All too often foreigners forget they are guests in their new home. I think we are all guilty of that at some time or another. We feel free to take advantage of all of the great things Panama has to offer, but I think many of us could stand to give back to this fabulous country.
Nearly 40 percent of Panamanians live below the poverty line. The poverty line in Panama is very different from the poverty line in Canada, the US and Europe. There are thousands of Panamanian families that live on less than $300 a month. Sure the cost of living in Panama is cheaper than in first world nations, but for those of you who already live in Panama, could you imagine trying to live here on that amount?
Many people who have left their homelands to move to Panama are living on fixed incomes. But that fixed monthly stipend is typically far more than many Panamanians earn. As guests in this country, there are some very easy, inexpensive ways we can help those who really need it.
1. Buy Too Much At The Grocery Store
We have all gone to the grocery store and bought too much food. As expats we often crave some comforts from home. Brie cheese, smoked salmon, prime cuts of meat, any US brands. All those “non-necessities” we buy add up. Next time you go grocery shopping, buy an extra 5 pound bag of rice (eggs, cheese, chicken, milk, and cooking oil are other good choices) and tell your neighbor you bought too much and can’t possibly consume it all before the expiry date. Panamanians are very proud people, and most do not like taking handouts, even when needed. By phrasing it like they would be doing you a favour, you’re more likely to have them accept. As we all know, the bare necessities in Panama are increasing in price, so a lot of people are having a hard time affording the items we take for granted.
2. Donate To A Charity
There are many great charities in Panama that could use a little extra help. You don’t need to donate a wad of money, but every little bit helps those in need. Some charities that come to mind are:
Fundacion Pro Ninos de Darien
SOS Children’s Villages
3. Offer A Ride (Or Pay Someones Fare)
If you own a car in Panama chances are you have driven by someone on the street (usually in the rain) waiting for a taxi or carrying heavy bags to their destination. I wouldn’t normally recommend offering a ride to a stranger in North America, but Panama is very safe in this sense. (Has there ever been a Panamanian serial killer?) Every time I have offered a stranger or acquaintance a ride, they are shocked and genuinely grateful. If you take the bus or use taxis instead, pay the fare of the person sitting next to you. It won’t cost you much, but it is a very nice gesture.
4. Become A Tutor
Chances are if you live in Panama you have a young child living in your neighborhood. Most of these kids are studying English in school, but may not have someone to practice with. Let the little kiddies on your street know that if they ever need help with English (or math, science, etc), you would be more than willing to help them. This doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment, just an hour a week or so. The kids may be too shy to take you up on the offer, but at least they know there’s someone there to help if they need it.
5. Support Local People
In many parts of Panama you can find locals selling their goods on street corners. I’m not talking about the guys selling pirated DVD’s in El Dorado, but about the local farmer with bags of potatoes, or the local fisherman selling his daily catch on the shore. The products these locals sell are often the freshest you will find anywhere. You will still have to go to the chain grocery store to buy all other necessities, but when you can, support the little guy that put the blood, sweat and tears into his offering. This is often the only source of income these people have.
Not everyone has extra cash to spare, but everyone has at least a little time on their hands. Find an organization you believe in, and offer to volunteer. Many groups in Panama need help fundraising. If you can’t offer money, help raise it. Even closer to home, offer a hand to your neighbor. Rake their lawn, offer them use of your washing machine, keep an eye on their place when they’re gone. Every little gesture adds up.
What are some other ways we can help out in our new (or vacation) home?
|Written by Rebecca Tyre|
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