this post as an addendum to Emily’s post from last year. It is definitely worth getting the word out.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a self defense technique that focuses on grappling (Clinch fighting, Takedowns, Throws, Submission holds, Pinning, Controlling Techniques, Sweeps, Reversals, Turnovers, and Escapes), and mainly ground fighting. All my male friends absolutely love it, but I must admit, as a girl, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn’t appeal to me much. I simply don’t like the idea of rolling around on the floor with some hairy, sweaty dudes. That being said, many women do like it, and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from experiencing it on their own.

Jiu Jitsu Instructor Ray Quintana Torralba with one of his new students in Bocas del Toro
Jiu Jitsu Instructor Ray Quintana Torralba with one of his new students in Bocas del Toro

On the other hand, I am so very happy that I discovered Muay Thai in Bocas, and that I now get the chance to practice it regularly! If you have never heard of Muay Thai before, it is a combat sport from the muay martial arts of Thailand that mainly uses stand-up striking (kicks and punches), and is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet. This martial art is associated with a good physical preparation that makes for a full workout and an efficient fighting technique. It involves lots of jumping, just as in boxing, and is an excellent exercise to stay fit.

Typically, a regular warm up session will include jumping the rope, push ups, squats, sit ups, and some shadow boxing. After everyone is pretty much worn out (in a good way), our teacher Ray will move on to teaching the techniques - and you will practice how to properly throw a kick or punch. He will hold a cushion in his hands, and you can just go at him with everything you got.

Getting to train with Ray, besides being a great work out, is excellent value for your money. This is my brother in law throwing some punches.
Getting to train with Ray, besides being a great work out, is excellent value for your money. This is my brother in law throwing some punches.

I find it to be an excellent stress release after my work day, and every frustration or anger I felt during the day is just burnt away in positive energy and laughs. Having done Taekwondo for several years when I was younger, I am no novice to this type of training, but I had forgot just how great it feels to kick something. It is way more effective than meditation for stress release, but that is just my personal opinion =) . It is also a great way to get to know new people and make friends. The same girls are coming to the classes all the time, and we are truly having fun while training.

This is me kicking something... if feels great to kick stuff at the end of the day!
This is me kicking something... if feels great to kick stuff at the end of the day!

Bit the best part about this class is that no previous experience is required to join. If you are in town for only a short amount of time, you can drop in for only $5 per class, or if you stay longer, pay a monthly fee of $60 and go every day of the week. Classes last 2 hours, so it’s a great deal! The down part is that you get to walk around with bruised body parts (mainly from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), but a nice tan will take care of that for you.

Class schedule:

  • Monday: 6 p.m.- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Tuesday: 6 p.m.- Boxing / Muay Thai
  • Wednesday: 6 p.m.- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Thursday: 6 p.m.- Boxing / Muay Thai
  • Friday: 6 p.m.- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Saturday: 10 a.m.- Open Gym Boxing / Muay Thai

LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT TO DO AFTER SPANISH LESSONS... »


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Posted in Bocas del Toro, Experience, Habla Ya

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A Relaxing Afternoon at Red Frog Beach followed by a Massage at the Spa

Posted by | March 25th, 2014

Last weekend I was in the mood of doing something different that involved enjoying the wonderful beaches of Bocas del Toro. As of late, I've been keeping close to my house during my time off. I've been painting, reading my Stephen King novels, chilling with my hubby and my cats (yes they can be entertaining!), or escaping reality during yet another TV series on netflix (I've been joking with my friends that I'm ready to become a movie and series critic!), or just gone swimming behind my house.

Bocas del Toro is all about the beaches... make sure to not miss Red Frog, specially when there are no waves!
Bocas del Toro is all about the beaches... make sure to not miss Red Frog, specially when there are no waves!

But last weekend, my husband and I had decided to pamper each other a little bit. We both work hard all week, so it always makes sense for us to organize some “us” time during the weekend. Hence, we left our house around noon, and took the boat at Boteros Bocatoreños to Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos, where we would each get a massage at the Spa. I have a hard time spending money on Spa treatments because I always feel like it is not necessary, but this was only my second massage in 34 years, so why not?

We scheduled an appointment at "El Susurro" Spa at Red Frog Beach Resort, and as soon as we arrived on Bastimentos Island, we walked to the beach to have a nice lunch right by the ocean, at a restaurant called Punta Lava. After all, pampering each other also includes not having to cook!

In the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro you get from island to island by using water taxis. A roundtrip fare between Bocas Town and Red Frog Marina is $7
In the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro you get from island to island by using water taxis. A roundtrip fare between Bocas Town and Red Frog Marina is $7

To our surprise, the volunteer organization Give & Surf which we work with at Habla Ya Spanish School was having a fundraiser and a barbecue that day, so we bumped into several friends of ours while we were there.

