September 28 2013
Mike Parnell, BSILR '14
During my spring break in March 2013, I had the opportunity to travel to Zapallal in the Darien Province of Panama to take part in a Human Rights Brigade with 25 other Cornellians. This was the first time that I had ever had the opportunity to travel to another country and experience a different culture. From this experience, I will remember a number of things. I will remember playing soccer and pato, pato, ganso (duck, duck, goose) with the children at the school in Zapallal. I will remember listening to a local villager who was seeking legal advice and candidly talking to us about his life story in a small hut on the outskirts of town. I will remember the amazing hospitality of villagers, Kuna and the Embera tribes who gave us their time and allowed us into their lives in the brief time that we spent with them.
The first day in Panama was spent receiving an introduction on our project and engaging in a cross-cultural exchange with the community. As a part of our cross-cultural exchange, we played a game with the school children that taught them the difference between rights and responsibilities. This allowed us to educate them on the rights that they are endowed with as citizens. Prior to this game we were told by the lawyer we worked with, that citizens were not cognizant of their rights. While our game of deberes y derechos (responsibilities and rights) will not solve this issue, it did create a forum for this issue and allowed us to begin the process of educating students.
Over the next few days our group spent time conducting legal clinics where we provided pro-bono legal service to anyone in the village who sought our help. On the final day that we spent in Zapallal, we traveled to the local high school and organized debates as a means of fostering constructive conflict resolution between the students. We taught students how to present their arguments in a clear and structured manner as well as how to respond to opposing arguments. This also provided an opportunity for us to teach the students on proper negotiating techniques and skills.
The issues that many Panamanians face go beyond human rights. Nearly 90% of Panamanians in the Darien region that we stayed in lived in poverty. Clean water is limited and unhealthy living conditions are challenges that most people face on a daily basis. On our last day, I was able to travel to an indigenous village where I worked with several other students on constructing latrines for the villagers to reduce certain health risks.
My trip to Panama provided me with a window into an amazing culture, people, and beautiful landscape. The ILR travel grant allowed me to have an amazing international experience while also giving me the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned as an ILR student in a real life situation.