It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday and the center is already buzzing with activity. Local community members are on their way, and we students are running around to finish up last-minute details. These are the days where our projects come to fruition. Our class has been working on four community engagement projects this semester that each focus on different themes: sustainability, marine, terrestrial, and education.

The marine group wanted to address issues of access and opportunity. Thus the group of five taught swim lessons to a group of 9-13 year-old girls from the Boca del Drago community. Often, young girls in Bocas aren’t taught to swim, but they took to the water like fish. Rain or shine, the girls showed up each week with enthusiasm and curiosity! They learned basic life-saving techniques and about different marine organisms found on the beaches of Bocas. Each lesson ended with a fun activity like freeze swim or fan favorite “Simon dice que…”. The project ended with each girl receiving a certificate of participation, tips to help them continue their skills back at home, and a new love for swimming.

The education group took on two slightly different projects. One aspect focused on working with local high school students learning English. We introduced ourselves in Spanish, answered grammar questions about their global tourism projects, and also made friends with some local kids. Another project consisted of hosting English camp days at the center. Local students of varying ages came from around the archipelago to visit and participate in English education themed activities, ranging from volleyball to coloring. Each Saturday we got to work with a new group of students and adjust our plan to best suit their needs. We practiced English during a scavenger hunt around the center and even roasted marshmallows to make s’mores!

Community engagement at TIBS aims to give back to the Bocas community we are learning so much from. By hosting these activities, we were forced to get out of our comfort zones and speak un poquito de español. Although not as much time is devoted to community engagement, it is one of the most important things we do here. We hope that the projects that were pioneered during this semester will continue on for semesters to come.

→ Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies in Panama