Deep connections that transcend language were made between Camas HS students and the community of Los Pilares, Panama

The first official day of the CFK trip was mostly a lot of tired, shy, and anxious students, very slowly (but surely) opening up to each other. Most students were exhausted from waking up early or staying up late, and didn’t care much about interacting with other students they had never met before. However as the day went by, the early flights forced students to interact with each other and the layovers prompted large games of UNO, thus the group began growing closer.

The slow growth of friendships during the first day carried into the later part of the evening when we arrived at the hostel. The bus ride to the hostel also forced students to introduce themselves to each other, but most helpful were the rooming and games being played at the hostel. Games, room situations, and the absence of a cell phone, which removed the ability for students to avoid interaction via tech (something students did at the airport and during flights), helped students greatly in interacting with each other. The Los Pilares trip had already begun creating the foundations of friendships that would last well into the rest of the trip, and that will hopefully last for well after. 

Our first day in Los Pilares highlighted both the continuous growth of friendships within the group as well as the shy interaction of students with locals, as both gained the courage to converse. During the first day, most people relied heavily on translators and only attempted to converse for challenges given to them by the group leader. Although the CFK group had grown fairly close at this point, our relationship with the Los Pilares community had only just begun.

As the days went on, the community grew closer to the Camas High School students and CFK members through dance, challenges, work, and rainy days. We quickly went from barely talking to one another to being invited to teach English, being recognized by the locals, being taught how to dance “mas suave”, being involved in the process of making our favorite Panamanian foods, and many more. It’s truly amazing how quickly the community grew so close to us, and it’s fascinating how eager they were to both teach us their culture and learn ours after only a few days. 

The best part about the CFK Los Pilares trip was the perspective gained and connections made. Many students created deep connections with locals, and many more gained some much-needed perspective on the world, society, and themselves. The trip was truly a transformative experience for everyone involved, and I think many will return next year for more of that CFK goodness.

As the week comes to a close and our lives return to normal, I expect that many will realize they will be returning to anything but. The last day will be very sad for many, but will also bring an amazing feeling of community within the group of students and chaperones who came on this trip. We will all come out completely different people, and we all have Juan Carlos, Luisa, Sofía, Selene, the chaperones, and most importantly, the people of Los Pilares to thank. ~Luke Orlando, Camas HS student

The experience of coming to Panama has been completely magical. The smells, sights and the community is a lot different from Washington I have to admit. The first couple of days without any phones was super hard. Each time I was bored or uncomfortable I found myself grabbing at the ghost of my device. This made me realize how addicted I was to technology. Getting past that, I was a lot happier at enjoying the moment. I dread going back to a life where I have that available at my fingertips. 

I really enjoyed the food that the locals made for us and it was nice to give my tastebuds something different. I hadn’t thought of how much work goes into our meals, until the locals taught us how to make them. They put a ton of their time and effort into making sure we had an amazing meal, and for that I am super grateful. 

Something I found difficult was the language barrier. I know little to no Spanish. I was shy at first to speak Spanish because I didn’t think that the people of Los Pilares would understand me, or that I might say something offensive. But once I saw the people in my work group trying really hard and making an effort to communicate, I thought, why not? Yes, I messed up, yes, I said things wrong. But the amazing part of this whole community is that they are patient and know that some of us CFK workers don’t speak well. Putting myself out there to communicate has helped me a bucket full with my Spanish-speaking abilities. 

The kids of the community were bundles of joy. At first, we were super-shy with each other, but with time they were teaching us students new games, and in exchange we taught them games that we knew. Seeing them smile and laugh made me wish to do the same. Not knowing the same language doesn’t mean that people can’t communicate, there is so much more to communication than just talking. The thing that I am going to miss is the time spent with the Courts for Kids group. Going with such amazing people has made this trip a hundred times better; laughing, singing, dancing. It’s all part of this experience.

I don’t think people realize how much this experience changes a person. The last day was the hardest thing, leaving a place where you found your true self. A place where people accept you for who you are. I will never be the same person, and I am okay with that. Los Pilares made me realize that connecting with people is all you need in life to be happy. Now I hope that I can spread this kindness I’ve found here to people who really need it. I’m excited to go back to Camas and find what I discovered in Panama. Each time I think about it, a bitter-sweet feeling comes up. I’ll take this experience, learn from it, and be happy that I could be part of something so beautiful. I also want to say thank you to those who were part of this trip and made this happen. Without this, I would still be in my shell, shy and unwilling to talk to people. Thanks for letting me be me, and for sending me back as a better person. ~Zayah Shore, Camas HS student

Quotes from Courts for Kids Volunteers

This trip also inspired me to rethink life after college.  Instead of searching for the highest paying job I am going home with an open mind and great momentum to find the most impactful job. ~Emily, HS student

I learned that we can make meaningful connections and form relationships no matter who you are and where you come from. ~Shaye, HS student

Building connections is not about using your phones to talk to people.  Sometimes it is not about even talking at all.  People can build connections just by learning from each other and doing stuff that they have in common with each other. ~Eli, HS student

Stereotypes I had before this trip basically is that I was traveling to help the community, and that they needed our help to prosper.  This wasn’t the case at all.  We had some things to teach them, but they had far more to teach us. ~Luke, HS student

The most difficult part of going home is leaving behind the people I have made connections with; people I would never have imagined the depth of those connections. ~Ella, HS student

I learned that I can have so much in common with others so far away. ~Kat, HS student

I learned that everyone has the desire to connect with others, and when determined communication can transcend language. ~Tori, chaperone

What I learned about the world from this trip is that people from across the world can make meaningful connections with each other even without the use of language . . . we can all share laughter, dancing, and love with each other and through these things we can have meaningful connections . . . I learned we have so much to learn from each other. ~Trinity, HS student

This trip has changed me because it has allowed me to realize the more important things in life like the connections you can make with the people around you and the universal types of communication we can use to make those connections. ~Karli, HS student

These interactions showed me that connections is so easy to have with anyone in the world despite differences in language, where you live, age, culture, etc.  You can still form connections with laughter and music. ~Rachel, HS student

I will work hard to remember how life is in Los Pilares and try to incorporate those practices more in my life.  For example, spending time with people more often, hospitality, selflessness, working as a part of a team, and going with the flow. ~Vivian, HS student

This trip showed me that money does not equal happiness. ~Caitlyn, HS student

Before going on this trip I had stereotypes about the community not being very welcoming and shy because we are complete strangers.  In reality, they were the opposite.  They let us stay in their school, change their daily routines, cooked for us, created activities, participated in dance parties, hugged, laughed and played with us, and much more.  They were the most generous people I have ever met. ~Erin, HS student