Although working with the kids was definitely an incredible experience, I was also incredibly moved by our visit to Puerto Lara. In Puerto Lara, we were able to visit the Wounaan people, an indigenous ethnic group that resides in the Darien province. After driving over an hour into the jungle on winding dirt roads, I was not sure what to expect and was unsure of the welcome we would receive by the Wounaan community. As we approached the area of Puerto Lara, we became surrounded by thatch roofed huts and small open houses on stilts scattered in between the lush green of the jungle.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a group of women who were dressed in their traditional garb. The women were wearing vibrantly colored wraps, body beads, traditional body paint, and were topless. It was definitely a surreal experience to encounter people so eager to share their lifestyle and culture with a group of outsiders. The people were so proud, yet so welcoming. I was humbled as I realized that they had just as much to offer in their lifestyle as we do in ours. Seeing the innate beauty of the Wounaan people and their community was a powerful reminder that no ethnicity, culture, or people are above others. The people may not have had the education that we have had, but they were incredibly wise.
We went on a hike up a mountain on their land and one of the men pointed out plants and their medicinal properties all along the way. He also showed us various plants that they used to weave baskets and create their homes. The people were not only wise, but resourceful. They were dependent almost completely upon the land. The respect that they showed the land was also a gentle reminder that we all have a duty to take care of our environment because it sustains us and so many people rely solely on the land for their livelihood. When we returned from the hike, the women of the community had brought out their art. Their creations consisted of baskets woven from local plants, handmade jewelry, and animal figures carved from a nut. The artistic ability of the women blew all of us away. Because I had never before been in an indigenous community, I was originally unsure how the people would feel about a group of Americans coming into their territory. However, the hospitality and welcoming attitude they displayed was unlike anything I have experienced before. I definitely believe that I grew from our visit to the Wounaan community because they allowed us to take a glimpse into their lives and experience it even for a day. Their kind-hearts inspired me to seek to appreciate and connect with as many groups of people as possible.