By Emily Talentino
“I have a big dream for this to be the best island in the world,” responds local representative, Ashburn Dixon when I asked him about his vision for Bastimentos. While plenty of challenges face the island, including trash, a lack of opportunities for youth, and outside threats to their land and environment, Ashburn can clearly envision a much brighter future for his constituents. Almost two years into the position of representative, Ashburn says that he has just been laying the building blocks needed in the community so that real change and bigger projects can happen. And anywhere you go in Old Bank, you can certainly hear the buzz and feel the positive vibe about the work he is doing to help the local Bastimentos communities. He is clearly a man the people trust and respect.
Having grown up in Bastimentos, Ashburn understands the challenges faced by locals and he himself has struggled with many demons in the not so distant past. “If you will know me two years before, you would say ‘this is the worst guy I’ve met in my life.’” says Ashburn. “And then the Almighty God changed my life and touched my heart… I live my daily life for him and to do good for my community.” Beyond his inspiration from God, Ashburn also has experience from having lived and studied outside of Bocas del Toro that has helped him create his grand vision for the future of his community. He has lived in Panama City and the U.S., studied in Colombia, traveled to many other places, and held a variety of jobs, including being a bodyguard to two former presidents.
So what is his plan to transform Bastimentos into the best island in the world? First, he plans to address some immediate issues related to trash and recycling. He regularly collects old and broken appliances and arranges to have them transported by boat and then by truck to the dump on Isla Colon so that they’re not lying around, cluttering the island. He also helps with regular community clean up days. “Ten years ago, everyone threw everything in the sea. Now they’re starting to put it in garbage bags. I wish the community would learn to recycle and I want to teach the people,” states Ashburn but he recognizes that it’s a long process of education and about putting a recycling program in place that people can use.
Ashburn has a very close relationship with President Varela which has helped get Bastimentos into the national spotlight for projects and funding. President Varela has dedicated the funds needed to purchase land in Old Bank and build 200 homes for community members most in need. “If you don’t give youth the opportunity to live in the community, then they’re going to go somewhere else,” says Ashburn. Limited land and homes are available in Old Bank and he is committed to providing his constituents with the opportunity to own their own homes. Construction on the first 50 homes is scheduled to start this October. Additionally, he has secured funds to build a new sports complex in 2017 which will include synthetic soccer fields, a basketball court, and a swimming pool, as well as other funding to widen and improve the path from Old Bank to Wizards Beach in order to increase security and make it more accessible for tourists.
As I continued talking with Ashburn, more dreams and visions were expounded, ranging from a new main dock with a hotel and restaurant, to a Cinta Costera-style park at the Point, to a seawall and walking path around the bay. There is certainly no lack of work to be done during his five-year term and however many terms may follow. Despite all the projects that he has in the works, when I asked him what he is most proud of, he humbly responds, “Serving my God. My God is a good God and I’m just working for him.” The honorable Ashburn Dixon is clearly the visionary that the Bastimentos communities need advocating for them and I have no doubt that he will fight his hardest to make every one of those visions become a reality.