Unfinished Business in Panama

by Isabelle Mengesha

RPCV Panama 2018-2020

My name is Isabelle Mengesha, and I was serving in the Peace Corps as a Business Advising Agricultural Volunteer in the Sustainable Agriculture Systems program. I lived in a rural community in the mountains of Panama with a population of 1,000 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers. My role revolved around food security for the community, but I also specialized in coffee and worked with an organized group of about 10 farmers. I facilitated a few pest management seminars and taught goal setting and project planning. I co-facilitated a project to create 7 new rice tanks, which should give farmers larger and more continuous harvests throughout the year). I was also involved in a project to create 5 new eco stoves. In addition, I wrote a grant for the community to buy a coffee roaster. Throughout all this work, which we worked long hours side-by-side to accomplish, I made life-long friends. My community members supported me, took care of me, and made me feel at home and a part of their families. I was so lucky to have met them and above everything else in Panama, the relationships I made are what I will never forget. 

I’m happy to report that the grant did get fully funded, and that on the day of my evacuation, I received confirmation that the machine will be delivered and installed when the traveling restrictions are lifted in Panama! I hope to go back to Panama as soon as possible to ensure that the machine is installed and everyone in the group is comfortable using it, and to say a proper goodbye to the people who I cherish so much. We were also just about to close on a new coffee buyer deal, which will double the profits for every farmer, so there are definitely a few things I would still like to wrap up!

Above is a picture of me (second from the right) with some of the members of my group, as well as three Panamanian government agency workers who had sponsored and helped facilitate teaching the group how to make the featured eco stove.
Above is a picture of me and my friend and counterpart, Agustin. I worked side by side with him for 2 years. In this picture we are about to plant rice in his field.
Above is a picture of the new coffee roaster we’re getting.
Above is a picture of the community itself. I took it as I was walking on the road into town.
Lastly, above is a picture of some of my closest friends and work partners in the community.