Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stealing ideas from Ms. Mary Walsh

Hi everyone. It's been yet another long time since my last post. With only a few weeks left here in site, I've been kind of overwhelmed saying goodbye and getting a grip on the future and so I've kept quite on this blog. I'm pretty darned anxious to be honest and I don't like the free-falling feeling I get knowing that I have to start a new chapter of life soon. I am super excited to see my family though. If it weren't for that I might run off into the jungle and never be heard from again. Who knows? Anyway, as I coming to terms with saying goodbye to the "toughest job you'll ever love/ hate/ that will make you sick/ make you feel more fulfilled than you thought possible/ make you misanthropic/ make you believe that humanity can accomplish anything" (ok those last ones were mine) I'd like to share a document called our "Description of Service". This is, appropriately, a sum-up of all of the work we've done in our two years here. Enjoy!

Description of Peace Corps Service

Kelsi Loos

Panamá 2009-2011

After a competitive application process stressing technical skills, motivation, adaptability, and cross-cultural understanding, Peace Corps invited Ms. Kelsi Loos to serve as a Tourism and English Advising volunteer in the Central American nation of Panama.

Pre-Service Training

Ms. Loos began an intensive 10-week pre-service training on April 21, 2009 in Santa Clara, a small community outside of Arraijan, around an hour west of Panama City. The program consisted of language training, technical training, and cross-sector training. Part of technical training consisted of Ms. Loos conducting a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis with the community to understand and practice community-based development, preparing lesson plans, and teaching in El Copé, Coclé.

Training program included:

· 110 hours of formal instruction in Spanish

· 30 hours of country specific studies (the history, economics and cultural norms of Panama)

· 135 hours of technical training (lesson planning, classroom management, the SIOP teaching model, Peace Corps programs and methodology and community based development best practices)

· 55 hours of field-based exercises (PCV visit, site visit, technical week, culture week)

· 15 hours of medical training

· 190 hours of various interviews


On July 1, 2009, Ms. Loos completed training and was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She was assigned to Cambutal, a Latino community of about 1,000 located two hours south (by bus) of the provincial capital Las Tablas, Los Santos. Cambutal has an emerging tourism economy centered on surfing however, most community members earn a living cattle ranching, fishing, other agricultural activities, or working in construction. There is an elementary school present but for higher education, the children must leave the community, often heading for the district capital of Tonosí or Las Tablas.

Tourism Advising

The primary project assigned to Ms. Loos was to advise and consult the Committee for the Sustainable Development of Cambutal, the organization which requested a volunteer. Certain members of this group splintered off to form Tortuagro (Group for the Conservation of Marine Turtles and the Development of Tourism and the Agricultural Sector of Cambutal). Ms. Loos's main task then became organizing this new group through partnerships with Conservation International and a local NGO, NIDA (Niños de Azuero/ Children of the Azuero). Working together with these organizations and Ms. Loos, the group was able to begin the process of securing legal NGO status and accomplish diverse projects such as building a turtle egg hatchery, beach patrol, community outreach activities, and exchanges with other marine turtle conservation groups as near as Isla Cañas and as far as Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Ms. Loos also investigated various local sustainable revenue sources for the group, including the development of a computer center in the Center for Communication and Environmental Education (Tortuagro's de-facto office) and a recycling project. Side ventures included selling mahogany and the Popsicles locally known as duros. She also offered a 36 hour English course to group members and the community at large with a focus on communicating with tourists and sensitivity to cultural differences.

Ms. Loos also worked with the Agrotourism cooperative, Rebirth of Cambutal. There was a rivalry between this group and Tortuagro so Ms. Loos gained valuable experience working neutrally and managing local political and personal disputes. With the Panamanian counterpart she invited to Peace Corps' project management and leadership workshop, she offered a stream-lined version of the same training to the cooperative. She also invited fellow volunteers to give an agro-business/ agro-tourism workshop to the group and the community at large. While no members of the cooperative actually attended, the event was still a success because of the enthusiasm of the unaffiliated community members who did participate.

