After days of packing and dealing with a stressed out mom, it was finally time to head to the airport to begin my journey to Cerro Ñeque, an indigenous village in Panama. This particular village isn’t near any big cities such as Panama City where we landed. The village is in fact an eight hour bus ride away followed by an hour and a half long boat ride.
We arrived in Cerro Ñeque in the middle of a rainstorm, and to my surprise, we were met by the villagers at the dock. The looks on the faces of some of the locals was priceless. I could see the excitement for the week we were about to have together. The people of Cerro Ñeque made us feel at home instantly by giving us food as soon as we got there and trying to communicate with us instantly. The work for the court began right after lunch the next day and our group clicked with the workers from the village as soon as work began. We even dubbed the head worker from Cerro Ñeque, “Superman”, because of this insane strength and incredible work ethic on the first day. Not only were the workers creating new friendships, but the children of the community were, too. My friends and I played with the kids when we were not working, and this is when I found out that my Spanish skills were far more advanced than I previously thought. This allowed me to bond with some kids in the village and opened the door for me to play soccer with the older kids and young adults of the community. This group of people, the muchachos, became good friends in a span of a few days and I will never forget these friendships I have made.
The work on the court finished in three and a half days and it could not have gone any smoother. The community became family in only a few days and went all out for us, making sure we enjoyed our stay as much as possible. They did this by cooking incredible meals for us three times a day, throwing a party for us every night, and talking to us. Not only are the people of Cerro Ñeque incredible, but the scenery around the village as well. We went on a hike the next day as well. This particular hike took us through the mountains and into a soaking wet and muddy field in order to watch the Cerro Ñeque play in the finals of a soccer tournament. We had to wait a while before we could watch the game because the third place game was right before it; however, one of the teams needed an extra player, and I was lucky enough to play in the game and score a goal. Sadly, Cerro Ñeque lost in the finals, but we supported them as if they were family, which they are.
The community of Cerro Ñeque is like no other. Their rich cultures and incredible hospitality could impress anyone, and the scenery isn’t too shabby either. This past week might have gone by in the blink of an eye, but the memories from it will last forever; both for the members of the community and the group from Jesuit High School of New Orleans as well.
I would like to thank Courts for Kids for allowing me to have this experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. – Luke, student
¨I believe the most difficult part about going home will be the availability of all the things that I take for granted, which will bring me back to that careless state of mind.¨ -Kyle
“Upon walking to the dock of Cerro Ñeque I began to tear up. Everyone said how they wanted to go home, but I did not really want to go home that bad. The experience and connections that I made with other people there, made me realize what it means to be happy. It is not about being the coolest, it is about being a good person whether you are cool or not. I did not want to leave all my friends in Cerro Ñeque. Although we were there only for a short time I feel I could call some of the people there my extended family.¨-Reece
¨What I learned from the community was attitude/perspective. The people of Cerro Ñeque had the most content attitude no matter what they had.¨-Scott
¨I learned many things that help me understand how our lives in the US are very different from the lives of the people living in Cerro Ñeque. I now understand that we do not need all the material things to live happy lives.¨ – Michael
¨My high point of the trip was definitely seeing the court being finished and all pretty. Witnessing the people of Cerro Ñeque praise the final product. It was so fulfilling after waiting for that moment for months.¨-Austin
¨From being in the community, I learned that money and material items are not important in life, it is about working hard for things and being surrounded by people that you can call Family while doing it.¨ -Jacob