St. James Samaritans -- Youth Mission Trip to Panama

On August 4th 2018, a team of 20 missionaries from St James, Hendersonville, set off for the country of Panama in order to work with the Panamanian run nonprofit, Promesa, in sustainable agriculture. Promesa is based out of the diocesan office for the Episcopal Church in Panama. The team worked for 10 days with various farming communities in rural towns around the city of Penonome. St James Director of Programs, Elly Withers, led the team which included youth Sonia Martinez, Isabel Blackford, Cecelia Thompson, Moira Stewart, Marie Danos, Casey Mentch, Quentin Stalker, Sam Fertik, Lewis Stepp, Jack Carr, and Erick Garcia. Chaperones included Samantha Fortner, Beth Stepp, Christie Olsen, Anne Valentine, Erika Garcia, Kevin Todd, Chris Grose, and Mike Mentch. Listed below are descriptions of the projects written by the youth. Giving thanks for the global Episcopal Church which connects us with others around the world!

August 6: Molejón, Produce Stand Project and Pond Project

By: Casey Mentch 

Our mission trip to Panama was an amazing and unforgettable experience that I will hold in my memories forever. All of our projects were enjoyable in their own unique way. One project that really stood out to me was the produce stand project. This was our first project, and it really started off our trip with a bang. We built a produce stand for a woman named Olivia and her family so that she could sell her fresh and homegrown produce for others to enjoy, especially workers from the mine down the road. Olivia has about 40 grandchildren, so many that she couldn’t even remember the exact number! I can’t even imagine having that many. So she also has a lot of mouths to feed. This project was exhausting and only partly introduced us into some of the work we would be encountering throughout the rest of our trip. One of my favorite and memorable parts about this project was when Olivia let us get coconuts from her coconut tree. It was my first time having a fresh coconut straight from the tree, and it was delicious! Another thing that was exciting was the bread truck that came and delivered bread and pastries! It was so delightful! Such a cool experience to have on top of the project. At the end of this, Olivia was filled with gratitude, and we were pleased with our hard work and the good times that came out of it.

 

By: Samantha Fortner

I volunteered to help with the ponds because I figured my hammering and building skills building a produce stand weren’t too good. Olivia led us to her ponds. She handed us all shovels and pickaxes and demonstrated our task. She wanted us to shovel the mud and slime out of one of the empty ponds so that it would drain and filter properly. We took our shovels and waded into the mud, scooping out mud for several hours until lunch. We were all very tired and muddy by the time lunch rolled around, but loved working and helping her do something that needed to be done!

August 7: Bajo Grande, Fish Pond Project 

By: Sam Fertik 

Bajo Grande was one of our busier and more challenging work sites. The day began with a very steep one hour hike up a dirt road that was much too steep to get our bus up. Once at the top, we were met by a group of very friendly people who offered us water and a friendly welcoming to their home. We worked well throughout the day as we split up into groups making a tilapia pond, terracing a hillside, and helping garden. Although all these activities were tiring, our spirits stayed strong through games and funny experiences. Everything from having a digging competition between the Panamanians and Americans to being terrified of seeing a tarantula made the day seem less like working and more like getting to experience part of the family’s life.

August 8: Project in Panama City, Seminary Student Room Project 

By: Jude Stalker 

I met up with the mission team in Panama City for the seminarian room project. We cleaned and organized an otherwise unused second floor storage room for the seminarian room. The space would be just large enough for a bed, dresser and closet but at least it had its own bathroom attached! The storage space hadn’t been accessed in a very long time and needed clearing out and cleaning up in a big way! Nothing was too great a task for our crew and soon hammers, vacuums and brooms were in full swing! First the book shelves and old papers had to be boxed up and removed. Then the shelving was knocked down and glued down flooring was scraped away. Cobwebs were swept from windows and a lot of dust and dirt was vacuumed away. Later the room would be repainted and furniture moved in to make a very comfortable (but admittedly small) private room for a soon-to-arrive seminarian, who would call this home for the next year. We met several staff members of the church who were delighted to finally have this space prepared for habitation. They will be naming the room after the “St James Samaritans” with a photo of our group and a plaque! 

 

August 10: Bella Vista, Chicken Coup Project 

By: Isabel Blackford

As we arrived we realized that the road had eroded away from the down pours the night before. We would have to hike to the site. We carried supplies and Marie and I watched after the 16 baby chickens we had purchased. We set to work when we arrived. I planted corn and beans while others worked on the chicken coop. The coop was finished just after lunch and all that was left was releasing the baby chicks. We watched them stumble over each other as they explored there new found space. They had been in a box for quite a while and were happy to smell the fresh air. As we walked by we reflected on what we had accomplished and what we did for the family. I know that we will definitely remember this site and welcoming family!

August 11: Tres Hermanas, Rice Planting Project Rice

By: Sonia B. Martinez

We traveled to Tres Hermanas to help families there plant rice, plantains, and yucca. I planted plantain and yucca first with the farmer Ramon, Lewis, Moria, Erik, Quentin and Ms. Valentine. I remember when we were planting plantain that we had to make sure the soil didn’t go over the stem. It will take a year for the tree to start producing plantains. It was a fun experience learning how to plant these vegetables! Once when it was around 12 we went back with the rest of the group to plant rice. On the way back, we had fresh oranges to get our energy back, they were so delicious and juicy. We had to go through a river to get to the others, and it was very muddy. When we got to the rest of the group, we helped them finish planting rice. They had two long wide area where we had to plant and they had finished one. We had to wash the baby rice before we could plant it and each stalk had to be planted 5-8 inches apart from each other. We had to plant it barefoot because it was so muddy. These fields will eventually produce over 600 pounds of rice for these families!

A Meaningful Experience

By: Jack Carr

The high school mission trip to Panama was one of the best things I have ever experienced through our church. The opportunity to build relationships with the other youth and the people we worked with was one that I will never forget. Being in a different country allowed me to experience things that I would not have been able to experience at home. I was able to develop my leadership skills through helping lead different projects at our work site. Outside of the city in the rural communities, I was able to realize just how lucky I was as a youth living in a developed country with many benefits that the Panamanians could only dream of having. Being able to work with the Panamanians made me feel like I was doing something that people really truly appreciated. If I could go back to Panama I would go back in a heartbeat. It was a wonderful experience that I am so glad that I got to take part in as a youth! 
 

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