More Than a Snorkel, More Than a Hike

Posted: March 12, 2019

I am most grateful to be here on SFS’ program in Panama during our full days in the field. On these days, we not only get to snorkel around coral reefs and mangrove roots or hike through the rainforests, but we also have the opportunity to meet and speak with local Bocatoreños. Despite this program being centered on ‘field studies’ and very academically strong in this respect, I have been extremely pleasantly surprised to see the degree to which social dynamics and culture have been emphasized as well. After all, the study of the environment and climate change is incomplete if it lacks conceptions of environmental justice and the ways people interact with their environment.

 

Photo courtesy of Anna Chahuneau

 

Photo courtesy of Anna Chahuneau

 
On our most recent full field day we went to visit the indigenous Ngobë community of Bahia Roja who live close to a large, recently constructed hotel. The visit to Bahia Roja left me feeling proud to be a part of the SFS community because of the words spoken by Christina, who is a member of one of the more powerful families in the Bahia Roja indigenous community. She told us that the only two organizations that she trusts are SFS and ‘Give and Surf’. In the past, organizations’ actions have made them feel skeptical towards the motivations of outsiders visiting their community. Bahia Roja has been repeatedly exploited through outsiders photographing children running around barefoot and implying that they are not in school to then post online in fundraising campaigns-all without their consent. Additionally, they have rarely seen the money from these campaigns. She then talked about the contrast of these past experiences with their relationship with SFS. I was impressed by Christina’s description of SFS’ commitment to fostering the respectful relationship that exists between their community and SFS on both a personal and organization level. I think that this experience of listening to Christina has really emphasized the ways cross-cultural interactions can occur in a positive and mutually beneficial manner. I often reflect on how studying abroad can lead to a disrupting presence in the local region and it is comforting to know how important the maintaining of relationships with local Bocatoreños is for SFS TIBS.

 

Photo courtesy of Anna Chahuneau

 
→ Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies in Panama