Finally, Ms. Loos advised an ATP [Tourism Authority of Panama] employee based in Cambutal in various promotional materials for the community including a website and brochure.

English Advising

During Ms. Loos' first year of service, she taught English classes Thursdays and Fridays in the elementary school. The school in this time had a part time English teacher who worked in another school the days Ms. Loos taught. The school had about 80 students and ranged from kindergarten to sixth grade. There were three instructors managing two grades per classroom and an English teacher, a special education teacher, and a kindergarten teacher. During Ms. Loos' second year of service, the school hired a fluent, full-time English teacher and they began to informally share ideas and methodology as well as practice English together.

Most of Ms. Loos' English teaching was done outside of the classroom. She informally tutored many community members, and had about four regular students. She offered a general English night class at the beginning of her service and began the above-mentioned tourism focused course towards the end of it.

Ms. Loos also participated in a week-long workshop on the SIOP model of teaching in Changuinola, Bocas del Toro.

Secondary Activities/Projects

Computer Center

Partnering with Tortuagro and with the guidance of her Associate Peace Corps Director, Ms. Loos secured a donation of fifteen computers and a printer for the Center of Communication and Environmental Education. She then planned a 62 hour computer course with a local university student who taught the community how to properly use and maintain the equipment. Ms. Loos also initiated contact between Tortuagro and INFOPLAZAS, an agency for the advancement of technological services who will help to provide internet once the group has official NGO status.


Ms. Loos began a recycling program with educational talks led by NIDA in the school. They also began a community involvement campaign including meetings, pamphleteering, and trash clean up days. They then solicited donations for bins and paint from local hotels and began collecting recycling to sell in Las Tablas. This project was in a constant state of renovation Ms. Loos responded to unforeseen problems and opportunities. The project was left under the management of Tortuagro in partnership with the Representative of Cambutal. She led recycling awareness activities in the communities of Pedasí and Valleriquito as well as advised fellow volunteers in Los Santos (and one in the province of Veraguas) interested in recycling projects.

Tonosí Conservation and EcoTourism Fair

The neighboring volunteer in Isla Cañas and Ms. Loos planned a Conservation Fair in their district capital of Tonosí with the cooperation of the Mayor and agencies including ARAP (Aquatic Resource Conservation), Conservation International, NIDA, MIDES (Ministry of Social Development), and the Azuero Earth Project. They invited community groups from the district of Tonosí to share and celebrate their work with others and learn from speeches by the participating organizations. For many groups, including Tortuagro, this was their first chance to present themselves in public and interact face to face with Panamanian agencies.

Youth Activities

Throughout service, Ms. Loos was involved with the youth of Cambutal. Her first English class was designed for secondary school students. She and visiting volunteers also led games for children during an ex-patriot's New Year's party as a healthy alternative to the alcohol-based activities of the adults. The youth were involved in the recycling project and turtle conservation activities through talks in the schools, community cleaning days, and beach patrol.

Ms. Loos supported an ex-patriot's adaptation of the Nutcracker as a way to showcase the youth's talent and raise funds for a family in need.

In partnership with the ATP, she helped develop a Youth Night including songs, dance, and trivia as a way to get the youth interested in learning and to provide a safe social activity for them.

Peace Corps Leadership

Ms. Loos participated in the training of the last group of Tourism and English Advising volunteers. In addition, she facilitated during the four day project management and leadership workshop of group 65. She hosted a total of four volunteers on their site-visit, offering them their first glimpse of Peace Corps work in practice. In addition, she was the secretary of the Gender and Development committee.

Language Skills

Ms. Loos has achieved an medium advanced competency level in Spanish during her service and effectively used Spanish to communicate while working in her community, with Panamanian government and non-government agency counterparts, and in daily life.

