A group of residents and students from Western North Carolina will embark in early March on a trip to the Central American country of Panama, donating ten days to do renovation work, provide medical assistance and distribute needed supplies to remote rural schools and clinics.
The participants must meet once a week for six weeks prior to the trip. Team members get a crash course in Spanish and the history, culture and geography of Panama. Each night a group of volunteers from the team makes a traditional Panamanian meal to be shared with other team members. Students at Southwestern Community College and high school students “dual enrolled” earn elective credits from SCC for their participation in this project.
Project Panama, which began in the winter of 2004, has blossomed into a service learning project that encompasses people from many different backgrounds and levels of experience. The first trip to Panama was a small operation organized by members of the Sylva Rotary Club, the Smoky Mountain High School Interact Club and St. David’s Episcopal Church in Cullowhee.
Together, these organizations were able to collect over 800 pounds of school supplies and $400 in cash. The cash and supplies were delivered to the Boquete Rotary Club in March 2005. Subsequent journeys in 2006 and 2008 with teams of twenty-five and thirty-two members provided nearly 2,000 pounds of medical and school supplies, $12,800 in donated funds, and more than 2,600 hours of labor. Additional funds and supplies have been provided in subsequent years. The spring trip is currently a joint undertaking of the Rotary Club of Franklin, Sylva Rotary Club, Club Rotario de Boquete in Panama, Franklin and Smoky Mountain High School Interact Clubs, and Southwestern Community College. While in Panama, the team will visit historic sites, immerse themselves in the customs and culture of this Central American Country and work on several projects in rural schools and medical clinics. The group is currently seeking additional team members and gathering supplies and donations from friends, family members, coworkers and community businesses.