Panama RPCV Florence Reed's Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) plants their two millionth tree
After graduating from UNH with a B.S. in Environmental Conservation and International Affairs, Reed joined the Peace Corps and lived in Panama from 1991 to 1993, planting trees and working on reforestation projects. "The Peace Corps forces you to figure out what needs to be done," said Reed. She explained that her experiences at UNH and her time in the Peace Corps inspired her to begin her nonprofit organization.
Ten years ago, when she was living in her parent's house, Reed got the idea to create Sustainable Harvest International. However, she had no money and no means to do so. She needed a miracle, and she got it that day. An old friend from Switzerland unexpectedly called from overseas and donated $6,000 for her to work with. "If you have a dream to make a positive change in the world, the universe will conspire to make it happen," said Reed. "Don't feel like you can't do it. Surprising things will happen." Because of her friend's generosity and her parents' donation of the spare bedroom for an office, Reed was able to found SHI in May 1997.
The mission of SHI is to work toward environmental, economic and social sustainability. Trained local staff in Belize, Panama, Nicaragua and Honduras work with farmers by teaching them more sustainable methods to use in farming their land. Not only will these methods increase their output, but they will help to grow more varied crops, improving locals' diets. SHI also works with communities by creating loan funds for those who may need to borrow money. Volunteers help in local schools, aiding teachers in the classroom or interacting with students. They have helped families build wood-sustainable stoves that burn longer and create very little smoke, which pollutes homes and causes lung cancer in many people each year. "We have a very charitable mission," said Reed. Read more.
While working in the remote fields of Panama as a Peace Corps volunteer, Zachary McNish listened
While working in the remote fields of Panama as a Peace Corps volunteer, Zachary McNish listened. He listened to the villagers describe how they lived their lives and the many hardships that confronted their community.
During his three years of living with the Wounann people in the Rio Hondo area of Panama, McNish learned, for instance, that the indigenous group faced difficulties irrigating their crops. He also found them resistant at first to new agricultural methods, even though these efforts would likely increase their yield. By listening first, then acting, McNish finally managed to introduce new farming techniques that have helped the Wounann with their crops.
These same qualities served McNish well as a contributing member of Duke Law School community. Shortly before graduating with his law degree this spring, McNish was selected for a prestigious service medal given each year by the university. “Working for the Peace Corps was more of an instinct than a calling,” McNish said. “My desire to help others is specific. … Looking back, I liked being an advocate for people.” Read more.
Panama RPCV Mari Lyn Salvado brings an exhibit on the Kuna to the Museum of Man in San Diego
Mari Lyn Salvador first saw molas being sewn back in the 1960s, when she arrived in Panama as a Peace Corps worker. The hand-stitched blouses are pieces of art. Their elaborate designs depict items in the day-to-day lives of the Kuna people of Panama's coast. Canoes. Gourds. Fish. Coming-of-age ceremonies. Even political figures and cereal boxes have become subjects. Salvador, an artist and then-budding anthropologist, was fascinated by the tradition. Half of her life's work as a scholar became study of the Kuna.
"I was interested in the geometric patterns and how they came up with them and what the reference is," said Salvador, pointing to a gourd and then to a blouse depicting gourds. Now, as director of the San Diego Museum of Man, Salvador has brought an exhibit on the Kuna to San Diego.
"The Art of Being Kuna" features hundreds of molas and 300 other pieces of Kuna handcraft, including baskets, wooden objects and gold jewelry. Two mola craftswomen from Panama and two Kuna elders will be in San Diego this weekend for the opening of the exhibit to demonstrate and discuss their culture. The focus is "the importance of form and beauty for the Kuna in everyday life," Salvador said. Read more.
Panama RPCV James A. Brunton Jr. is the force behind the 12-year, $1.5 million, "Fitzcarraldo"-like feat of building a 92-foot boat out of rain forest hardwoods with indigenous labor
A rich, sunburned gringo in a straw hat from country-clubby Westport, Conn., was in command when this unusual boating party sailed in Sunday. His presence, and his encouraging the native crew to wear their traditional garb for visitors, raised all sorts of complicated questions. Whose mission was this, really? How to reconcile the capital's fashion habits with the topless women below deck? And was the entire endeavor -- how to put this -- stone loco ?
"We're bringing a piece of the rain forest here," says James A. Brunton Jr., 62, the man in the straw hat, the force behind the 12-year, $1.5 million, "Fitzcarraldo"-like feat of building a 92-foot boat out of rain forest hardwoods with indigenous labor. "That has a powerful impact."
He is a former Peace Corps volunteer (1967-69) in the Darien rain forest (not to be confused with Darien, Conn.) who says he made a lot of money with a Westport-based software company and has used some of the proceeds to create the Pajaro Jai Foundation to help the people he met in his Peace Corps days. The name of the boat is Pajaro Jai, too, a phrase cobbled from Spanish and Embera to mean "Enchanted Bird."
In a gentle breeze spiked with Old Bay seasoning from the Maine Avenue SW fish wharf, the Pajaro Jai bobs at anchor at the Capital Yacht Club. With its two tall masts and three sails, it is all varnished butterscotch luxury, quite a contrast against the white fiberglass of neighboring craft, with names like Story Maker II, Prospero and Brigadoon.
There are seven Embera aboard, plus nine others, including sailors who give the Indians crew lessons. But just what is the deal with the loincloths, jungle paint, dancing and breasts, anyway? Is there anything that so recalls the bad old days of medicine show exploitation, tourist trinket colonialism, insulting old dioramas at the Smithsonian, cliches of National Geographic titillation? Brunton has a ready answer: "This isn't dress-up for charade; this is real," he says. "We don't want to represent them as Latinos, because they're not Latinos. They are the original people of the rain forest. . . . It's who they are. However you interpret it, tough luck." Read more.