Volunteers work in a variety of rural and urban community development projects. More than 400 Volunteers have worked in Panama in community economic development, community environmental education, environmental health, ecotourism, and agroforestry.
The Peace Corps program in Panama contributes to improvements in the quality of life of low-income families and environmental conditions by promoting environmental education in primary and junior high schools, introducing sustainable agriculture techniques to rural farmers, and working with coastal fishermen and indigenous communities on marine resource conservation and waste management. Additionally, Volunteers work with youth, women, and rural and indigenous community organizations to develop income-generating activities and small business skills through agribusinesses and ecotourism.
Peace Corps Volunteers are also significantly engaged in a variety of cross-cultural exchanges that are promoting a better understanding of both the American and Panamanian culture. Peace Corps Volunteers learn about the predominantly Caribbean-Spanish culture and customs of Panama and, in addition to learning Spanish, Volunteers learn various indigenous languages.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Senegal
The Peace Corps has a long history in Panama. The first Volunteers began work in 1963 and continued serving in Panama until May 1971. In February 1990, the Panamanian government asked the Peace Corps to return, and the program has continued without interruption ever since.
The central goal of Peace Corps/Panama is to promote sustainable community development, in partnership with Panamanian agencies and NGOs, in Panama’s poorest and most disenfranchised regions. Each project has sector-specific goals related to this commitment.
With the reversion of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999, the country is at a critical juncture in its history. For the first time in many decades, there is no American military presence. The economy, when not in recession, is generally weak with growing unemployment. The areas most affected by these economic woes are rural and indigenous communities, and this is where you will find Peace Corps Volunteers working. Volunteers work with communities and agency/NGO partners to meet the challenges of poverty. By helping communities gain access to resources and helping agencies locate communities in need, Volunteers facilitate a more efficient allocation of resources and help establish links between the communities and agencies that can last well after the Volunteers have left.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyles in Panama
The small and medium-sized communities (populations of 300 to 10,000) in which Volunteers live and work are located 1 to 16 hours from Panama City. Like most Panamanians, Volunteers live in simple concrete-block houses with cement floors and corrugated tin roofs or wooden huts with dirt floors and palm thatch roofs, depending on the location of their site. Since living with a family provides special insight into Panamanian culture, improves language skills, and facilitates integration into the community, you must live with a host family during training and your first three months at your site. After that, you may choose to live alone.
Indigenous communities generally have the most rustic living conditions, and they can be remote. Sometimes getting to a community may require at least a two-hour walk or a ride in a dugout canoe. Most houses in urban and highly populated areas have running water inside or outside the house. In some cases, it is necessary to boil water and add chlorine to make it safe to drink. In some rural sites, and in many indigenous communities, water must be obtained from springs or streams. Many homes have a simple pit latrine, but latrine construction is often one of a Volunteer’s first activities. Electricity also varies depending on the site. You must be flexible in your housing and site expectations and willing to adapt to the discomforts that come with rural living.
Main article: Training in Panama
An experienced staff of language, technical, and cross-cultural trainers and administrative support personnel will do their best to help you obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to have an enjoyable and productive two years of service as a Volunteer working in sustainable community development. They will design and conduct your training based on the specific projects you will be working on.
The 10-week training program will take place in small communities within an hour of Panama City. The average week will be packed into 48 hours, divided among development of language and technical skills; work orientation; and a segment called “common areas training,” which incorporates Panamanian culture and history, Volunteer life, personal safety, strategic planning, diversity and gender issues, and other topics related to Volunteer service.
While Peace Corps staff will help prepare you for service, the primary responsibility for becoming prepared resides with you. What you get out of training will depend primarily on your level of interest, enthusiasm, and participation. Come prepared to work hard.
The training staff eagerly awaits your arrival. The training director will contact you a few weeks prior to your departure to welcome you.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health Care and Safety in Panama
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. Peace Corps/Panama maintains a health office with a full-time nurse, a part-time physician, and a medical assistant, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Panama at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an appropriate medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues in Panama
In Panama, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Panama.
Outside of Panama City, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Panama are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
- Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
- Possible issues for Married Volunteers
Frequently Asked Questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Panama
- How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Panama?
- What is the electric current in Panama?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
- Can I call home from Panama?
- Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
- Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Main article: Packing List for Panama
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Panama and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. We recommend that you pack light. You can get virtually anything you might need in Panama. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. Also, as you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And, a final suggestion: If in doubt, leave it out.
For luggage in general, duffel bags and backpacks are much more practical than suitcases. Rolling suitcases especially are not practical for Panama. Be sure to put the following items in a carry-on bag for quick and easy access once you arrive in Panama: passport, baggage-claim tickets, customs forms, World Health Organization card, and immunization records.
Because of the heat and humidity, cotton fabric is always a good idea, especially for underwear. Outdoor clothing with fabric that “wicks away” moisture can be useful, but cotton-synthetic blends also hold their shape and are cooler to wear. Clothing will probably be subject to harsh washing (many Volunteers wash their clothes on rocks) and rugged work and climatic conditions, so be sure to select durable items. Do not bring clothes made of delicate materials.
Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) - Provides technical assistance to small farmers in high production, low-impact organic farming techniques.
Community Environmental Conservation (CEC) - Works with youth and communities on the management of watersheds, protected areas, solid waste and ecotourism development.
Community Economic Development (CED) - Supports community based cooperative development, tourism, youth and technology initiatives.
Environmental Health (EH) - Volunteers train local groups to operate, maintain and manage community water, sanitation and health systems.
Tourism and English Advising (TEA) - Improves rural communities capacity to benefit from Panama’s fastest growing industry, tourism, by means of organizing tourism committees and educating youth in the English language.
Current Volunteer Projects
Peace Corps News
The following is automatic RSS feed of Peace Corps news for this country.
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PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
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Contributions to the Panama Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in Panama. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.
- Volunteers who served in Panama
- Peace Corps Panama Friends
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- List of resources for Panama
- Inspector General Reports