Hopkinton, MA
Hopkinton, US
6:38 pm, Sunday, April 14, 2024
temperature icon 27°F
Humidity 51 %
Wind Gust: 10 mph


Hopkinton teen enjoys ‘life changing’ service trip to Panama

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

Wheatley Evarts

Hopkinton’s Wheatley Evarts holds a young student with whom she bonded during her service trip to Panama last year.

High school participants in the School the World service program are referred to as “world changers.” But if you ask Hopkinton resident Wheatley Evarts, it is more the other way around.

The experience of helping to build a school in Panama last year was eye opening and life altering for the junior at Newton Country Day School.

“You leave with more than you give,” Evarts said. “It changed my life and perspective of the world by opening my eyes to what I’m passionate about … and how much I want to do to help others.”

The nonprofit organization runs trips to Panama, Honduras and Guatemala with a mission of solving extreme poverty through education. Volunteers typically build schools and playgrounds, partnering with local government and community leaders.

According to the School the World website, to date, 123 schools and 61 playgrounds at existing schools have been built over 12 years.

Evarts traveled with a team of approximately a dozen peers who were accompanied by chaperones and began the trip with a stop in Panama City. From there, they flew to a hotel in Davide and drove on “bumpy roads in the mountains” to a community called Cerro Otoe in Ngöbe-Bugle’ to get to work.

The weeklong work involved concrete mixing, painting and creating a mural as well as playing with students at recess, developing lesson plans and teaching American songs. They also worked on an art project together, making bookmarks.

In turn, the volunteers learned about the local culture and traditions. “That was really cool,” Evarts recalled.

She also had the opportunity to walk to a student’s residence and tour the home.

“I saw how they crushed beans, made dresses unique to their culture and met all the kids in the family,” Evarts said. “It was a bit of a culture shock because some of the girls my age and younger already had kids. Pretty crazy.”

Evarts described the teaching and shadowing experiences as “eye opening” and something she would never forget.

“We built connections 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” she said. “They really got to know us, and it was truly great.”

Some of the harsh realities she encountered included the fact that students walked up to two hours per day to get to school. When the kids were served lunch, it often was their only meal that day. The school where she worked had students of all ages from kindergarten up. But usually older kids left school to fulfill their responsibilities at home for their families.

In addition to connecting with the locals, Evarts noted the volunteers also grew close. Not only did she share the trip with classmates but also people from New Jersey and Vermont.

“The bond we had was remarkable,” she said, “whether working toward the same goal, riding the bus or at the hotel, it was really amazing.”

A closing ceremony with speeches and a banner cutting marked the new facility’s opening on the last day.

“It felt amazing. I was super sad to leave, though,” Evarts said.

The good news is that she got the chance to return to the same community last month, accompanied by a larger group of about 40-50 volunteers, she said.

Evarts learned about the program from others at her school who had participated. She applied and put down a $750 deposit. It is then up to the student to raise a total of $3,750 through donations and fundraisers.

Evarts said she held a bake sale at school and received donations from family and friends to make the trip possible.

When asked what she would say to someone her age who may be contemplating the trip but hesitating, Evarts said, “I was super nervous. It was my first time traveling alone, but I would encourage them to have an open mind and take the opportunity to really help vulnerable people and have an amazing, life-changing experience.”

She added: “Step out of your comfort zone and embrace that uncomfortableness. It’s worth it.”


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Key Storage 4.14.22