The world has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and many are in need. It seems to have brought out the worst and the best in societies. Luckily in Bocas del Toro, we are experiencing some of Bocas’ best. Though the island’s 90% tourism-dependent economy has been ravaged by dramatic decreases in international travel, the island’s non-profit organizations, service clubs and volunteering visitors and residents have risen to the occasion, contributing in big ways that we would like to recognize.
We urge all of our readers to consider supporting the organizations we’ve listed below in any way that you can. Also, go ahead and follow their social media accounts to learn more about their projects, share their content on-line, volunteer with them if you are able to and, in the spirit of Giving Tuesday, consider making a donation to a very worthy cause or two. A few listed below are seasoned 501(c)(3) U.S. non-profit organizations who continue to make a big difference year after year. Some are younger projects that came to fruition as part of the global pandemic and national state of emergency in Panama.
A great funk-rock singer from California once sang “give it away, give it away, give it away, now,” and without further ado, we present to you just some of the very worthy causes to embrace on tomorrow’s December 1st, 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign. Or perhaps you will find this article in the future when searching for “Bocas del Toro’s best non-profit organizations, volunteer groups and charitable causes.”
The Floating Doctors
The Floating Doctors is a medical relief team dedicated to serving the Ngäbe communities in the archipelago. The group of medical volunteers deploy 50 weeks of the year to low income areas and the villages that are geographically far removed from access to medical care. They rotate communities and reach each of 24 communities once every three months; timing which is vitally important to care for chronic illnesses. They are able provide free acute and preventative health care services through volunteer medics, sponsorships and donations,. Recently the organization has made a huge impact during the Covid-19 pandemic, making regular food distributions, providing medical care, and collaborating on a shipment of over 40,000 pounds of nutritionally fortified rice that is currently benefiting the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. The Floating Doctors is a 501(c)3 nonprofit in the United States, which means donations are tax deductible for U.S. citizens, and is also registered as a Non-Government Organization in Panama.
Faces of Bocas
Faces of Bocas raises money for food donations with volunteers carrying out household weekly deliveries of basic foods, fresh fruits and vegetables and other essential supplies – including feminine hygiene products which are often overlooked during times such as these. The group works closely with community liaisons to best assess the needs of each household in order for donations to go as far as possible. It all began as an Instagram account that was started by Sophie Van Spaendonck wherein she published portraits and mini profiles featuring many of the wonderful people living in the area. In July Sophie and her three friends Yonalin Delgado, Krystle Griffiths and Lilly Stitt joined forces to transform the Faces of Bocas into a platform to help feed the community. Since then the group has been able to raise over $12,000 through their GoFundMe campaign and have delivered over 400 bags of food to date. With more support they will be able to continue their weekly deliveries to the communities and households that need it most.
Give and Surf
Give and Surf has been a force of constant and growing educational support and community building in Bocas del Toro since 2011. They have built schools, community centers and cafeterias; provided school supplies, scholarships, enriching after-school programs and have also providing thousands of school lunches every year. With the current school year canceled and the state of national emergency brought on by Covid-19, Give and Surf has recently shifted its focus in supporting the food security needs of the archipelago. Whether they are helping to feed communities in need or enriching educational pursuits, Give and Surf gives us so many reasons to support. This is a non-profit which is dually registered in the US as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a Panamanian NGO.
Isleños Unidos is a service organization with leadership 100% Bocatoreño that was formed during the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to support the needs of the community. They volunteered to fumigate, collected and distributed food donations and created fun and safe activities for children to participate in during the strictest lockdowns of the pandemic. They listen closely to the needs of the native population and are able to advocate for the needs of the people. They are currently preparing to organize Christmas gifts and activities for children during the holiday season. To organize a donation, contact Isleños Unidos on Facebook, Instagram or Soli Iglesias +507 6619-9563 or Ángel Peña +507 6779-9481.
