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Reforestation in Piriati Embera, Panama with Global Environmental Brigades - Michaela Ruppert: CED Major, Sustainability Leadership Minor

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Posted: September 5, 2013

By traveling to Panama and making a positive impact on the environment by helping a group of truly wonderful individuals proved to be one of the best ways I have ever spent my time and money.
Getting ready to plant vegetables in a greenhouse in Ember Puru

Getting ready to plant vegetables in a greenhouse in Ember Puru

Shortly after the end of the spring 2013 semester I took my first step towards engaging in international sustainable development work by participating in an environmental brigade in the indigenous community of Piriati Embera, Panama. Alongside eighteen other members of Penn State Global Environmental Brigades, I worked alongside community members to reverse environmental degradation and provide a sustainable solution that would benefit the community financially as well as the environment by eliminating slash and burn agricultural practices that we saw in other areas of Panama. With the help of the hard-working community members we were able to dig nearly 300 holes to plant plantains, coffee, and wood trees. We also took some time to help restore their greenhouses that had been built by a previous environmental brigade. We also spent a day working in another indigenous community called Embera Puru. Here we focused on planting RuppertPanama2.pngvegetables in their greenhouse as well as digging more holes for plantains in a small area next to the greenhouse. During two of our days working in Piriati and our day in Embera Puru we took some time to do a “charla”, which was a short educational lesson with topics including greenhouse maintenance, waste management, and how to use compost. These charlas were meant to be interactive ways for us to further enhance the knowledge of the community members on ways to take care of the environment around them. While the weather was very hot and the work was physically demanding, describing my experience in Panama as rewarding and unforgettable would be an understatement. Even though I knew basically no Spanish at all, I was still able to connect with the community members and learn valuable lessons from them. In additional to both applying and adding to my knowledge in the fields of international development and sustainable development that will help with in future endeavors, I was able to witness the daily lifestyles and cultural aspects of a community that is financially impoverished but rich in spirit. On our last day in Piriati we were able to spend time playing with the children, purchase the beautiful jewelry and crafts made by the families, join in on cultural songs and dances performed by the women, and share a meal with the community members. 

RuppertPanama3.pngBy traveling to Panama and making a positive impact on the environment by helping a group of truly wonderful individuals proved to be one of the best ways I have ever spent my time and money. It also provided me with the invaluable feeling of reassurance that I chosen the right path to head down with my education. While I wish I would have come across Global Brigades sooner in my time at Penn State, I am grateful that I will have the opportunity to attend a second brigade as a senior. Attending a brigade also exposed me to possible career paths to consider within Global Brigades or similar organizations.

Although we only spent one short week in Panama, leaving such a beautiful place filled with beautiful people was harder than I expected. I am beyond grateful to have had such a positive experience and learn so much in just a few days, and I am confident that every Penn State student on the trip shares the same feeling that I do. Global Brigades has been a very beneficial organization for me to get involved with, and I am eager to travel with an environmental brigade in the near future.