Q.Who can volunteer?
A. Volunteers should be monetarily self sufficient, be self motivated, have a good sense of humor and want to live in an indigenous mountain village of Panama. Volunteers should have some knowledge of Spanish prior to their arrival. Medo does not discriminate based on sex, age, race, sexual orientation, or nationality.
Q. How much does it cost?
A. Medo is a small organization, with little monetary resources. We cannot supply living stipends, so volunteers should be able to pay their own expenses. We will arrange a homestay for you, and for $36.50/week, you will get a private room in the home of a family, with 2 gallons/day of bottled water, and 3 traditional meals/day. Medo takes $5 of this for administration costs, and the rest goes to the family. If you are staying less than a month, please be able to pay for the duration of your stay upon arrival. If you are staying longer, you may pay for the month at the beginning of each month.
If you want to buy artisan products such as chakaras (bags made with plant fibers ~$5 to $25) or a nahua (The Dress ~$15 to $50), or make weekend trips to other locations in Panama, be sure to budget more!
Most volunteers do make donations (both monetary and non-monetary), which are much appreciated. If you can, give what you feel comfortable with once you arrive.
Q. Is Soloy safe?
A. We believe that Soloy is just about as safe as any other mountain village. Thankfully, no volunteers have ever had any serious problems while in Soloy. You will be staying with a host family, which will watch out for you, and help you when you're sick. You should know that pretty much everyone gets sick at some point. By sick we mean diarrhea, and "stomach ache". This usually lasts a few days. As far as crimes are concerned, the only we have experienced was when a volunteer didn't lock the door and some food was stolen (nothing besides food was taken). Please see the Soloy safety factsheet for more information.
Q. What lodging is available?
A. Most people live in simple housing made of wood or bamboo. We will arrange for you to stay with a family. This is a great opportunity to get to know the culture. Your family will provide you with boiled water, 3 meals a day, access to a bucket shower and a small private room. It is very simple accomodation, enough to keep the rain off. No electricity, no running water. Please see the homestay page for more details.
Q. What is there to eat?
A. If you stay with a familiy, meals are included. These meals will be very simple, consisting of rice and beans, yucca, or occassionally chicken. There are also two restaurants near the school, which serve simple meals of chicken, beans, rice, salad, and fried plantains. For breakfast, there is boiled yucca, hojaldres (a kind of pastry), and sweet coffee in the restaurants, or your family may cook you some rice. Yes, you will be eating a lot of rice. Depending on the season you come, various produce is available such as oranges, fresh beans, avocado, pineapples, mangos, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, plantains, bananas, and carrots. However, the vegetables available are highly seasonal. For instance, in December you can get all the oranges you can eat, but won't find any avocados. Most volunteers supplement their family meals with more famliar food bought in David. Please see the guide for more details.
Q. What about peanut butter?
Well, you won't find peanut butter in Soloy, but this and most other food items can be found in the city of David, which is a 3 hour ride from Soloy. David has several large, well stocked supermarkets. One even carries tofu! There is also a Chinese food store. So you can go to David and stock up on goodies.
Q. Are there hot water showers?
A. No. There is no hot water.
Q. Can I drink the water?
A. Medo recommends that volunteers purify their water, either by boiling or filtering (such as you can buy from a camping goods store). Your homestay family will boil water for you. We recommend that all volunteers bring some sort of drops such as Pristine to purify water as well, although your family should always supply you with boiled water.
Q. What health care is available?
A. There is a health clinic in Soloy which can attend to basic medical needs. For more serious cases, David has good hospitals. All volunteers should be sure to have medical insurance that is valid in Panama. Check with your current insurance provider, because you may need to purchase additional insurance.
Q. What cultural issues should I take into concern?
A. There are not many foreigners who come to this area, so all volunteers and visitors should be prepared for curious looks. Please understand that curious looks are nothing more, and should be responded to with a "buenos dias" or other greeting. Also, please pack conservative clothes. We ask also that female volunteers follow the local custom of swimming in clothes/dresses as opposed to bathing suits. At no point should you undress in public, so be prepared to walk home wet after swimming in the river.
Q. What languages are spoken in Soloy?
A. The first language of the Ngobe people is Ngobede. Therefore, not everyone speaks Spanish. However, most people do. Once here, volunteers can ask around for some Ngobede lessons. It is a fun language to learn! In general, if your Spanish is passable, you will be able to communicate with most of the people. A few people also speak some English.
Quick guide to Ngobede:
Ma kon yo = what's your name?
Ti ko Anna= my name's Anna.
Ma toan yo = how are you?
ma nunanga medende= where are you from?
ti nunanga Soloy= I'm from Soloy.
brau! (au as in aunt) =let's go!
