Jackie in Panama

Jackie Wald has served as a lecturer in Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in SMU’s Dedman College. She and her husband, Michael, have volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps in Panama for 27 months. Their assignment is to update the English Program at the Escuela Normal, which is Panama’s premier teacher training school.

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We’re officially in the Peace Corps now

Jackie2.jpgIt’s official! Training is over and, for the next two years, we are bona fide Peace Corps volunteers. That means we are finally on our own. We can move to our assigned communities and start our designated jobs.

Jackie3.jpgFirst we needed to say goodbye to our host families where we had been living for the ten-week trianing period. In my case, that was sad. I loved Senora Maria and her daughter, plus the dogs, and the parrot. Roosters are still not my favorite animals even though I got used to them crowing through the night. I tearfully told her that I had not had a mother for the last ten years but for the last ten weeks, I felt as though I did. She teared up, too, and we hugged and promised to stay in touch.

Jackie5.jpgThe transition from trainees to volunteers occurred at our swearing-in ceremony in the ambassador’s residence. It was a lovely affair attended by dignitaries of the Panamanian government, the head of Peace Corps in Washington, Ron Tschetter, the country director Peter Redmond, and was presided over by Ambassador William Eaton of the US. It was Ambassador Eaton’s last official duty in Panama before heading to the University of Texas at Austin where he will teach in the LBJ Institute for the next two years. Between us, it’s a Texas\Panama “trading places.”

So, what is our job in Peace Corps and where will we serve? The Escuela Normal in Santiago is a unique institution in that all future elementary public school teachers in the nation pass through its doors. A good command of English is mandated by the Department of Education. An excellent ability in English is necessary for those who will teach it as a second language. My husband and I will be working to improve the English program, redefine the curriculum and design new methodology to raise the level of English among the future teachers in Panama. It is no small task. My head is reeling with ideas. I don’t know where to start or how I will sort it all out. Michael has to remind me to take it easy and be realistic. We cannot single-handedly revamp the entire English program in Panamanian public schools. If we can contribute a couple of good ideas that come to fruition and are implemented here, that will be measure of success.
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Jackie1_001.jpgI feel as though we are standing on the threshold of a great adventure. The school is beautiful and ornate. The faculty seems welcoming and eager to have us on board. The students are respectful and attentive. I can only pray that our being here will have a positive impact on all our lives.

In photos: Jackie with kindergartners in the community; a little girl enjoying sugar cane; an old fisherman on the coast; a neighbor cooking a tuna in his kitchen; some children in front of our neighbor’s shack;

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