Ms. Loos completed her Peace Corps service in Panama on June 17, 2011.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Statement of Subcomandante Marcos to the Freeing the Media Teach-In

[I'm taking a break from the regular blog to bring you this statement from Subcomandante Marcos in honor of my decision to attend Journalism School in the fall. I'll be back soon with real updates because there is a lot to talk about.]

Statement of Subcomandante Marcos to the Freeing the Media Teach-In
organized by the Learning Alliance, Paper Tiger TV, and FAIR in cooperation with the Media & Democracy Congress, Jan.31/Feb.1 1997, NYC.

We're in the mountains of Southeast Mexico in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas and we want to use this medium with the help of the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, to send a greeting to the Free the Media Conference that is taking place in New York, where there are brothers and sisters of independent communication media from the US and Canada.

At the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism we said: A global decomposition is taking place, we call it the Fourth World War-- neoliberalism: the global economic process to eliminate that multitude of people who are not useful to the powerful-- the groups called "minorities" in the mathematics of power, but who happen to be the majority population in the world. We find ourselves in a world system of globalization willing to sacrifice millions of human beings.

The giant communication media: the great monsters of the television industry, the communication satellites, magazines, and newspapers seem determined to present a virtual world, created in the image of what the globalization process requires.

In this sense, the world of contemporary news is a world that exists for the VIP's-- the very important people. Their everyday lives are what is important: if they get married, if they divorce, if they eat, what clothes they wear and what clothes they take off-- these major movie stars and big politicians. But common people only appear for a moment-- when they kill someone, or when they die. For the communication giants and the neoliberal powers, the others, the excluded, only exist when they are dead, or when they are in jail or court. This can't go on. Sooner or later this virtual world clashes with the real world. And that is actually happening: this clash produces results of rebellion and war throughout the entire world, or what is left of the world to even have war.

We have a choice: we can have a cynical attitude in the face of the media, to say that nothing can be done about the dollar power that creates itself in images, words, digital communication, and computer systems that invades not just with an invasion of power, but with a way of seeing that world, of how they think the world should look. We could say, well, "that's the way it is" and do nothing. Or we can simply assume incredulity: we can say that any communication by the media monopolies is a total lie. We can ignore it and go about our lives.

But there is a third option that is neither conformity, nor skepticism, nor distrust: that is to construct a different way-- to show the world what is really happening-- to have a critical world view and to become interested in the truth of what happens to the people who inhabit every corner of this world.

The work of independent media is to tell the history of social struggle in the world, and here in North America-- the US, Canada and Mexico, independent media has, on occasion, been able to open spaces even within the mass media monopolies: to force them to acknowledge news of other social movements.

The problem is not only to know what is occurring in the world, but to understand it and to derive lessons from it-- just as if we were studying history-- a history not of the past, but a history of what is happening at any given moment in whatever part of the world. This is the way to learn who we are, what it is we want, who we can be and what we can do or not do.

By not having to answer to the monster media monopolies, the independent media has a life work, a political project and purpose: to let the truth be known. This is more and more important in the globalization process. This truth becomes a knot of resistance against the lie. It is our only possibility to save the truth, to maintain it, and distribute it, little by little, just as the books were saved in Fahrenheit 451--in which a group of people dedicated themselves to memorize books, to save them from being destroyed, so that the ideas would not be lost.

This same way, independent media tries to save history: the present history-- saving it and trying to share it, so it will not disappear, moreover to distribute it to other places, so that this history is not limited to one country, to one region, to one city or social group. It is necessary not only for independent voices to exchange information and to broaden the channels, but to resist the spreading lies of the monopolies. The truth that we build in our groups, our cities, our regions, our countries, will reach full potential if we join with other truths and realize that what is occurring in other parts of the world also is part of human history.

In August 1996, we called for the creation of a network of independent media, a network of information. We mean a network to resist the power of the lie that sells us this war that we call the Fourth World War. We need this network not only as a tool for our social movements, but for our lives: this is a project of life, of humanity, humanity which has a right to critical and truthful information.

