Initially, Kalu Yala’s presence in San Miguel almost seemed like the only environmentally conscious entity in all of rural Panama. However, on Wednesday, the community outreach team bussed to a nearby town called La Mesa to attend the “Desfile Ecológico” (an ecological parade!). We went blindly, not knowing what to expect, but excited about the idea of other people promoting sustainability in rural Panama. When we arrived in La Mesa, we saw the San Miguel school kids enthusiastically marching down the road. It was led by kids proudly holding up a school flag, followed by others who either wore cutout flower-shapes around their heads or held up handmade paper butterflies and green balloons, with a gang of kids in the back of the pack bangin’ on drums to create a beat for the strut of their peers. Every school in the area marched in the parade, holding flags with their school name, dressed in elaborate costumes, ferociously ringing bells, thumping drums, and shaking tambourines.
The end of the march led into the “junto comunal”, which is the community center, where there were informational guest speakers, lively music, and kids performing traditional Panamanian dancing. We stood outside the center for a bit, taking pictures of other school children while admiring their intricately designed clothing. We got lucky enough to be offered seats in the middle of the community center, where we were able to experience the dancing up closer. It was awesome being so close, but also meant that we got pulled out of the crowd to join the kids at the end of their dances, which was a little bit embarrassing considering how much better they were at dancing than we were (!), but still so much fun. The day ended with a young girl who enthusiastically recited a poem about conserving and protecting the environment. After her poem, the whole crowd seemed to share a smile.
The best part of the day was knowing that I was wrong about the absence of environmental awareness around San Miguel. It exists, people do care. Sometimes it seems that environmentalism is a trend, or a race among others to see who can be the “greenest”. But knowing that it still matters in a place where trendiness and social media lack a tremendous presence gives us hope for the future of our earth.