PANAMA October 7-23
October was a very exciting month for us. Jerry got a gig working on his first feature film as the sound mixer in NC. Meanwhile One Hope sent Paul and Eitan on another adventure , this time to Panama! We were assigned 4 documentaries to produce, highlighting four hand picked organizations that are having a huge impact in their communities. We got to hang out with the wonderful Michael Taylor, our translator/guide. Michael was the man. When he’s not volunteering with his church he’s a very knowledgeable tour guide . Everywhere we went people knew him and we felt comfortable “being in good hands”, so we were told by strangers we would pass by on the side of the road as they greet him.
First stop was working with Juntos Podemos. They are a Christian school located in one of the roughest areas of Panama. This place had police men patrolling every corner. They told us the past 2 years they have been really trying to clean up the area but had we been there just 2 years ago it was common to find a few dead bodies just laying on the side of the road EVERYDAY! When we walked around to shoot broll we had to be escorted by our own personal police man. The kids in this area grow up in the streets.
Learning how to throw up gang signs from their older brothers and too poor to go to school so they just play in the streets all day. The area used to be just one big slum but recently the government had a genius idea of teaching these gangsters how to do construction and hired them to build the project housings. Now they are proud of their work and work hard to maintain the place in good condition. Some have even left the gangs and are now full time construction workers in Panama City. The teachers at Juntos Podemos are pure angels and have so much patience putting up with the extreme behavior of some of the kids. One teacher came up to me and explained that the reason they act this way is because they live in very intense situations . In a class of 10 he pointed out a couple of little boys that recently witnessed their dad being shot by rival gangs. Most actually don’t have dad’s around. Dead or in jail. The few that live with their moms have to deal with them being drunk and don’t give them the love and attention these kids need. One little girl in the class recently lost her mom to AIDS and is now living with her grandmother. He explained to us that teaching is actually just a small portion of their job. Really the most important thing for them is to be patient with these kids and show them the love they don’t know. Juntos is so much more than just a school. They feed the kids a delicious breakfast and lunch everyday. They also provide after school activities like martial arts and sex education for the Highschoolers. Periodically local doctors and nurses stop in to give the kids a medical check up as well. The classes are bi lingual and teaching not only in Spanish but also in English. We were very moved to meet guys and girls that have already graduated from the school but are now volunteering there helping kids that come from similar backgrounds. One guy we met got some vocational training in construction and is helping to build and expand the school he once went to as a child. He spoke very highly of the teachers and the program saying that it rescued his life.
Stop number two was in the heart of Panama, Panama Viejo! Old Panama. A few hundred years ago the town got invaded by captain Morgan and now all that is left is some really cool looking ruins. The ministry we were working with is called Young Life. Some of you may be familiar with Young Life in the states. It’s a beautiful program that emphasizes on building relationships with the youth of the area and showing them Gods love in tangible ways. They were wrapping up a community soccer tournament they had put together over the last couple months and we got to watch the final game and celebrate with the winners. After the game we had a bible study with everyone and a great time singing together. They work in a few different areas of Panama and the youth are encouraged to set up their own bible studies in their house. The idea is to be relevant and meet the kids where they are instead of asking them to go to church. They work closely with community leaders that volunteer their precious time and are very well respected by the community. Some Of the kids we met and interviewed had gone through major life transformations and now experience Gods love and can’t help but want to share it with their friends and family.
Coming from our little town in Boone NC, Panama City started to get a bit overwhelming but before we knew it it was time to head down to the beach and mountains area. It was so refreshing to breathe fresh mountain air and get away from all the chaos of the city. Here we worked with PCF, Panama Christian Foundation. They are a competitive soccer club that focus on developing highly skilled soccer players and most importantly teach them how to be champions on and off the soccer field. They have a community center that offers all kinda of activities including English classes and champions club . We were so happy that they chose to use our Joel Vite video we produced in Ecuador earlier this year to show at their champions club meeting. They travel all around the area giving weekly and monthly soccer clinics at schools and these kids wait for them to show up with all the soccer balls and provide them training from an Argentinian coach named Pablo. They are also providing some of the schools with their first computers so the kids can learn how to type and use it. Time flew by here and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the city for our final project.
Panama Christian Home led by pastor Edna, really touched our hearts with the work she is doing. Edna’s husband got sent to prison and she was left with nothing, rationing out the little bit of rice she had left to feed her and her two children. She got so depressed that she couldn’t leave her home. One day a 14 year old girl comes knocking on her door telling her she was hungry and with the little bit she had for her self, Edna took her in and shared it. This 14 year old girl had been through hell and back . She joined a gang at 12 and they gave her a gun. She would run drugs for extra cash and spent her money on drugs and alcohol. She would sleep wherever the night found her and it wasn’t until Edna took her in that she got to experience a real home and real love. This girls life has completely changed and now she has dreams of becoming a lawyer and fight to get kids like herself off the streets. She also sings in church and is doing well in school. Edna’s heart is so big she kept taking kids in until she had no more room for them . She tore down her house and donated the land to the children’s home ministry. With the help of a generous Jewish friend , she is now building a beautiful home for 20 boys and 20 girls who come from rough backgrounds. Most of the kids are now in school and on their down time she keeps them busy with chores , helping with the construction and afterschool classes like English and karate. We saw first hand how Martial arts is a great tool to teach discipline and respect. She also gives then a bible study everyday. I had a hard time keeping focus during the interviews because my eyes kept getting watery from all the stories we heard. We were extremely blessed by each of these very unique organizations and can’t wait to edit the videos and share with the rest of the world how God is restoring the youth of Panama through them !