Panama: Penn State’s Global Environmental Brigades - An environmental and cultural exchange: Erin Hill, ERM Major, Sustainability Leader Minor


Posted: June 17, 2013

I am very thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to travel with the Global Environmental Brigade. I hope to continue environmental and humanitarian work in the future.

What a memorable way to end the school year! From May 7 to the 13st I traveled with Penn State’s Global Environmental Brigades to Panama. The overall mission of Global Brigades is to improve the equality of life by empowering students and leaders to take action in communities towards sustainable development. As the Environmental Brigade, we participated in a reforestation project in the community of Piriati Embera. The Embera are the indigenous people of Panama found in the providence of Darien in eastern Panama.    

Our work consisted of digging holes and planting plantains, coffee, and Cocobolo trees in a field. We also did maintenance, weeding, and planting in green houses that were built by past brigades. It was great to learn that Global Brigades teamed with the community and their leaders on the project, HillPanama2.pngdeciding which crops and trees to plant and how to design the fields. The community is always kept in mind, as this is a collaborative effort within the community. In fact members of the community worked along side with us in the field.

Another component of the Environmental Brigades work is education. We taught and educated the community by doing “chalas” or talks to help further their understanding about the importance of the environment and taking care of it. The “chalas” focused on composting, proper green house care, and recycling and waste management. We did our best to make the “chalas” interactive and interesting by using pictures, posters, and question and answer.  These talks also help me practice some Spanish!

One of the most rewarding parts of the trip was interacting with the Embera people. We learned all about the Embera and got to know about their daily lives and traditions first hand. We had multiple opportunities to sit down with families and ask questions. It was a great cultural exchange and I was surprised how open they were and interested in us as well. This exchange reminded me how important it is to be open minded and know that our way of life is not the only way.
HillPanama3.pngWe had the pleasure of learning a traditional Embera song and dance about a “Baja Baja,” a butterfly. We then taught them the Penn State cowbell chant that is done at the football games! We learned about their daily lives, chores, traditions, and beautiful craftwork. This included basket weaving, jewelry making, and intricate wood carving from the Cocobolo trees. One tradition done by the Embera culture is painting their body with black dye that comes from the seed of a jagua fruit. The greatest impressions left on me were how the Embera people live day by day and are closely tied to their environment. They are always so happy and cheerful and perfectly content with their lives and what they have.

This trip with the Global Environmental Brigade is one that I will never forget. It was an exciting learning opportunity to see sustainability practices in a different country and it furthered my leadership skills in the education of environmental management. I learned more than I ever thought I would with the Embera culture and now strive to be more like them. I take away from this trip the desire to be happy with what I have and immerse myself more with my natural surroundings. I am very thankful and blessed to have had this opportunity to travel with the Global Environmental Brigade and hope to continue environmental and humanitarian work in the future.