If you have never visited Bastimentos before, you will absolutely love it, especially the north shore with all its beaches (Wizard, Red Frog, Polo, Playa Larga...). The water is so incredibly beautiful on Red Frog Beach, and one can simply not resist going for a swim. It is as if the water had some invisible power of attraction.

My husband and I enjoying a bit of well deserved beach time
My husband and I enjoying a bit of well deserved beach time

Just calling it beautiful simply doesn’t do it any justice. I wanted to stay longer, swimming and sunbathing, but as always when you are having fun, time flew by, and we almost arrived late to our appointment. Our masseuse was already waiting for us at the reception desk to greet us. Then she lead us through a small path through the rainforest, to a small private "casita" in the middle of the jungle. The sound of a trickling stream of water right next to the casita immediately set the mood for relaxation and meditation.

I was really excited, as I am in heaven when someone massages my feet. I always beg my mom or my husband to massage my feet for just a minute or so, but somehow they are not that enthusiastic about it =) And who can blame them? So the thought of getting a real, uninterrupted 45 minute massage only on my feet made me smile in anticipation!

The massage was amazingly relaxing, but also a little painful at times (which is normal, as the masseuse assured me). I read that reflexology can have many positive health effects on your inner organs, such as help with digestion, flush out the toxins from your kidneys, and even treat migraine or prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes. Therefore I didn’t mind spending some money on something that will not only make me feel relaxed, but that can also be beneficial for my health. My husband in turn got a deep tissue massage, which he also loved (he fell asleep!).

We were both very satisfied with the professionalism of the masseuse at Red Frog Beach. She was lovely, and knew her stuff well! If you are vacationing in Bocas del Toro, or currently staying here during your Spanish Program, I highly recommend her. The massage therapists that attend the Spa at Red Frog are in fact from The Starfleet Spa on Isla Colon and our students have access to great discounts with them when they book a treatment through our front desk.

Having a massage in the rain forest certainly enhances an already relaxing experience
Having a massage in the rain forest certainly enhances an already relaxing experience

Once we were done it was almost 5pm already, so we decided to head back to Isla Colon (about a 10 minute boat ride), in order to end this perfect day with a romantic dinner. I really enjoyed the time off spent with my husband, surrounded by nature and tranquility. I would definitely go back and try another massage this time. Their Spa menu is quite extensive, and I am by no means an expert in the field so that’s another reason to go and experiment.

Big LIKE =)

LEARN MORE ABOUT BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA'S TOP BEACH DESTINATION... »


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Posted in Bastimentos, Beaches, Bocas del Toro, Experience, Habla Ya, Panama Destinations, Panama Travel, Red Frog Beach

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The Experience of Volunteering in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Posted by | March 12th, 2014

Volunteering has become an increasingly popular activity among the younger generations, and I am noticing the same trend among our Spanish students, who decide to do voluntary work in Bocas del Toro while studying Spanish with us. Needless to say that we, as members of our community, are very grateful!

I’d like to think that this is because more people are aware of how fortunate we are. In my opinion, people like you or me were just lucky to be born in the right place, at the right time. I was born in what is called a "first world country", with parents that were educated and could give me a comfortable enough life, just as they were lucky to have parents who could do the same for them. If you are reading this, you probably had access to a decent education, four walls and a roof over your head to protect you, and are part of a culture where you are encouraged to experience starvation in order to look good, as opposed to being hungry because you or your parents can't afford 3 meals a day. It’s very important to remind ourselves of how privileged we are and that most people on this planet struggle on a daily bases to just get by.

5.15 billion people get by with less than $10 a day... can you even wrap your brain around that? And how about almost those 880 million that try to survive with less than $1 a day? Obviously there is something totally wrong with our world, specially when you consider that 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets
5.15 billion people get by with less than $10 a day... can you even wrap your brain around that? And how about those 880 million that try to survive with less than $1 a day? Obviously there is something totally wrong with our world, specially when you consider that 0.13% of the world’s population controls 25% of the world’s financial assets

Had you been born in a Panamanian indigenous community for instance (click here for first hand accounts about living with Panama's indigenous groups), you probably would have grown up somewhere in the middle of the jungle, in a hut without sanitary installations, electricity, proper clothes or a real bed to sleep in. Luckily for you, this scenario is not yours, and your biggest day-to-day issue is that your wifi connection is slow and your facebook pictures don’t load fast enough on your tablet. This may be a bit exaggerated, but you get my point - we take things like running water or hospitals for granted, when for others, they are a luxury.

