You’re not going to find Panama at the top of any lists of human rights abuses. There are no cyclone or earthquake survivors. You don't hear of people jailed for carrying a picture or gunmen entering villages to clear them out. But Panama is where I find myself now, and since I believe most of us can do best by staying where we are and making conscious, clear choices, I choose to write about Panama from a human rights perspective.
There's a rather stark difference between the locals, many who live on 300 dollars a month, and those, particularly foreigners, gringos, who have tens of thousands of dollars and buy up land, create new businesses and generally have more things. In many ways, these two groups live together well as neighbors. But there is often friction, too, when locals find their businesses, land and lives overshadowed by people who move in and take over.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Enter Heather Rose. She founded Rainforest Awakenings, “an international organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the tropical forest in Panama, empowering youth and young adults through rites of passage trips and supporting indigenous tribes and Panamanian culture.”
Her foundation forges partnerships people people and groups that benefit all parties involved on cultural, monetary and spiritual levels.
These handbags you see resting peacefully above have been carefully crafted out of 60-80 plastic bags. The plastic bags were found in the coastal waters of Panama where they were busy choking habitats and killing endangered turtles and manatees. Those who collect the bags can be paid for each piece they bring in. Those who weave the bags, a painstaking process taking a month per bag, can receive a salary.
Right now, there’s a hold on training new weavers as well as on making new bags because someone needs to buy the bags that have already been made.
Heather works in conjunction with the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (ANAM), Panama’s environmental authority and Asociacion de Amigos y Vecinos de la Costa y la Naturaleza (AAMVECONA) to bring these bags to the buyer’s market.
Below, you see Heather with the board members of AAMVECONA. I bought the orange one Heather is holding.
It’s not charity. It’s conscious buying power. You buy a unique, well-crafted bag. The strap is long enough to wear over your shoulder comfortably. And with this simple act of buying, you directly support human rights, a clean the environment, keep endangered turtles and manatees safe while helping to provide a salary for people to feed their families and send their children to school.
Buy one for yourself. Talk to businesses you know and ask they sell them in their stores. Or you can visit Panama and see this amazing country. Trek through the jungles. Kayak in the rivers. Maybe work with the turtles and manatees, too. E-mail me and start a conversation.
It is just that easy to make a difference.