March 21, 2010 —
Peace Corps Panama sends volunteers to potential new sites for future volunteers. They talk to locals to gauge interest and then send sector leaders (who are PC employees) to meet with the locals so they can explain the PC program and evaluate the community. If the community is appropriate and a future volunteer seems like a good match, the community gets a volunteer. March 20 was the second visit to xxxxx (location deleted) for this purpose.
About 15 people from the community came to the meeting in the hopes of getting a PCV. They have several projects and problems they would like help with. A group received a grant from the PAMBC, commonly called the Biological Corridor, an organization which helps protect this environmentally important zone. It does so in part by helping establish environmentally friendly businesses. This group has such a grant, The problem is they do not have a market for the trees they grew with the grant money. ANAM, the government’s environmental agency, suggested they might be able to sell the trees to the hydroelectric project which is right in town, and which is required to plant 10 trees for each one they remove. The group’s trees are ready to plant and there is no offer in sight to purchase the trees.
I would guess that the group started the nursery without ever talking to project management and if they did without getting a commitment. Volunteers almost always find that planning is given short shrift if it is given any at all.
Those present eagerly shared their complaints when asked, except for the 30 minutes when it was raining. Most roofs here are metal and when it rains hard no one can hear. I was wondering if there would be a meeting at all but finally the rain abated.
Towards the end there was some interesting discussion about how the community and volunteer would adapt to one another especially in the first three months when the volunteer is expected to live with host families. Food is a big issue and I explained that Americans do not have a rice based diet and many find the quantity and frequency of rice consumption to be overwhelming. Some might be vegetarian. To help avoid problems they were told not just to serve food but to ask the volunteer what he wants so the volunteer does not feel obliged to eat something they do not want. There was discussion about language, too and cultural differences. Panamanians are very indirect in their communications. We told them to be more direct with the volunteer if they can, since given the language barrier especially at first, it is very hard to decode subtleties.
This community has a housing shortage, as is common in the area. Their last application for a volunteer was not filled because there was not a dw
elling the volunteer could rent. One of the locals is fixing something up for the new volunteer. This will be inspected before the volunteer arrives, as will the host families, probably by the regional leader, who is a PCV usually in their third year (you can choose to extend to a third year).
I came in part because I want to organize some training for the groups like this in the area, that number upwards of 15. All of either have projects they are running or would like to have one and they get no training in management skills, so their projects often do not perform as well as they could. In this case, no one has been paid for labor on the hope that the payment for their efforts would come when they sold the trees. Without a Plan B those trees are likely to die in the nursery, and you do not have a Plan B if you have never had a Plan A.