Archivo para 5 septiembre 2008

El Profesor Journeys to Darién, Panamá in July, 2008

It was my intention to journey to Panamá and to personally present our first Middlesex Middle School contribution to our friends at the offices of the Fundación Pro-Niños de Darién, conveniently situated in the capital city. When they learned of my plan, however, these wonderful friends invited me to journey with them to Darién, to help officiate at the annual Feria Escolar during the Children´s Day celebration – widely celebrated throughout Panamá. The Fundación operates a large educational farm in Darién, and it is situated a short distance from Nicanor. The farm, which has trails leading into the heart of the rainforest…with monkeys gallivanting in the treetops and with a wide variety of colorful birds flying about…has countless marked and labeled gardens and orchards, designed for agricultural instruction, along with animals of every description. Instruction in organic farming and the raising of livestock is offered, and there are bunkhouses where children sponsored by the Foundation enjoy a summer learning camp experience each year.    I did present our donations to the remarkable staff of the Fundación Pro-Niños in Panamá City. 

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The following morning, we met at 4:00 a.m. and began our drive on the Inter-American Highway from Panamá towards Darién. When I lived in Panamá, many years ago, this road did not exist. Today, it runs from Panamá through a portion of the Province of Darién, but then stops. No roads cut through the thick, wild rainforest which constitutes the fabled Darién Gap, and which is world-renowned parkland. Parts of the highway are excellent, while other sections have prominent potholes. At dawning, we paused at an open-air restaurant called El Descanso, where we enjoyed a typical breakfast of hojaldras, chorizos, jugo and café.  The drive was extremely pleasant, and we reached the farm in plenty of time for the opening of the fair.

    To my surprise, it had been arranged for me to leave the fair for a short visit to the Nicanor School. The school year runs from March through November, so school is in session in July. The school day is short in Darién, however, and so it was necessary for me to hasten there to meet the principal, teachers, and youngsters. Friends from the Fundación drove me to Nicanor, which – unlike the farm – is not situated on the main (and only) highway in the province. It is necessary to turn onto a dirt road and travel north for a few miles to reach Nicanor.

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When we arrived, a number of the children were lined up in the manner of an honor guard to cordially greet us. I spoke with them, asked them many questions, and was then graciously escorted into the building to see the cheerful classrooms. Children in grades 1, 3 and 5 share one room, while students in grades 2, 4 and 6 are in another. A third classroom accommodates the youngest children.

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I saw their cafeteria, where they enjoy breakfast and lunch. Two mothers volunteer each school day to come and cook delicious meals on a wood stove outside of the cafeteria. On the day of my visit, the youngsters were about to partake of arroz y frijolitos. Covered with plantain leaves, it looked wonderful. Everything I ate in Darién was delicious.
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I toured the small building which is being converted into a library/computer lab. Costs being lower in Darién, Panamá than Darién, Connecticut, it is possible that the building itself will be torn down and re-built, to better accommodate the exciting new addition to the school. After leaving that structure, I was taken by the children on a fine tour of the grounds. They learn agriculture, in addition to math, science, social studies, Spanish, and other subjects. Students are taught effective methods of organic gardening. They grow their own lunches.

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    It is required that all children in Darién schools learn English. Unfortunately, there are no English teachers, books, or resources. Nevertheless, the principal coached the students to extend a greeting to our Middlesex community – in English – as I was leaving. It was a wonderful visit, and I hope to stay much longer next time — and to teach some longer lessons as well.

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    Returning to the farm, we thoroughly enjoyed the two-day Feria Escolar. On the first day, finalists from sponsored schools throughout Darién competed in storytelling, poetry recitation, the singing of improvised décimas, drawing, and other arts. There was folk dancing by children representing the Emberá and Afro-Darienite cultures, and the artistry of all the participants was astonishing. The youngster who won the storytelling competition was literally of professional caliber. I have never encountered a more talented group of young people.

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    That evening, in the town of Metetí, I met a missionary priest who kindly and generously presented me with a book on the history of Darién, which I had never seen and did not know existed. He and many others joined us for a dinner at the farm. The following morning, we enjoyed hojaldras and other typical breakfast foods – and then we welcomed a different group of youngsters for the games and outdoor events of Children’s Day. From sack-races, stilt-walking, and breaking a piñata to relay races and balloon-busting, it was a pleasant day for the appreciative children of Darién, all of whom left with gifts and treats provided by generous Panamanian merchants and patrons.

    A grove of guanábana trees gave me the idea of requesting chicha de guanábana – which, by the way, proved to be the best I´d ever tasted.

