Etienne and Andrea lived in Bocas del Toro, Panama for 4 months. Etienne had received a scholarship to further his studies on the effect of carbon dioxide on phytoplankton for his doctorate studies. Andrea’s blog is a wonderful overview of their stay there and is really worth a visit: http://edielivon.xtreemhost.com/Bocas/Bocas/Welcome.html
I went to visit them and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Bastimentos Island. On the island there is the community of Bahia Honda which consists of approximately forty indigenous Ngobe families with a total estimated population of 200. At the heart of the community is a small primary school with 80 or so students. Andrea volunteered at this school in the kindergarden and she brought me along.
She told me how Henry and Margaret of the Loma Lodge were very implicated in this school. Volunteers have built a playground for the kids and teach there in the kindergarden. The volunteers are given room and board at Loma Lodge.
Loma Lodge is a jungle lodge and a chocolate farm. The chalets are incredibly beautiful and have a very serene atmosphere. It is worth visiting Loma Lodge’s website: http://www.thejunglelodge.com/
After volunteering one morning we went for lunch at the Loma Lodge. Henry makes the most amazing bread. It was no problem for them to cook up a delicious vegetarian feast. The dining area is all open and the jungle is all around you. It is an atmosphere where the ambiant noise is minimal as the only way to get to the lodge is by boat. One doesn’t realize how hungry one is for this quietness. I filled myself up with this silence and enjoyed it as much, if not more than the meal!! All in all, the visit was very nourishing.
During our visit at the Loma Lodge, Henry and Margaret told us all about their work with the community. Having experienced what their work has produced first hand by joining Andrea while she was volunteering, I wanted to do a little something to help which is why I asked Andrea to model a Funky Frog necklace with the children in the school so by featuring it on the website the we could spread the word about their wonderful endeavors. You can read about the work the Loma Lodge is implicate in on their website: http://www.thejunglelodge.com/community/
The kindergarden is run completely by the volunteers. All the toys, books and crayons have been donated. These are kids from families who have very little. The kids come to school very neat and tidy and in their best clothes, but most of them come barefoot. It was touching to see them completely enthralled with bubbles and mystified by chalk!!
A lot of the kids arrive in dugout canoes that their elder sister or brother paddles. It is amazing to watch these tiny kids hopping into these precarious little boats and then paddle off across huge expanses of water!
I can say firsthand, that this place embodies for me the spirit of ‘charity begins at home’. Margaret and Henry are part of this community. Their young son goes to the kindergarden and is totally and naturally accepted by the other kids. Ngobe people work on their chocolate farm. This is not an endeavor where charity is imposed on a people upsetting an equilibrium but rather it is a community endeavor which is sustaining and enriching. It is an endeavour where the community and the land on which they live is cherished because the people who are ‘helping’ are part of this same community. It is a place where I felt good to be a human.