Panama Missions This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     March is a very special time for me because each year a group of people from congregations around the United States travel to the San Bias Islands near Panama. There, we help the Kuna Indians. The main focus is teaching the Bible, but we also care for their physical needs. Our group usually includes doctors, a dentist, a pharmacist, nurses, and others who help cook and teach the children.

Traveling to these islands requires a number of modes of transportation. A commercial plane gets us to Panama City, where we board a smaller one that seats about 20. Then we take a small boat to one of the 350 islands. The Kuna Indians are native to those islands and have their own dialect, but some also speak Spanish.

When we arrive, we are greeted by the sila, the chief. Surrounding him are other adults and the children, all anxiously waiting for us. We have lots of supplies to unload, which they are more than happy to help with. The children run up to us, chattering, smiling and touching us. They have the biggest brown eyes and sweetest smiles imaginable! They tend to gravitate to us teenagers, asking our names, repeating them with a strong accent and giggling. On that first day we get unloaded and prepared for the clinic. Did I mention there is no running water, and electricity only when a generator is running?

The medical personnel treat the Kunas, even doing minor surgical procedures. They bring supplies including toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, vitamins and many medicines.

We teenagers are usually in charge of scrubbing the Kunas’ heads to rid them of lice. We scrub all ages, from the babies on up to the adults. Mostly though, we treat the children. When I heard I would be doing this, I imagined it would be a disgusting job, but it was not. The way the Kuna children touched my heart, I felt I was washing the heads of my own children. Probably the most difficult part was bending over all day in the hot sun.

The Kunas look forward to our week with them each year, and I look forward to it just as much as they do. As a team, we give them (who live in what we would consider a very primitive world) things not available to them, and they appreciate it. The Kunas stay in my heart and mind all year.

We don’t always know what the other is saying, but with the shared smiles and laughter, it isn’t necessary. The most treasured gifts I’ve received are from the friends I’ve made on those islands. A 17-year-old Kuna named Aaron made a necklace just for me. We have a special friendship.

I also received a gift from a 5-year-old whose head I scrubbed. She and I were playing as she shyly told me her name was Dylonia. This little girl was happy to make a doll for me, though it was nothing but a piece of wood with a painted face and a piece of material for a dress. As simple as these gifts were, they meant so much to me.

Each time I go, I make more friends. Friendship to a Kuna is a special bond and I love these friendships. I would not give them up for anything in the world! My trips to Panama are a big part of my life and I look forward to sharing my time with the Kuna Indians.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the April 2005 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.






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