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Volunteering In Panama

Published: Aug 24, 2023 @ 10:32 AM

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a friend about volunteering in Panama.

As an expat living in Panama, she wanted to volunteer in an area she was passionate about. After landing at Ronald McDonald House, she started volunteering without speaking much Spanish. In recent articles, I've talked about the value of volunteering, not just for the community, but for the volunteer. As Dr. Wayne Dyer put it, “The more we give away, the more is given to us.” For Caleigh, this rang true. Her outlook and positive experience encouraged me, and I thought it would be great to share her journey with our followers here at Volunteer Connector.

N: How did you go about finding a place to volunteer?

C: I wanted to do something in health care, but that's one of the protected industries in Panama. So, getting into health care was quite tricky. There were many barriers. So naturally, the second thing was to volunteer in that same space. That's how I got connected to someone at the Ronald McDonald House.

N: Can you talk a little about what it was like to volunteer in a place where you don’t speak the language?

C: I was super nervous about going there. Many of the families coming there are from the country's interior, so they don't speak English or, if they do, it’s very limited—and my Spanish isn't very good either. So, I was nervous about how I would connect with these people. How am I going to do anything with them? That was intimidating to me. But I quickly realized that people just want to be understood and heard. The basic needs of people are the same, whether you can communicate with them or not. My experience is that most people are friendly and will try to connect with you even if you don't speak the same language. Smiles are universal.

N: Did you find volunteering helpful in your journey to learn Spanish?

C: Yes. In my journey to learn Spanish, I find you just have to figure it out. I would practice a lot with my Spanish teacher. If I was bringing an activity, game, or puzzle, I would practice explaining it with my Spanish teacher before going. The more I started coming to the Ronald McDonald House, the more people interacted with me and made an effort to speak slowly and more simply. It was very endearing. Through volunteering, I could help them in a way, and then it was like they were returning the favor by speaking slowly or practicing with me. It felt like a give-and-take relationship. It was symbiotic. That definitely helps with the Spanish.

N: If you could give advice to someone looking to volunteer in a country or a place where there might be barriers such as culture or language, what would you say to push them to do it?

C: Don't let the barriers overwhelm or stop you because, at the end of the day, all humans in their basic needs are the same. And across different cultures and different languages, you'll find that we're more alike than we are different.

Honestly, there's little for me to add. Be encouraged. Whatever barrier you thought was between you and volunteering, there’s a way to overcome it. If you believe something disqualifies you from serving in a field you are passionate about, don’t let that stop you from trying. There will always be a way.