In late May we met the volunteers in our province, Chiriqui for our quarterly meeting. Joining us were Brian Riley, our country director and Barbara Stephenson, the U.S. Ambassador to Panama.
The Ambassador is very sharp. Before joining the State Department in the 1970’s she obtained her PhD in Literature. She is on top of all the issues and made some interesting comments about Panama.
Panama was her first posting abroad, in the 1970’s. At that time, Panama had the best education system in all of Latin America. Now, some 40 years later, is at or near the bottom of the heap. Employers would like to come to Panama but they can not find enough employees who have high levels of skills. Dell Computer, already in Panama, has over 100 positions for English speakers it has not been able to fill for more than a year. Everyone is ‘taught’ English here from kindergarten on. From experience Peg and I know they learn practically nothing.
On the positive side, the Panamanians have done a fabulous job of running the Canal, notwithstanding predictions to the contrary.
After our meeting, the volunteers went to Lost and Found, a rustic backpacker sort of inn on the opposite of Volcano Baru from Santa Clara. It is nestled amongst the trees and is run in an old hippy kind of way, where you are on the honor system for food and beverage. There are dorms and private rooms, and we enjoyed the dark and quiet night.
It was our last time to see some of the volunteers who completed their two year stint. I’d become fond of M and K, and in fact I like all of them, but I had gotten to know them after spending almost a week in K’s village on the sea where we released sea turtle and dug clams which the beach restaurant later turned into stuffed patacones, made from platanos.