During my time at church last week in San Miguel, I met a teacher from a neighboring little village called La Chapa. Maestra Noris Solis asked me of my work at the school in San Miguel, and about the possibility of going to give an English class to her students. According to her, none of them knew a word of English and would really appreciate my presence at the school, even if it was just a couple of times. I agreed without any hesitation.
La Chapa is the smallest village/town I have visited in Panama. It is about an hour and half away by foot from San Miguel and about thirty minutes by car. Luckily, I was able to get a ride and avoid the crazy hills that would have definitely made me never go back. The drive there was unbelievable. I have seen beautiful landscapes all around Panama but nothing truly compared to the ride to La Chapa. It was long stretches of green pastures and amazing mountains, something I’m not used to coming from the dry desert. Then out of nowhere we came to a halt. The road came to an end and in front of us was the great Pacora River.
The only way to get to La Chapa is by crossing a 4×4 vehicle through the river or through a pedestrian bridge. There was no question about it; our vehicle would not make it across. I began to walk towards the bridge and stood there for about 5 minutes contemplating whether I should walk across it or not. It looked like something you see in the movies, that as soon as you step on it breaks or something. It was clear that I was just afraid and exaggerating and thinking the worst.
I finally crossed the bridge and was glad I did so! The view was awesome!
After my journey through the bridge and river, I was at the small school. It was a tiny building, only one classroom and a kitchen. The students just stared at me wondering who I was and why I was there. I met with Maestra Noris and couldn’t help but feel great when she looked at me with a huge smile. I don’t think she thought I would ever go. My first lesson was teaching introductions and colors. For being there for only an hour, I would say the class was very successful.
I stuck around for a while to get some more information about the school and resources that this school gets and found out some very interesting things. Maestra Noris is the only teacher at the school. Her classroom is about 20 kids ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade. The books that MEDUCA (Ministry of Education) has given to them to learn English are far too advanced and none of them translated to Spanish. Additionally, she has a student that requires individual attention due to his special needs, but does not have a Special Education teacher and has not been approved to travel to San Miguel to work with Maestra Vianeth there. I was tempted to ask about the yearly budget but decided against knowing that it would only upset me more.
This has given me motivation to go teach every Thursday in La Chapa, rain or shine. I am too passionate about what I do to ignore the needs of this community. I will also be dedicating time to working with the student that requires more individual attention than the other students. In the upcoming weeks, I am attending a mini-conference for teachers and social workers from the San Martin/San Miguel area and hope to be able to work with these individuals from MEDUCA towards bettering the education system in this area.