In some Panamanian communities, a metal roof is a luxury... for real!
In some Panamanian communities, a metal roof is a luxury... for real!

Volunteering is all about generosity. We always try to remind people that the goal is not to make you feel better about yourself (although it is a nice by-product), but to make a positive impact on the community you are helping. Give some of your time, share some of your skills, and even give away some of your wealth if you are able to. Having said this, maybe the most radical impact volunteering can have is just helping you become a better person, because lets be honest: by volunteering a couple of weeks you are certainly not going to change the world, and the impact you are really going to have will be limited if you compare it to what you could accomplish in the remaining 50 weeks of the year, but if you become a better person after your volunteering experience, once you're back in your normal life, the positive impact you could have on others on a daily bases could in fact turn out to be a game changer for those that surround you.

So, want to give back? There are plenty of volunteering opportunities if you're traveling to Bocas del Toro, Panama:

You can work with indigenous communities for instance. If you join the organization Give & Surf in Bocas del Toro, you can help improve the public education system. You would travel to different communities, and help set up the classrooms, build curriculum, teach, and provide socialization for students aged 3-6. Summer programs also focus on recreational activities like sports, games, music, and field trips.

Spending time with the kids at the local schools is also a great way to practice your Spanish
Spending time with the kids at the local schools is also a great way to practice your Spanish

Or, if you have a medical background, you could work with the Floating Doctors, who dedicate their time and efforts to provide medical treatment to those that are living in the most isolated areas. You would travel with them to different communities during their mobile clinics, and help treat the patients in their villages.

Medical students, nurses and doctors will also be able to work on their medical Spanish when they volunteer with Floating Doctors
Medical students, nurses and doctors will also be able to work on their medical Spanish when they volunteer with Floating Doctors

The Elderly Home (Asilo San Vicente) is another great place where you can make a difference. The seniors at the Asilo are often left without any relatives to care for them, and by investing some of your time in a nice conversation, you can put a huge smile on someone’s face. Tasks would include helping out in the kitchen, spending time with the elders, going for a stroll into town with them, etc. Especially in this project you will have to be very proactive and not wait around for someone to tell you what to do. Nothing is really expected of you, so it is imperative that you independently sense where help is needed and just go for it. Bringing books, or games will help! If you choose to volunteer through Habla Ya, a $5 to $10 per day donation is requested, and together with our Volunteer Director you will decide how this money can be used to help out at the local organization where you will be volunteering at. Some of our volunteers recently for example, decided to buy some paint, and re-decorated the dining room. Sensitive people should not work here however, it is not for the faint of heart.

A group of Habla Ya Spanish teachers and students spending some good times with the ancianitos
A group of Habla Ya Spanish teachers and students spending some good times with the ancianitos

If you prefer to work with kids, note that public schools can always use your help. You can help the English teachers (often, English teachers don’t speak the language correctly) or do manual work, organize sports projects and other activities of your choice with the kids. Once again, you should propose ideas to the teaching staff, and don’t wait for them to tell you what to do. Pro-activity is key if you want to make your time count. My personal suggestion is to teach the kids about recycling and waste management, as this is a real need in our communities =). Also, very important: there is a dress code for public schools: no hats, mini shorts or mini skirts are allowed.

You can also teach English to teenagers or adults at our school after your very own Spanish lessons. Twice or three times per week, we offer free English lessons to the members of our community, in an effort to facilitate dialogue between locals and foreign nationals (unfortunately there are expats who are not willing to learn Spanish), and to help the locals have access to better jobs. This has proven very effective, mainly among the local police force who needs to deal with foreigners on a daily basis (be it tourists or local expats). This option is however only available to those students who stay with us for at least 3 weeks, as a minimum of teacher continuity is a must.

One of the English class groups taught by Sarah Robinson, our Volunteer Director
One of the English class groups taught by Sarah Robinson, our Volunteer Director

What else is needed? We need people with initiative. People with ideas. People who come to Bocas del Toro, see what is missing, and who try to help out in whichever way they can.

This group of local ladies saw that our local goverment had our Central Park neglected so they took matters in their hands
This group of local ladies saw that our local goverment had our Central Park neglected so they took matters in their hands

Please remember that volunteering is not about you. It is about offering to help where help is most needed. If you don’t know where to volunteer, we will let you know where you could be useful. It is crucial that you come without any expectations (and remain flexible in terms of what you will end up doing), but with lots of motivation and an open mind.

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Posted in Bocas del Toro, Experience, Habla Ya, Sustainable Development, Volunteer

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