Today marks the first day of our work with the children shelters around Panama, and it couldn’t have been more striking. We spent the first half of the day touring the facility, hearing the history behind the program and the stories of many of the children and faculty and how they came to be there. The entire experience was highly emotional and gripping, and we were shocked to find eight of the abused teenage girls were either pregnant or nursing young infants.
Few in our society as so naïve as to not be aware of the great injustices of the world, but coming face to face with the people who’ve undergone exploitation and abuse radically put things in a more personal perspective. We took extensive notes on the needs of the facility and the areas in which the program could benefit from support in the future, and talked extensively with the director about the societal mechanisms which put these children in such devastating conditions, about the problems the children face as they grow older and different approaches to solutions.
Once the kids got back around midday from school we were able to interact much more directly; making new friends, playing with them, teaching them new games, and helping them with their homework. After we covered all of our administrative angles we were able to interact freely with the children and work hard to make sure every kid had a smile on. As distressing as many of their situations are, for us it was far more moving to get to know them for who they are: what their personalities are like, what their hobbies are and what are their life dreams and aspirations.
The process of arriving here has also been much anticipated, and I couldn’t be more excited for the work to come after so much preparation. The team working on this trip put a lot of work into getting us where we are today, and it’s fulfilling to see so much effort conglomerate to the final product of being on the ground. The month prior to departure was filled with a lot of scrambling on my behalf to coordinate the information Hope for the Silent Voices needed as far as emergency protocol and medical information for the group, while we collectively established the itinerary and flight details through a series of conference calls.
Another factor heavily contributing to the trip’s excitement was the level of success and support I found in the process of fundraising. As an example pitch to raise donations, the organization put it in the context that people could be inspired to give by means of serving vicariously through us on the ground, and when I first started asking for support I felt uncomfortable asking so many people for help. The reaction I received, however, was that was exactly what called people to give so openly and so generously. I couldn’t believe how many people came by with books, shoes, clothes, and stuffed animals for me to take on the trip and the number of people who helped with donations, money, and prayer. I was dumbfounded to hear how my own service and good intention could touch those around me.
To summarize everything I learned from getting to work less than 24 hours after landing in the country, the name of the game is endurance. It took patience to hold onto the money I’d raised for the trip, deciding to assess the needs and funding of all the sites instead of trying to throw it at the first problem I came across. It took stamina to match the Newtonian-esque conservation of energy a 4-year-old maintains as he throws toys from his high chair only to giggle and revel in delight as I retrieved it again, and again, and again. And, it took perseverance to earn the trust and friendship of young girls who characteristically hid behind a defensive bulwark of shyness as a result of such an emotionally turbulent past.
Regardless, all the patience and endurance was a small price to pay for interacting directly with such a wonderful assortment of human beings, and witnessing their testament to humanity’s resilience.