Longtime Few for Change supporter Stephanie Prior accompanied Few for Change board members on their annual trip to Panama in February to award new scholarships and meet with current scholarship recipients and community volunteers. In this blog post, she shares her experiences as a donor visiting the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé for the first time and witnessing firsthand the impact of Few for Change scholarships.
I accompanied three Few for Change (FFC) board members; my daughter, Vice President Ariadne Prior-Grosch, President Katie Clay, and Secretary Brooks Winner; to Panama for their annual trip to award scholarships to successful indigenous students in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. As a parent and a long time donor to FFC, I was very curious to observe the process of awarding the scholarships firsthand and so I accompanied them to the Ngäbe Women's Association (ASMUNG) in Quebrada Guabo where they hold their annual scholarship ceremony with the students and their parents. After the ceremony, I accompanied them on home stays with different Ngäbe FFC volunteers who help recruit students from their areas for the scholarships. The board members were interested in getting to know their volunteers better as well as the areas the students were coming from.
The scholarship ceremony itself is a marvel to behold. They had arranged ahead for a meal for 60+ people to be cooked; we purchased soft drinks, cups, spoons, and napkins as we drove through the last town on the Inter-American highway and began connecting with local volunteers as soon as we arrived. After a dinner with a Ngäbe community volunteer and an interesting and informative visit from one of the scholarship recipients (who is now attending university with support from FFC) we set to work preparing folders with photos from last year, information for the students, their respective scholarship amounts in individual envelopes, information sheets for the parents, and some information for the Ngäbe volunteers.
The day of the ceremony, each student was carefully checked in and a parent or guardian signed for their first disbursement for the upcoming semester. The students were then each individually interviewed by a Few for Change member to see how they were doing and how best to stay in contact with them. Students and parents were given verbal and written information about the expectations for both. The board members know each individual student by name and a fair amount about their backgrounds and are always striving to encourage each of them.
There was then a scholarship ceremony of greetings, speeches, and awarding of certificates to the students, that I could only understand parts of, but everyone stood and at least introduced themselves, many, including a 13-year-old boy, giving a short speech.
The group then split, with the parents being given a chance to voice their concerns with translation between Ngäbere and Spanish while the students participated in a group activity to try to engage them to connect with each other, and finally each was given a brief writing assignment. All were then invited to sit down for lunch and Brooks, Katie, and Ari proceeded to bring individual plates of food to all that had attended the ceremony, in keeping with local tradition.
I also learned there is a community service expectation on the part of university scholarship recipients. I was impressed to hear Edgar, a student who has completed his first year of university with a scholarship from FFC, explain his project proposal. He has found that the students in his community are expected to complete assignments in Microsoft Word, but many don't have any computer experience and so he has proposed to teach 20 middle school and high school students basic computer skills. Few for Change will fund the expense of photocopying materials for his teaching and several hours of computer time for the students to get hands-on experience and further enhance the chance of their students succeeding.
Their incredible thoughtfulness and perseverance as they partner with community contacts and strive to improve the scholarship program to have the greatest impact possible was very inspiring to observe up close.
Overall, I have been very impressed by the board members' dedication to Few for Change and its mission. This is an annual trip for the past 5 years that they each self-fund and plan to continue. Through the local volunteers, they continue to reach out to and recruit more deserving students and learn more about the community and the obstacles the students face when trying to complete their education. They are especially focused on ways they can ensure their students get help in a timely manner when problems arise, so they complete high school, and that as many as possible go on to university. They have met with government officials in Panama to try to help facilitate their students benefiting from programs that exist in country as well. Their incredible thoughtfulness and perseverance as they partner with community contacts and strive to improve the scholarship program to have the greatest impact possible was very inspiring to observe up close. I had a wonderful trip and left Panama feeling very proud of my daughter, her colleagues, and my support of Few for Change.