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Being with such good company in the heart of the rainforest was a thorough pleasure. After the children left for their home communities, we rounded up our belongings and set about to return to Panamá. It was only a four-hour drive, and yet 9 out of 10 residents of Panamá City will report that they have never set foot in Darién. There is no tourism, there are no hotel or restaurant facilities catering to out-of-towners, and visiting some of the communities in Darién is like venturing into the more tranquil past. I enjoyed every moment of my visit and I look forward to seeing Darién again in the not-too-distant future.

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 The work of the students and staff of Middlesex Middle School in extending a hand of friendship across our virtual bridge is very much appreciated by our friends in the original Darién. We all look forward to getting to know one another as our communication continues and the distance between the two Dariens diminishes.

    Darién is charming, and the people there are wonderful!  I am pleased to be able to share with everyone my first-hand account of a happy visit there, and only hope I adequately represented the folks in Darien, Connecticut, when I happily served as our initial “ambassador” during my excursion into the rainforest.
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MI VISITA A DARIÉN en julio, 2008

La verdad es que nunca pensé que iba a ver el Darién original, pero sí quería entregar las contribuciones de Middlesex Middle School a mis amigos de la Fundación Pro-Niños de Darién, que tienen una oficina muy bonita en Panamá. Pensé pasar no más unos dos o tres días en Panamá, pero me invitaron a ir a Darién para disfrutar la Fería Escolar, que se celebra cada año durante la celebración del Día del Niño. Como saben todos, yo vivía en Panamá hace 50 años, pero nunca había ido a Darién. Decidí acompañar a la buena gente de la Fundación. Llegué a Panamá y, al día siguiente, fui a la oficina de la Fundación.
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Salimos todos para Darién a las 4:00 de la mañana el 18 de julio. La carretera, que nunca había visto antes, es como cualquier otro camino en ciertas partes, pero hay secciones con baches parecidos a unos cañones gigantescos. Sin embargo, no tuvimos dificultades de ninguna clase. Desayunamos en un restaurante que se llama El Descanso, y luego llegamos a Darién, donde sacamos una foto del letrero que dice “¡Bienvenidos a Darién!”

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El viaje de Panamá a la granja de la Fundación Pro-Niños dura no más 4 horas. Me encantó la granja, un recurso educativo de altísima calidad.
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La feria todavía no había empezado. Mis amigos me llevaron de una vez a la comunidad de Nicanor, donde tuve el placer de conocer personalmente a los estudiantes de la escuela, su director, y sus maestras. Fue una visita maravillosa, durante la cual aprendí mucho.
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Los niños de Darién son inteligentes, educados, muy simpáticos, y tienen muchísimo talento. Estudian español, ciencias, matemáticas, ciencias sociales, inglés, y otras materias de interés. También cantan diariamente en la escuela, y eso me encanta.
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Me llevaron a la huerta y al jardín, para ver todo lo que tenían sembrado. Me interesó mucho. Hay muchas plantas en Darién, Panamá, que no existen en Darién, Connecticut. Los dos Darienes tienen climas muy diferentes.

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Vi el salón donde esperamos tener una biblioteca y muchas computadores – y también, si Dios quiere, Internet para los niños de la escuela Nicanor. El puente virtual que estamos construyendo juntos va a unir a los dos Darienes, a través de la tecnología del siglo 21, y entonces nuestros amigos del Darien original podrán compartir sus ideas y pensamientos con nosotros. Todos estaremos aprendiendo juntos, con un Darién unido-

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Regresamos a la granja para la feria. Niños darienitas cantaron décimas, bailaron, contaron cuentos, recitaron poesías, y dibujaron. El talento que mostraron era asombroso.

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Los bailes folclóricos eran muy bonitos. Por suerte, no llovió en la selva tropical durante la feria.

Cada año, esta maravillosa feria presenta a los niños más talentosos de Darién. Es una experiencia muy buena para ellos, y es un encanto estar en la granja, viendo el buen trabajo que hacen en esas escuelas de la provincia.

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Vi que hay muchas guanábanas en la granja, y – como hace calor todos los días en Darién – tenía deseos de tomar una chicha de guanábana, bebida que no existe aquí en el otro Darien.
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Ya que tengo muchos amigos en Darién, espero regresar pronto. A mis queridos amigos de la Fundación Pro-Niños, les agradezco mucho la ayuda y la hospitalidad que me dieron tan bondadosamente. El trabajo que hacen ustedes es verdaderamente increíble. Tienen una organización que de verdad ayuda a los demás. La energía, creatividad, y la bondad que muestran ustedes no se describe facilmente. Hay que viajar a Darién para ver todo lo que han hecho, y que siguen haciendo ustedes. Me encanta ser padrino y, gracias a todos, me considero miembro de la familia de la Fundación. ¡Qué siga el trabajo de la Fundación Pro-Niños de Darien!
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