We greet all of you, recognizing the work you have done so that the struggle of indigenous people is known, and that other struggles are known, so that the great events of this world are seen in a critical form. We hope your meeting is a success and that it results in concrete plans for this network, these exchanges, this mutual support that should exist between cultural workers and independent media makers. We hope that one day we can personally attend your meeting, or perhaps that one day you can have your conference in our territory, so we can listen to your words and you can hear ours in person. For now, well, we take advantage of the help of the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico (NCDMUSA) to use this video to send a greeting. This section in English: I don't know if my English is OK but good luck and so long. Cut.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Playing Politics

Since I last posted, the days have just flown by! The trainee visit went swimmingly. The girls seemed so nervous but it's understandable. They had only been in country for about a week and a half. I guess it's a good idea to let them see what a Peace Corps site is like right away but I imagine it wasn't easy to jump into the deep end like that. Not to sound too cocky, but they were lucky to visit my site :-). The first day was the performance of our version of the Nutcracker. It went beautifully! I was so proud of all the kids and it seemed like they were proud of themselves. Additionally, we raised a lot of money for a family that's going through a hard time. Everyone is already talking about next year's production. That's sustainable, yo!

During the volunteer visit, my homegirl from El Cortezo came by just in time to see our leatherback nest hatch! It was a pretty magical moment. I had never seen leatherback babies before and they are huge compared to the Olive Ridley... I think they are cuter too. We also all got to go to a baile in town. I don't know why but I got this huge rush of pride from being the first one to take the trainees to a baile. I hope they had a good time. It was a little hard to tell. Their dance partners were all respectful as far as I could see, so that's good. We also made time for the beach, of course, and Alisa got some surf practice in. Some good friends from Chitre were also down so they got to meet them... basically the visit was timed perfectly.

After that, I took a well deserved vacation to the Kuna Yala with Katie. We went without much of a plan but it turned out to be a great adventure and went smoothly. We started off by staying in Casco Viejo, a part of the city which I hadn't had much chance to explore yet. It reminds me of Fell's Point in the sense that it a gentrifying area by the water surrounded by ghetto. Honestly, it kind of made me homesick. We had a nice dinner and some interesting conversation with this older ex-pat guy dealing in textiles who ended up paying for the meal. I think generosity is contagious in Panama. We spent the rest of the night making fun of the backbackers at Luna's Castle. Always good times. We chatted with these Argentinians who said they were in Panama to start a revolution so we got onto politics. I am always interested to hear people's impressions of the American People. It kind of made me laugh that they thought the average American spent any time at all thinking about the US corporate takeover of Latin America, as if there were a thought-process behind our neo-colonialism. It's business, plain and simple, and the vast majority don't know or care about it's consequences. That's the most dangerous thing. I kept these thoughts to myself because I don't like when people talk about a people they don't know yet.

We made it to the comarca the next morning bright and early and I was blown away by the beautiful sea and how DIFFERENT everything was. Like I said, we had no plan so we just asked the boat driver at the airport to take us to a cheap place nearby. We ended up in a place over the water with a really interesting owner. She was cool to talk to and her son and his Ministerio de Salud friends were also super nice. They took us in a boat to Isla Tigre so we could check it out, then to this deserted island where we could swim a little. We even found some conch to eat. yum yum. Before the boat trip, we had some time to check out Nargana, a well-developed island you can walk to by bridge. They told us it used to be a Peace Corps site and it would be good one it looks like. There was a grade school and a high school to work in, as well as various agencies. I'm not sure why PC stopped working in Kuna Yala but people said they wanted volunteers... One thing that made me laugh was that the houses are for the most part cana and penca huts with sand floors. They look really humble but we stopped to get flan in this one and I looked inside. To my surprise, they had a large flatscreen, a soundsystem, and a wii... in their grass hut. Panama is like that sometimes.

