Panamá: Global Human Rights Brigade

Evelyn Bonilla

What organization did you volunteer with, and where were you located?

I volunteered with Global Human Rights Brigade, located in Darien, Panamá.

 

Why did you choose this Global Brigade?

I specifically chose this Global Brigade because Human Rights is a field that interest me. I heard that Global Human Rights Brigade gives legal advice to indigenous communities in a third world country and that strongly caught my attention. I wish to pursue a career in the law field and felt like this opportunity would allow me to experience just what that consisted of.

 

Does this organization have a UCLA connection?

This organization does have a connection with UCLA. Within UCLA there are other branches of global Brigades. Human Rights is just one of the many, for example there is medical that goes to Ghana and environmental that go to Panamá as well as many others.

 

How did your experience influence you, what knowledge or insights did you gain during your time of service?

Having this opportunity was not only amazing, it was truly an eye opener. It really made me understand not only the laws of our country but Panamanian laws as well. Being in an area where we did not have cellular service or communication with our families was hard; however, it really allowed us to embody the culture and the way of living within the indigenous communities. To see the way these individuals lived and see how much they appreciated our services was extremely humbling. It really made me value everything in life and it allowed me to figure out that I would love to one day work in a country such as Panamá, where every bit of knowledge you instill in people about Panamanian law goes a long way. These do not know Panamá’s laws because they are so far away from the city. Within their own indigenous community they have their own laws to know as well. We were allowed into their culture and lives not only learn their laws but to teach them about the country’s law.

 

Did you experience any culture shock during your volunteering?

I did experience a culture shock, not so much because I was visiting a Latin American country before, but because of the way that the indigenous community was structured. I had never had contact with this type of community before and to see its way of life was not only different but rewarding. We were told that this was one of the very few times that they allowed “outsiders” into their community, making us that more curious and appreciative. We realized that within their community they didn’t have a sense of what marriage, divorce, or what property rights were. These were the legal areas that were assigned to us. The laws in Panamá when dealing with all three of these issues are far more complex than in the United States. A marriage or divorce in Panamá can take up to a year.

 

What was a typical day like for you?

A typical day was us waking up at about 5:30 to shower since we were about 23 and only 3 showers. Then at 7:00am we would have breakfast and at 7:30 we boarded the van to leave our compound. It was a 2 hour drive to the community so we arrived about 9:45am. We held legal clinics from 10:00am-12:00pm.
Afterwards, we would have lunch for 30 minutes often times cooked by the community. At 12:45 we headed to the our assigned family case. That was usually from 1-3:30pm (although there were days our schedule changed and we held workshops for the women of the community or the children). We headed back to the compound at 4pm and arrived there at 6pm. We had dinner at 7:00pm-8:00pm and had an hour and a half of reflection about that day. Then we would go to sleep our work on our workshop presentation visuals or just talk with the other students from either UCLA, UC Irvine, or DePaul University.

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Country Served Panamá
Service Organization Global Human Rights Brigade
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