2003-08-20 / Front Page
Kiwanis donates money to help Panama village
By josh davidson
MATAWAN — The Kiwanis Club of Matawan-Aberdeen will help a pair of Peace Corps members see a few projects through.
At the Kiwanis Club’s Aug. 13 meeting, Elyssa Sherman, 25, of Aberdeen, and Christopher Burk, 32, both Peace Corps members, spoke of their experiences staying on Indian reservations in Panama. Sherman and Burk also thanked the club for its donations. Sherman’s father, Harold, is a Kiwanis Club member.
The Matawan-Aberdeen organization, along with other local Kiwanis Club branches, will make donations to buy books for a small Panama library and contribute enough money for about four latrine devices for villagers to use. Sherman, a graduate of Matawan Regional High School and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, purchased Spanish children’s books from a local Barnes & Noble store to bring to Panama.
The two left for Panama in September 2002 and stayed for 10 months. They returned home for about two weeks and left Thursday for another 14-month stay in Panama.
Sherman spoke of projects she has been involved with, including making improvements to water and bathroom systems for inhabitants of Cayo Paloma in north Panama, the village in which she stayed.
Eight months ago, Sherman established a women’s group in the village. Women in that group gained their first business experience by making jewelry from coconut shells and selling it, Sherman said.
The group wrote a letter to Matawan residents Ira and Wendy Brodsky, seeking funds for materials and tools. Sherman said the couple sent the group $30. She said she sold the jewelry when she came home to the United States.
"While I was here, I brought their jewelry and sold $100 worth of it," Sherman said.
One member of the women’s group joined another fund-raising group to teach others what she had learned.
The group of three individuals will raise money by selling to village members some T-shirts that were donated by the Kiwanis Club, Sherman said. Those funds will be used to build a sidewalk in the village, she added.
"It’s an excellent donation of education for the group that’s going to have to organize the project," she said.
Members of that group will learn about sales, creating a business timeline and keeping a budget, Sherman added.
Sherman said the foods people eat in the area differ from region to region, but among the more common foods are dried potatoes and boiled bananas.
Fishing is a process that includes carrying a heavy boat for five hours to a body of water where fish can be found, she said.
Sherman said she joined the Peace Corps to learn a language and was able to learn Spanish during her stay.
Burk, a former Toms River resident, said he joined to do a public service.
He said that when he came home, he noticed that the pace of living in the United States seemed faster in comparison to the Panama village in which he had stayed. In addition, on a trip to the Statue of Liberty, he noticed his ears were more tuned to those speaking Spanish around him.
"I can hear Spanish and understand it; it’s really neat," he said.
Burk said he plans to eventually go into financial planning and investing. He said that when he enters his future profession, his experience with the Peace Corps will help him deal with people, solve their problems and give them guidance and direction.
Sherman said the experience has given Sherman leadership skills and knowledge of culture for the future.
"I’m a speech pathologist, and it’s done wonders for my speaking skills," she said.
People where Sherman stayed adapt to new things at a slow pace, she said. Over the past 50 years, the habitats have learned Spanish on top of their main language, Ngobe, she said.
People in the villages spend a lot of their free time with their family and neighbors, she said. They also listen to Panamanian music, which is accordion oriented, and play dominoes.
"They are very family oriented," Sherman said.