Modeling/ Site Developing

The next day we went out to Isla Tigre or Diger Dupu in Kuna which is a smaller, much more traditional island. The sea is less contaminated by trash and the over-the-water latrines so we could swim there. We stayed in a cabana built like a traditional Kuna house; cana, straw roofs, and sand floors. Because the wind could get in, it was nice and cool inside. The owners and staff were really awesome here too. I think because Digir Dupu sees less tourism than the eastern islands, they were pretty relaxed with us. I never felt like anyone was putting on a show, which I appreciated. We just chatted a lot about Kuna culture and crafts. The chef taught us some sweet card tricks, most of which I have unfortunately forgotten already. I was able to use one for my English class, though. The cabanas are set a little ways away from the settlement but we took some time to pasear. Walking around seeing the women's traditional dress was the best part. These ladies got style. It was a little weird though because as soon as we entered the "mainstreet" people wanted to sell us their crafts. They weren't pushy but it's something I'm not used to. I ended up picking up a Mola and Katie got a bracelet. I was hoping to get another mola so I could have one for my family and one for me but the pressure to buy weirded me out so I didn't. I think it's because I'm used to just shooting the breeze like a Santena that the directness of "Hey, you wanna buy my stuff?" was weird. Also, people didn't want their picture taken. WHAT KIND OF PANAMANIAN DOESN'T WANT THEIR PICTURE TAKEN!? I guess the people are Kuna first, Panamanian second.

Also, we saw a sign that said Stephen Segal. We never got a straight answer as to why it was there.

I was really looking forward to snorkeling but the sea was too rough to go to the best spot. I settled on snorkeling nearby and it was ok but I didn't get to see much. The water was cloudy. I mostly just like the rush of breathing underwater anyhow. Your brain is like, NO DON'T DO IT!!! but you do anyway. Other than that we spent a lot of time reading, getting some sun, and chatting. It was a joy to get away from the stress of site.

Things are going well in town but the stress comes from trying to keep up with all the events we're planning and meetings I have to go to. It's a lot of juggling, following-up, and making back up plans. We were supposed to get the computers last week with the representante but he said he was too busy on the date we had set. THEN I find out he went to the city the next day to work out a scholarship for one of the kids. He didn't mention this to me and he really should have. Stuff like this is why I get stressed. So now I have to find another ride because I'm not trusting this guy for anything anymore. I've given him enough chances and every time he screws me. Si Dios quiere, I'll go with my community counterpart Monday. He is just as untrusting and misanthropic as me so we'll have a lot to talk about. Then comes the big step of actually teaching people how to use the machines. I'm also trying to plan a business plan talk and a beach clean-up but with the environmental feria in Tonosi, carnival, and the close or service conference coming up, I can't figure out a date. I've also taken on new tutees for English. We just started but it seems to be going well. I've realized that I like community organizing way better than teaching English. I don't know weather I don't care for teaching English because I'm not good at it or if I'm not good at it because I don't care for it. I'm thinking about a tourism-focused English class for Tortuagro anyway. Apart from that, I signed up to translate for American doctors that are coming to give treatment in Veraguas. That's about it, really. A lot of planning and hoping not to drop the ball.

Until next time,


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't think this day can get any weirder...

What a morning! I might as well preface the story by saying that for the past few days I have been getting up at dawn to cook for a medical gira that has been going on in site and staying up late to practice for the "cascanueces" so I'm a little loopy from lack of sleep. It's good to be working but still... ANYWAY...

Today we were going to bring the recycling to Las Tablas and, in my fog, I'm getting it ready to go in the morning when I find that someone has disposed of a saco of garbage including vials of glucose and used needles. Gracias a Dios, I didn't get stuck but this is the second time in my life I've been THISCLOSE to getting pricked by some random dirty needles. (The other time was walking around Baltimore in my flip flops... I almost stepped on one. Freaky!) Even though nothing happened it makes you think about how random life can be. One minute I'm just cleaning up trash and then the next I might have had to set up an HIV test. Sheesh. And the Ministerio de Salud wouldn't even help me set up HIV screening for my site.

