How Bocas Del Toro Brings Out The Volunteer In You

When I was accepted to intern for Give and Surf in the summer of 2015, I was ecstatic.

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Photo by Tara Kelly/Give & Surf

Ever since I had seen the organization’s website while browsing for internships, I could not keep my mind off of it. I had finally found an organization that I was truly interested in being a part of, in the beautiful Bocas Del Toro. After interning for Give and Surf as the Marketing Coordinator for a whole semester, I had gained more knowledge on what the organization stood for, its mission and vision. After learning more about Give and Surf, I knew I had to visit the communities to see exactly what I had been spreading the word about.

I was fortunate enough to make the trip to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, during my winter break with my best friend Ashlin. I had an idea of what to expect when I arrived at Panama from the pictures that I had seen, and the things I had learned prior to the trip. It didn’t sink in that we were actually in Panama volunteering until we picked up the kids from their individual docks for the summer camp we were helping out with. The groups of children would come running out of the jungle to greet us on the boat every morning with huge smiles on their faces, and a positive energy that was extremely contagious. Most would jump onto the boat and sit right on your lap or hold your hand like you had known each other for some time. I have never seen so many children so excited to go to school, which was another thing that made me even more excited to be there.

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Photo by Tara Kelly/Give & Surf

One of the first days we walked through Bahia Roja, one of the local communities in Bocas Del Toro, to gather the children for summer camp. It was shocking to see the communities that they live in in person. You picture these types of things, but when it is put into perspective it all becomes reality. The homes in these communities were shacks with no electricity or clean running water. What was shocking to my friend and I was when Melissa called the kids to come to the school boat, they came running out through the muddy field with no shoes on. It did not faze a single kid that they were getting all muddy right before school, which would be a different situation for a child going to school in the United States. They came running from their houses with no complaints and huge smiles on their faces again.

The boat rides to school were always fun, rain or shine. The older siblings would assist the younger siblings to make the jump or climb up the side of the boat. These children were selfless individuals at such young ages, all looking out for one another. I remember one day it was raining and we were all trying to cover-up with rain jackets and ponchos. Rodolfo took the rain jacket he was using to cover himself and gave it to Rebecca because she was getting wet and cold. I had seen many little selfless acts performed by the children all week, whether it was sharing snacks, sharing ponchos or simply assisting one another with something, but this one really hit home for me.

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Photo by Tara Kelly/Give & Surf

Every day that I volunteered – from the boat ride to school and the boat ride home – I did not hear one complaint from any of the children. These children are so happy and yet have so little. They didn’t have much, but they didn’t need much. Good company and positive attitudes can go a long way in life no matter what type of situation you are in.

I went into the trip to Bocas Del Toro planning to impact a few people’s lives, but in reality I think that my life was the one that was impacted. My experience with Give and Surf has opened my eyes to a side of the world I have never seen. We are so privileged to live in the United States and we take advantage of so many things that other people don’t have access to. We need to remember the simple things in life that give us happiness, just like the little children in Bocas.

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Photo by Tara Kelly/Give & Surf

Article written by Tara Kelly.

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