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Bocas to Darien: Three Years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama

Posted by Abby Bryant on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 @ 09:31 AM
Abby Bryant teaches business in Darien, Panama

One of my favorite perks of being a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama is the opportunity I have to travel throughout the country to facilitate business trainings in other volunteers' sites. Since I'm on a pretty tight budget, longer trips take a little more planning, and a few months ago I was finally able to visit one of my new favorite provinces - Darien.

While the Darien is infamous for wild jungles, drug traffickers, and being one of the only impassible land border crossings in the world, I see it quite differently. My visit to the Darien was filled with productive trainings, beautiful sites, and incredibly sweet locals who made sure that not a moment went by without my belly being filled to it's highest capacity. Obviously, we got along great.

Though the main point of the trip was to teach business to several indigenous artisan groups, I also had somewhat of an ulterior motive...

The Peace Corps has volunteers in just about every region of Panama and though the country isn't much bigger than South Carolina, it takes a lot of work and travel to support over 200 volunteers in 9 very different and distinct provinces. Since our office staff is limited in both personnel and location (the office is in Panama City, which is up to 14 hours of travel from the most remote sites), each province has a Regional Leader.

Regional Leaders (RLs) are 3rd year volunteers selected by the Country Director to work in a variety of roles within each province. RLs locate and prepare communities to be future Peace Corps sites, offer organizational and emotional support to volunteers, assist with safety and security issues, act as liaisons between Peace Corps and partner government and NGO agencies, and host regional meetings for volunteers, staff, and agencies every four months.

Abby Bryant in indigenous dress of Embera tribe, Panama

Though I have always loved working with the Bocas RLs, I didn't start considering the job for myself until a few months ago. Similar to the thought process that led me to the Peace Corps in the first place, I began outlining what I wanted for myself personally and professionally when my service ends in July/August of this year.  

I love living in the jungle, but I'm also quite ready to have some modern amenities back. Electricity? A refrigerator? Smoothies?? Internet?! Ah, yes. I'm quite ready for those. But am I ready to give up this beautiful, multi-cultural experience I'm having? Not quite yet.

The more research I did, the more I realized that the Regional Leader position was just what I wanted. I would get to live in a regional capital with access to most of the amenities that I'm missing, work in a more official and professional role with the national office and local and international government agencies, and still have frequent travel to the remote Peace Corps and potential Peace Corps sites I love so much.

Abby Bryant is a Peace Corps volunteer living in Panama

So how does the Darien play into that? Once I decided to apply, I knew that during my interview I'd be asked about what region I wanted to work in. While they obviously prefer to have RLs work in the same region they served in, there's usually some shifting around due to candidates and their work styles and preferences. Since I knew one of my best Peace Corps friends from Bocas was also applying and wanted to stay in Bocas, I took that as an opportunity to look around and think a little more about where I would want to spend my 3rd year in Panama.  

Panama's cultural diversity beautiful ecological landscape make that quite a hard choice, but when I thought about which province intrigued me the most, it became quite easy- the Darien. However, having never visited the area, it seemed pretty naive to ask to move there, hence my tour of the area.

And herein lies the big news - An incredible week of travel and a great interview later, I'm very excited to accept my new position as the Darien Regional Leader and can't wait to move out there and get started in July. Though my new job won't affect my current position at all, it does mean that I'll be in Panama a year longer than I thought. I know that's bittersweet news to my friends and family back home, but I'm sure that a month-long U.S. trip in December will help that a little bit.

Accepting the new job has made the end of my service in Bocas feel a lot more concrete, and that's bittersweet for me as well. I have loved the time I've had here and look forward to another great year!  

Abby Bryant teaches business and baking in Darien, Panama

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Volunteer Abroad, Abby Bryant, life after college, Business Seminar

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In Bearcats on the Road, students chronicle their lives while studying abroad or completing internships away from campus.

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