“And over here is our recycling,” he said, pointing to several buckets in the kitchen. “I know it can be a bit confusing at first but each bin is labeled. If you’re not sure, just ask someone.” One glance tells me that I will, in fact, be asking where to put my trash several times over the next two weeks.
This was the end of my orientation at Habla Ya, a Panama Spanish school in the islands of Bocas del Toro. I was there to improve my Spanish.
I had no idea I would be learning about permaculture, as well.
More Than A Spanish School
It’s clear, within minutes of arriving at Habla Ya that they are not just another Spanish school. They do have stellar teachers and classes — there’s a reason they’re consistently named the #1 Panama Spanish school! — but their passion lies more in how to grow an interconnected community and change the world.
Julio Santamaria, co-founder of Habla Ya, writes on their blog, “Several of us here at Habla Ya believe that change has to first come at an individual level, to then be able to influence what’s happening around us, as an ever expanding circle: family, friends, community, city, region, country, world. Connecting with like minded individuals and creating synergy is also key. Language Travel, social media, and being exposed to cultures and ideas from all over the world have taken us on a new path, and we’d like to share with you what we’re starting…”
Permaculture, defined as “the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient”, became Julio’s — and Habla Ya’s — answer to creating that change.
The term itself can be intimidating. Admittedly, until I spoke with Julio about the project I personally had no idea what it actually meant. What I learned is it encompasses many different projects, including ones that can become very advanced and high-tech, like aquaponics.Check out how this #Spanish #school is using #permaculture to change the world! Click To Tweet
Start With What You Have
Though permaculture can include advanced techniques, Habla Ya proves that getting started with permaculture doesn’t need to be complicated.
During my time studying Spanish at Habla Ya, I spend an afternoon with Natalie, Habla Ya’s first permaculture volunteer. She’s working in Habla Ya’s backyard, where the majority of the permaculture projects are held, next to a wheel barrow full of coconuts and a machete.
Between hacking coconuts open, she explains that erosion and top soil run off have led to bad soil. This means fertilizing is the first step. “Coconuts are great for fertilizer!” she says, as she chops another in half. She shows me how she has been making paths out of buried coconuts that provide nutrients to the soil. Palm tree leaves are also being laid out in the area, a result of the determination to use whatever materials they have available. “They had to be cut down so why not find a way to use them?” Natalie explains.
Part of the recycling program implemented inside the school is creating compost to be used for soil improvement.
Though it will take some time for everything to decompose and allow for a larger variety of foods to be planted, they’ve already started a small garden with sweet potatoes, pineapples, tomatoes and spinach.
Interested in being a #permaculture #volunteer? Check out this great opportunity in #Panama! Click To Tweet
This Is Just The Beginning
Habla Ya has big dreams for their permaculture project. Speaking with Julio, I’m amazed at how endless the possibilities seem, at how much of an impact this project can truly have. For the local community, the permaculture project can provide an affordable and healthy food source as well as an educational opportunity.
With visitors arriving to study Spanish from around the world, the impact is global. Just as I’m introduced to new ideas, so is every student who studies with Habla Ya.
In Julio’s words, “With people traveling to Panama to learn Spanish with us from all over the world, we’ll start planting seeds in the heads and hearts of those who visit us, so that they can go back home and carry on this “evolution” in their own towns, cities and communities.”
Habla Ya is currently searching for permaculture experts and volunteers. Permaculture experts can apply for an exchange while others interested in helping and learning about permaculture at the Panama Spanish school are asked to pay $15 per day. Habla Ya students can volunteer for $5 per day. More information on volunteering can be found here.
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