The insanity wasn't over though. On our way to Las Tablas the car's tire CATCHES ON FIRE! Not just smoking, no, IN FLAMES! Big ones. It turns out the brake fluid had leaked all over it and the friction caused a fire. My friend was able to put it out and make it to Tonosi but he was unable to repair the car in time for me to make it to the recycling plant because I have to be back in site to meet some Peace Corps trainees who I fully plan on terrifying with this story :-). Luckily we're all ok so it's nothing more than an inconvenience.

I'm looking forward to meeting the new kids. We will have a lot to do with the play coming up tomorrow and I'm going to make them help me with random projects once that it over... and also build my friend Franklin's house (just kidding). No relaxing on the beach for these folks! Well... we'll make a little time for that too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sometimes the Stars Allign Just Right

These past couple weeks have been just mind blowing. Super busy but paying off in big ways. I got word from my boss that our computer donation came through so we've got 15 computers waiting for us in Panama City!!! We still will have to look for equipment such as surge protectors and whatnot but this is huge! We've just got to coordinate the transportation and we're good to go. Next step will be classes in how to use and care for the equipment. Then the big hurdle, internet.

Our sea turtles are hatching!!! Last night, I got to count the babies so I actually got to hold them in my hands. It was amazing, to say the least. It's a huge relief that the vivero works because the first nest was slow to hatch so I thought the eggs might have been friend or destroyed by bugs or something but, no, the babies were just taking their sweet time.

We've also starting practice for the Nutcracker. I'm not going to lie, the 1st one was absurd and really not coordinated but who cares as long as people are having fun. I hope we get everything ready by the show date of the 27th... It's going to be an insane amount of work but its a great way to get people united and getting kids more confident on themselves. Truth be told, the girl playing Clara, the star, is a natural. For someone that has never acted or even been exposed to this kind of thing, she's really amazing. Her brother is playing the Nutcracker and they practiced the waltz even though he had gash on his foot from a surf injury. If that's not dedication, I don't know what is. Dude was bleeding all over the place.

I wish the best for you and yours!

Friday, January 7, 2011

In heaven everything is fine

I see some resemblance. Just call me the Lady in the Radiator... except this country doesn't need radiators.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Good times, owies and everything between

I hope you all had a great holiday and New Year! This year I decided to spend them in site and although I really missed my family and friends back home, I'm glad I got to see how Panamanians get down for Christmas. It was super-low key and the Church didn't even open but I tried to spread some cheer giving out Christmas cards. I think people liked it. New Years was a lot more interesting. An ex-pat friend threw a party for the whole town and asked me to help with games. Two friends from the region came to help and I'm so glad they decided to make it because it turned out to be a big job! We ended up being the life of the party and even the adults got in on the musical chairs action and what not!

(The calm before the crazy/ my community is now in love with Dylan and Kenny and want to have their babies.)

("Towel Dancing" More like Dirty Dancing if you ask me. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw yeah.)

(Limbo time)

(Burn mother phoenix, burn)

Other than that, things have been a little slow with the holidays around and all. I'm still trying to get an HIV prevention talk in town, still trying to put on the Nutcracker, still planning the environmental feria, still working with the turtle group. The New Year promises to be a good one, loaded with activities. The only other news is that I got my wisdom teeth removed yesterday. I look like a chipmunk. Everything seems to have gone well and I'm fine besides being awake at 4am posting to this blog because I can't sleep because my face hurts. The stuff they gave me for the pain works about as well as baby aspirin but I'll soldier through, like a real PCV. :-) The whole thing went by really fast. I remember being really nervous in the dentist chair, then they knocked me out The next thing I know I'm being shoved into a cab going back to the hotel, then the cabbie is shoving me inside, then the doorman is shoving me into my room. I don't really remember much of it. Respect to the other volunteers who checked in on me and everything that day. It means so much to me! You guys are great!

Until next time.