“Por qué no?” This was the motto of Notre Dame Prep’s trip to Pigandí, Panama with Courts for Kids. On the surface, this experience seems like a trip to build a court for the community of Pigandí, but it was so much more than that. This trip, above all, was about building relationships and gaining better understanding of both others and ourselves.
When we arrived in the community of Pigandí, I was overwhelmed because I have never taken one Spanish class in my life and I have also never really done any manual labor. From the start, the entire experience was completely different from anything else I have ever done. From not having any running water to sleeping under mosquito nets, everything was new. On the first day of working on the court, it took a little while for all of us to figure out exactly what we were supposed to be doing and how to work in conjunction with the men from the community who were working alongside us. One thing that stuck out to me from that first day is how easy it is to make a connection with people who live in another country with a different language and a different way of life. The language barrier was not nearly as hard to overcome as I imagined it would be. Through playing little games, eating together, and a lot of pointing, I was able to communicate and share this experience with people who spoke another language.
My favorite day of working was by far the second day when the children from the middle and high schools were given permission to come help us build the court. The boys immediately jumped in, eager to help. The girls on the other hand were not used to doing manual labor in their community, and therefore, were much more hesitant to join us. After playing a few games with them, we divided into three groups with a few Panamanian girls in each group. We worked together, rotating through different jobs as a group throughout the day. I was again astonished by the bond I felt with the girls in my group even though I was unable to have a conversation with them. Later, one of our teacher chaperones asked me what I said to my group of girls to keep them motivated and continually working. I responded honestly that I said nothing at all, communicating simply through thumbs up and a very poorly said “good work” in Spanish.
The third day of working, I could tell that both the Notre Dame Prep girls and the community were determined to finish the court. We all immediately set to work, now familiar with the process of mixing and wheel barrowing the concrete. It was almost surreal how efficiently and smoothly we were able to work together towards our common goal. Soon though, we had to take a break to allow the concrete to dry. While we were waiting, a soccer game started up – Panamanians versus the Gringos. I am the first to admit that I am not very good at soccer, but even though I did score a goal for the other team, I had so much fun. We shared so many laughs as we fought for a win. After the game ended in a win for the Panamanians, we returned to work and managed to complete the court.
While we did build a court for the community of Pigandí, we also created relationships that surpassed cultures and languages. The Panamanians taught me to enjoy the simple things in life and to be welcoming to everyone. While I learned innumerable things about the Panamanian culture and my fellow trip members, I think that I learned the most about myself. This trip was life-changing because I have learned to say “Por qué no?” when presented with a new opportunity. I have learned that it is alright to be uncomfortable and to take advantage of all that life has to offer. Before this trip, if I had been pulled up to learn a traditional Panamanian dance in front of the entire community, my peers, and several cameras, I would have been mortified. I probably would not have been willing to join in the soccer game due to my subpar skills. But I have now realized that I should not let these opportunities pass me by because I am worrying about what others may think of me. I know that this trip and the people who I met there will be in my heart forever. – Lauren Sands, Notre Dame Prep student volunteer