Seeing a country through inspiring eyes

I arrived home from Panama late last night, touching down in a sparse and quiet terminal at RDU with shops closed and staff off-duty. Already I miss Panama’s scenery, its warm weather, its delicious food, diverse culture, unique history and collage of breathtaking sights.
But most of all, I miss its people.
That’s highly unusual for the typical trip. Most travelers only interact with service workers when abroad. But this trip was special, one defined not by what places were visited but by who was met along the way.

I’ll never forget the compelling stories of the children, adults and families who didn’t give up on life even when faced with the enormous physical setbacks of OI. They have a disease where the most basic structure of the body is prone to break, living in a country that barely recognizes the problem and provides almost no medical support network. Yet their attitudes remained upbeat when we came to their homes for an interview. In some cases they had scraped together funds for expensive surgeries in the United States, and thus felt privileged just because they could walk.
My entire group of Elon grad students was equally touched by the encounters. We laughed with these Panamanians, cried with them, played games and told jokes. Literally and figuratively, they took our pictures just as we took theirs.
The effect was profound enough that on the plane rides home there was frequent chatter on what we need to do for the next week building the interactive website for OI in Panama. We weren’t just longing to go back to Panama. We were actively looking forward to the coming week of work ahead in Elon, where the technical resources will make it possible to bring to life all the compelling footage we captured on location. It’s hard to think of a project I’ve ever felt more motivated to complete than this website.

It may not stop there. The foundation invited us back for spring break, when a special event will be held to launch the site and build buzz among the non-profit and medical communities in Panama on what can be done to help. There are still other deliverables beyond the website that our group has discussed as ways to make the campaign stronger.
But first comes the process of sifting through the hours of video and thousands of photos to tell just the right set of stories. I’m in charge along with Karen Hartshorn with designing and developing the site itself, including its animated elements, so all the multimedia components work seamlessly.
At the end of the trip the two of us along with translator Mari Vicky Langman presented the digital mock-up of the site to the heads of the foundation. The director teared up with joy, exclaiming how this project will change the lives of the children we met. Given the talent and dedication in our group, I know it can.
It has certainly left a permanent imprint on mine.

    • Dayana
    • January 26th, 2010





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