At first glance, the kids from Meteti could not be more different from ourselves. We attend established universities in big cities. They live in a remote town in the Panamanian rainforest. We don’t speak the same language. How could teaching dance for a few days possibly make any difference to these kids? How could this trip possibly end up being more than a voluntourism excursion, ending with us departing perhaps with an inflated sense of fulfillment, but leaving the community just the same as it was before?
It was not long before I realized that this would not be the case. I was amazed by the depth of the relationships we formed with the kids. The language barrier inhibited communication only slightly – the kids were eager to help us with our Spanish and to learn some English. Not being able to communicate as well with words meant that we had to use movement, the universal language. Communicating through dance, since we were all moving together, created an atmosphere of mutual respect and I believe it strengthened the connections we made with the kids.
On the last day, we put on a performance. I could see the joy in the kids’ faces as we all danced together to the upbeat music. Although we could not adequately verbalize our appreciation for one another, our smiles, the hugs and kisses we exchanged after the show, and the collective energy of the group were more effective than words could have been.
Yes, I left Panama feeling personally fulfilled, but I believe I left at least some of the kids I worked with feeling the same way. Some of the parents spoke after the performance. They explained that learning dance was entirely new for the kids and were grateful to us for sharing this enriching and lasting experience. I am excited to continue to work with the amazing dance diplomats from UC, IU and Butler to establish an ongoing dance program in Meteti and sustaining a real impact in the community.