I wish I could say that upon landing in Panama, I instantly fell in love with the country, culture, and people. Such is the lore of many travel blogs, after all. However, after an overnight flight in the back row of an airplane with no sleep and my luggage being lost upon arrival, suffice it to say that love was not the emotion I was feeling. At Panama’s Tocumen International Airport baggage claim service counter, the agent looked at me, slowly blinked once, and simply responded, “No” with the kind of bored, are-you-kidding-me expression only a service agent tired of dealing with frantic American travelers asking when exactly to expect their luggage can give.
“Welcome to Panama,” I thought to myself.
Minutes later, once through customs, I was greeted by ICON co-Founder Sean and we were off to the hotel to meet the other team members that were already in Panama. Sitting in the old Jeep, driving through the rain and past the crumbling barrios on the way to downtown, I distinctly remember thinking, “It can only get better from here.”
And it did.
As the rest of the team arrived in Panama and we explored the city, ate fresh ceviche and fish, hiked beneath howler monkeys in the jungle canopy, and saw the impressive Panama Canal over the first couple days between project orientations and site visit prep, I realized that this city runs on faith. Faith not in the sense of the city’s permeating Catholicism, but faith in the sense that things don’t always happen the way a hyper-organized MBA student expects them to … but they happen and work out regardless.
It was a timely realization to have as Monday and a packed week of site visits, meetings, project scoping, and work began. We have a big task ahead of us — a task that requires the coordination and cooperation of multiple stakeholders — but it’s a task that will happen because of the faith and trust in ourselves, our skills, and our abilities. USAID-funded Alcance Positivo has a number of its 22 youth outreach centers struggling to meet requirements and serve the community, and even its higher performing centers have room to improve. That’s where ICON comes in, recognizing that Alcance Positivo’s strategy is not broken but that their approach to achieving it through their centers is. We are here to understand the current model and develop a new model that will allow the directors of these centers to better dedicate their time to improving and growing their programs. Once a consolidated model for success is in place with all centers, Alcance Positivo will be able to grow the numbers of centers they have in Panama and expand to other countries in Central America, as well, helping more and more youth achieve a better tomorrow.
We are here to begin a project that will have effects far beyond its final milestone two months from today. It’s bigger then me and any travel discomforts I may have.
So it may not have been love at first sight here, but everyday I find something new in the country to appreciate and my passion for this project and the potential it holds for the future of Panama only grows.