“There was once a big and beautiful forest where many animals lived. One day a fire started in the forest. It burned uncontrollably and grew quickly. Only a single tiny bird started to fly to the water, wet its wings, and fly back over the fire to sprinkle droplets onto the flames. An elephant came and asked the bird why he was bothering; his tiny wings would not put the fire out. But the bird said he would make a difference, and that it was a fight worth fighting for. He kept flying to and from the water until finally a giant rainstorm came and put the fire out. The bird celebrated, saying that it just takes a combination of faith and hard work. After the fire was put out and the rain had stopped, the forest was even more beautiful than before.”

This is loose translation of a story that was told to us by Feliciano Santos, a Ngöbe community leader who came to speak to us. With this story in mind, I would like to propose a toast to the unsung heroes, those who are an integral part of their community, no matter how big or small, but largely unknown to the rest of us. As we approach our 50th day in Panama, we have already been presented with an impressive number of these individuals. In the midst of school, work, vacations, or our daily lives, it’s difficult to see past what we’re used to. In coming to this new place that is so very different from what I’m used to, I’m constantly being humbled by the places we visit and the people we meet.

Cheers to the mycorrhiza in healthy soil communities, on which we all depend. After seeing the array of trees and plants that tropical rain forests support, in the face of frequent downpours of rain nonetheless, it is difficult to comprehend that the entire rainforest relies on having the right soils.

Cheers to the men and women who worked to make Zapatilla National Marine Park happen. Most of us have been to National Parks before, but here in Panama we’ve been learning how difficult it is to take an idea for an area and get it passed through each step until it becomes a protected area. When we went to see Zapatilla Cay it was amazing how pristine it was, and from interviewing the tourists it was evident that people appreciate these natural environments that are relatively unharmed. For me, knowing how much work must have gone into making the park made me value it that much more.

Cheers to the students here who get up and make a big batch of eggs for breakfast that we can share, and the students who keep baking delicious treats so that it feels more like home. Traveling to a different country, especially an island, makes you realize how much you miss certain foods. Here on Solarte, eating and talking about food has become a good way to bond and find comfort; we can never have too many brownies and cupcakes.

Cheers to all of the people who we have met that are making meaningful contributions to their communities: the teachers at the school on Solarte that we visited this week; the members of the Bocas Dolphin organization who are trying to protect and conserve the dolphins in Dolphin Bay; the people who are attempting to implement a new trash and/or recycling program for the islands. The list goes on and on. If I were here on vacation, it is unlikely that I would have met or noticed any of these heroes, but so far this experience has been effective in showing me that we are constantly surrounded by complex and interwoven communities that depend on the strength of their individuals. I hope that for our remaining time here and for long after I return home, I will remember how many inspiring individuals we met, who deserve a celebration in their honor.