It was a good day for Brigades!

There’s no doubt about that!

You know the feeling you have when you accomplish that one thing you have always dreamt of? What if I told you that on Wednesday Oct. 13, Global Brigades got “a taste of that feeling” on the night we were invited as a guest speaker to the “U.S. Navy League” Dinner?

You may say: “but GB has presented tons of times before. What was so different about this event?” And that’s exactly the best part of it! The difference was the reason why we where invited. Let me quote the exact words Emily Boland, from the U.S. Embassy, used:

“I will speak a few minutes about the People to People Program, and would like for Global Brigades to give a summary of the work you have been doing in Panama.  The reason I wanted to have you join me is I like the way Global Brigades is a U.S. organization that has come to Panama and hired local folks to run it, as well as works with groups/organizations dependent on their need.  My view is that you don’t step in and plant your agenda on organizations, but rather listen to a designated need and create a project to help resolve it. “ – Emily Boland, People to People Program, U.S. Embassy, Panama.

!!! YES! That night we where invited as an example of the way non-profits should work. There where other prestigious organizations and non-profits, such as Fundación ProEd, Fundación Tierra Nueva and even USAID was invited. But they only gave us: Global Brigades, the word to speak. How cool is that?!

It was an awesome night! And so interesting…

Once we presented, the group conversation got started. It is important to first state, that the role of the U.S. Embassy’s “People to People Coordinator” a.k.a. Emily Boland, is to be a liaison between U.S. non-profits/organizations and Panamanian non-profits. This is the only U.S. Embassy in the world that has this position and we are lucky enough to have it in Panama. Better yet, we are lucky enough to have Emily Boland, a great promoter of GB’s work, on this position!

The first big issue discussed among this group of 30 U.S. Navy league members, was the lack of a “platform for Voluntarism and Non-Profits” in Panama. Could the “People to People” Program create one? Was anyone doing something about it? How are the non-profits able to connect within themselves if there’s not a database to access to? How could they volunteer, if they didn’t know what type of activities where going on?

I smiled.

I knew we were already doing something about it. But before I could say something, Littleton W. Tazewell, Mission Director from USAID gave the great news that USAID was already working on building a non-profit platform for Panama! I asked him if it was going to be only within Panama, and he said yes. With this being said, I explained how we were currently working on an international platform for non-profits and voluntarism opportunities, called Then of course I told him: “We should talk.”

Afterwards, for some reason, everything turned into “brigades” conversation. We talked about the lack of Voluntarism Culture in Panama. Someone asked me if the reason why this was going on was mainly because most of the people were poor and couldn’t do voluntarism work because they had to sustain their families.  I said I didn’t think so. Voluntarism should be promoted by those who already have the opportunities and can give others the opportunities they need to succeed.  We need to do something about that “bubble” the upper class lives in. And by having brigades we can make a change.

Just imagine having U.S. students working together with Panamanian students, to help communities in need. This is one of our goals. There are many prestigious schools in Panama who would love to have their students engage with U.S. students in this type of experiences. Usually schools in Panama are required to do “social work”; but that’s about it. When you ask people if they have done “voluntarism work” they’ll say: “yes, I did social work in school”. Which is mandatory so, is it really voluntarism?

By having mixed brigades, the presence of US students in Panama basically “paying to come down and help” will serve as an inspiration and motivation for Panamanian students to get involve. They’ll ask themselves: how is it that people come all the way from the U.S. to help “my country” and I’m not doing anything about it?

If Panamanian students realize what an amazing experience they can have, and how much they can help and do for their country- if they really want to; then it will mean that we where able to open his or her eyes and make a change .It will mean that we got to take someone out of that “bubble” and decrease that “mental disparity prejudice” that exists between those who have and those who don’t.  And these my friends will mean that Global Brigades work is being done. And it is all worth it.

I couldn’t feel more proud that night, of our brigaders: our inspiration and the future inspiration for the people from this beautiful country…


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