In 2016 We Are Starting A School In Mariato, Panama.
In Panama’s Veraguas Province, on the western coast of this country’s Azuero Peninsula, Lief and I are developing a piece of beachfront property. We’re creating a community for people who appreciate the beautiful natural setting, the privacy, safety, and elbow room this part of Panama offers, and the prospect of settling down long term, full or maybe only part time, among like-minded folks with similar perspectives and interests.
Our efforts are building momentum. We’re one of the biggest employers in the region already, and, by the end of this year, we’ll quadruple our workforce out there. Our teams are laying pipes, cutting roads, and building houses. Soon they’ll be building condos, too. Los Islotes, as the development project is called, is reshaping this part of Panama and becoming a big force in the local community.
And Lief and I are getting to know our neighbors.
When we visited in December, before the holidays, one of them told us something that got my attention. She explained that the schools in the region have trouble finding good teachers.
“As you know, there are three little schools in the area around Los Islotes,” she told me. “All of the kids who attend walk to reach the schools each day.
“Some of these kids,” she continued, “walk up to two or three hours each way. The trouble is, many days they arrive at school to find no teacher.
“Some of the teachers are more committed than others, but it’s not unusual for a teacher not to show up…”
If a kid so wants to learn that he’ll walk three hours to get to the nearest schoolhouse, someone ought to be there when he shows up to teach him something.
We’ve been trying to support these little schools for the past few years. We’ve donated books, computers, and other materials and supplies. It’s been a well-intentioned but ad-hoc, irregular, and, I realize, far from effective effort.
One of my 2016 goals is to step things up a little on this front. With the help of a friend who has recently retired from a career in education in the States and who is now living in the town of Mariato, just outside Los Islotes (while her house at Los Islotes is being built), we’re going to open this year a Student Center for kids in the area interested in learning. It’s a first step toward starting a school.
A landowner in the area has donated a piece of land in a central location. Live and Invest Overseas and Los Islotes will provide the money to build and outfit the four-room schoolhouse. Peg, my friend who knows something about running a school, will volunteer her own time and recruit additional volunteers to help her with teaching, tutoring, and administration.
We’ll begin small and let the operation evolve organically. At first, the Student Center will offer English-language classes, computer literacy classes, and after-school tutoring. As we become more established, we’ll offer formal classes for first through sixth graders.
Of all the plans I’ve made for this New Year, this is the one I’m most excited about. If I could, I’d move out to Mariato and volunteer my own services. Pitching in to build this little schoolhouse and then spending time there each day with the kids from the area who make their way to it seems one of the most worthwhile pursuits I can imagine.
I share this plan with you in case you have any intention to be in this part of Panama and any interest in becoming involved. We’re in the market for a couple of good teachers. Primary qualification is that you promise to show up.