Q. What will the people do if I wear a traditional dress?
A. They will smile and / or laugh.
Q. Can a vegetarian survive?
A. You betcha! Beans and rice are staple foods and many vegetarian specialty items such as soymilk can be found in David. Tell us that you are a vegetarian and we will inform your host family. In general, families eat very little meat anyway, as it is an expensive food source.
Q. Is there a post office? How will I talk to my parents/friends/boyfriend/etc?
A. Well, there is no post office. The closest is in David. However, there is a pay phone in Soloy which sometimes works. You should buy a phone card in David before heading to Soloy. It is surprisingly cheap (<$.10/minute) to call the US (sorry, I'm not sure about Europe). There is an internet lab at the school which is open Monday to Saturday. The fee for using the internet lab is $1/hour. Most volunteers keep in contact via internet. If you have to have something shipped to you, you can pick it up at the post office. Have it sent to:
Ciudad de David
Republic of Panama
And you can pick it up with your passport. Also, bring a letter stating that you are a volunteer so that you don't have to pay the $0.10/day the post office charges to hold packages.
Also, cell phone service is available from the tops of some nearby hills.
Q. Is David really the closest city? Why is it 3 hours away? Panama is a tiny country!
A. David is really a little under three hours away despite the fact that it's only around 35 km distance. The problem is the road: it's dirt, eroded, muddy in the rainy season, and slow going!
Q.What is the landscape like; is it a jungle?
A.No, it's not quite a jungle, although in the rainy season it is very very green. It is quite beautiful. There are hills and valleys, rivers and waterfalls, butterflies and palm trees abound. You know those scenes in Jurrasic Park where there's a plain and dinosaurs running around and some trees and palm trees? It's kind of like that. Except there are no dinosaurs. In the dry season, from December to April, things tend to dry out. Many trees loose their leaves and the grass turns a faded yellow color. In the rainy season things can get very muddy!
Q. Are there a lot of bugs and animals?
A. Well, Anna and Marie-Rose, living in the Ngobe Development Center, share their room with...
bats, lizards, mice, ants, moths, various other flying insects, and frogs.
if hearing a frog leap around your room at night is enough to scare you away from coming, don't come.
Anna says...ants are the most annoying thing about this place! you have to be careful because they'll go after anything and everything. They've tried to destroy books, bottles of water, 2 water filters, food, my feet, and my fiddle! However, the secret to combating ants is: keep things clean, ziplock bags and the super secret weapon: cinnamon. I mix cinnamon oil with alcohol to spritz around my possessions. Ants hate cinnamon and I love the way it smells. But don't spray skin! ouch! it burns.
Thanks, Anna for the advice.
You're welcome. One more thing, the mosquitos don't exist like I thought they would. I rarely get a bite.
yeah. I have really built up my reflexes by catching cockroaches as they attempt to scurry across the floor. I rule!
And now, Marie-Rose:
well, it does sometimes freak me out to hear the bat circling the room at night. And the cockroaches are revolting. But in all, it's not too bad. except for my poor feet. Something keeps biting them, and then I scratch, and then I get infections and then I get allergic reactions to the bandaids. But other than that, it's wonderful.In fact, I'm staying longer than I originally planned. It's strange. After about 10 days, I got used to most things.
and now a word from our webmaster:
well, writing it all out like this does make it sound like a strange place to want to be. but i assure you, dear adventurous one, that if you have survived reading about the menagerie and are still thinking about coming, once you're here, you'll quickly adapt. those of you who are now vomiting in your shoes should consider a volunteer experience outside of the tropics.
Q. What visa do I need?
A.* Migration laws are changing! No one seems to know the new policy, much less the migration officials! The new law went into effect May 26 2007. The official line is that citizens of the US and Canada can enter in on a $5 tourist visa which is good for 30 days. These are available at the airport. After 30 days, they can renew it for another 60 days (this can be done in David, but this should be done no later than 4 days before the tourist card expires). You can also just go to Costa Rica for 72 hours and come back to Panama on another 30 day tourist card. Costa Rica is only 1 hour from David.
We really don't have the resources to get visas for our volunteers. We will supply you with a letter certifying that you are coming to Panama to volunteer. Citizens of other countries should check the current migration laws. It used to be that UK, Germany, the Neetherlands, Switerland, Spain, Finland, Austria and a few South and Central American countries needesd only a passport. Visas for other nationals must be obtained before entering Panama. They are issued at Panamanian embassies and cost around $20. Plese consult your Panamanian embassy for the most up to date information.
Q. What vaccinations do I need?
Please consult your doctor or a travel clinic before you leave for the most up to date information. We think you should be vaccinated against: