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Today Wetlands International took my group to a school in Remedios to present the mangrove project. The school children were so excited to see us and welcomed us with open arms. The children preformed a traditional Panamanian dance for us before we began the presentation. During the presentation, Wetlands International emphasized the benefits of mangroves and why the children should be dedicated to protecting them. The main idea is that the children should protect the mangroves, for the mangroves protect the children.

After a wonderful meal prepared by the school, we sat down and talked with some of the teachers about the importance of mangroves. One teacher spoke about how the school strives to teach the children the daily importance of mangroves from an economic stand point, for example, showing the children that the mangroves produce their food. She also spoke about how it is the community’s duty to protect the mangroves. She said the mangroves are part of their lifestyle, and it is important for the community to keep the mangroves clean. The teacher discussed how the greatest threat to the mangroves are people ourselves, and that the reason the climate is so hot is because we are contributing to climate change. She stressed the importance of awareness because the community says they will conserve, but do the opposite and may not realize the effects until it’s too late. She suggests starting with educating the kids and teaching them good examples of how to conserve. 

A local elected representative of the community spoke with us as well, saying that mangroves are important because they provide the community with vegetation and green land. He spoke about how mangrove restoration will benefit coastal lands, while also stating that mangroves themselves are in the greatest danger. The representative highlighted the point that the community will die out if the mangroves keep dying. 

We then played and laughed with the children, discussing their views on mangroves and how excited they were to start the mangrove project at their school. Once we left, we went to a fisherman’s cooperative to speak with some more fishermen about the mangroves. The fishermen stated that they are very cautious when fishing around mangroves, and that it is the entire community’s responsibility to watch out for those cutting down or harming the mangroves.

Today taught me two very important words for the mangrove project: education and community. We must educate the community in order to bring about change for the mangroves. Wetlands International is a vehicle for this education, and I am excited to see their work in this school and the villages we have visited. The past few days have been very eye-opening as I have learned the true value of the mangrove, and how devastating it will be to lose the mangroves. 

These are entries by students from Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, TX, USA) Roxo students traveling to Panama for Spring Break to work with Wetlands International on the Mangrove Project.