The Darklands Foundation
The Darklands Foundation works closely with the natives of Bocas del Toro with the mission of “lifting the indigenous population out of poverty through integrated agriculture in the rainforest, human development, education, and rain forest preservation.” The Foundation has delivered a continuous and sizeable amount of emergency food relief, potable water and other utilities to 11 Ngäbe communities since the start of the pandemic. It has also recently begun a campaign to provide propane gas tanks to households in these communities after identifying that they were generally put their health at risk by cooking over a fire. The Foundation has initiated a program called “The Bocas Seed Bank and Food Gardens” in an effort to work toward a more sustainable food future for the indigenous communities of the archipelago. The Darklands Foundation is the creator of the first potable water reservoir within the Ngäbe communities with the hope of it to be the first of many. The foundation’s director, Mathilde Grand, has been working with the indigenous peoples of Bocas del Toro since 2002 and will continue to use her acquired knowledge, experience and lasting relationships with the communities to serve with The Darklands Foundation. To donate via PayPal: email@example.com.
Operación: Navidad Para Niños
The holiday season is here and this year, more than ever, the world can use plenty of Christmas cheer. In 2017, the team at Buena Vista restaurant began a Christmas drive so Santa can visit even more children with gifts on the island. The newly formed Bocas del Toro Rotary Club collaborate in the effort last year, 2019. This year Buena Vista and Rotary Club are looking to make the 4th annual Navidad Para Niños the biggest one yet! They will be collecting new or gently used children’s toys – in excellent condition – to be wrapped and gifted to local children. Cash donations will be used to buy new gifts. Quality items are also accepted – preferably stuffed animals, sports equipment, books in Spanish, crayons and coloring books. Volunteers are eagerly invited to help wrap and deliver presents. Organize your gift donation through Buena Vista restaurant and Bocas del Toro Rotary Club. Please send monetary donations to PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dolphin Bay Christmas Backpacks
In past years, the No Name Bar and Grill hosted a Christmas lunch with gifts for over 130 children ages 1 to 12 in the village of Bocatorito, San Cristobal Island. This year they are unable to host that lunch. However, they have the goal to provide a backpack to each child complete with school supplies, food items, toothbrushes and small toys. José Murillo and the team at No Name Bar will gladly accept cash donations, food items, school supplies or toys. They plan to distribute everything December 20th. For donations in the Dolphin Bay area, contact José Murillo +507 6782-1367. In Bocas Town , Donna Ray is available to collect cash donations: email@example.com.
The Back Bay Project
Panama is Central America’s fastest growing tourism market with Bocas del Toro being one of the most popular destinations. Tourism is estimated to be 90% of the local economy of the islands of Bocas del Toro, therefore being the number one employment opportunity for native Bocatoreños. The Back Bay Project is working to open a hospitality school in the area as a resource for locals to develop their career and pursue opportunities in the hospitality industry. The project has only recently been officially launched during 2020. It is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit tax exempt charitable organization and is currently raising funds to begin operations. The mission is “to provide access to opportunity in the community of Bocas del Toro, Panama through vocational training in sustainable hospitality, while promoting environmental awareness and cultural integrity.”
Non-Profits from the Bocas del Toro Hope Spot Team
In 2019, Bocas del Toro was named as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. True lovers of ocean conservation can support some of the nonprofit organizations that make up the Bocas del Toro Hope Spot team: Caribbean Coral Restoration, Mother of Corals, MarAlliance, The Sea Turtle Conservancy and The School for Field Studies.
Caribbean Coral Restoration
With the rising temperature of the oceans and increased pollution, mankind has witnessed widespread devastation to our coral reef systems one lifetime. Caribbean Coral Restoration is a Bocas del Toro organization fighting the good fight to preserve and regenerate our precious marine fauna. Founder Doug Marcy and his team build coral trees and coral nurseries which regenerate coral reefs in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. Not only is their work a huge environmental asset to the community, it provides a positive social impact. Day-to-day activities provide work for the native Bocatoreño population. CCR’s apprenticeship, education and conservation programs aim to provide long-term opportunities for the local population.
Mother of Corals
Mother of Corals is another wonderful non-profit promoting ocean conservation and marine system with healthy coral reefs in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Quoted from the website: “At Mother of Corals, we provide the tools and training to enable coastal communities to create, maintain, and share artificial coral reef habitats with the public, in order to increase their environmental and economic sustainability.” They have just launched a line of Mother Of Coral apparel that will be available for a limited time purchase in support of their work.
MarAlliance, working in the field of ocean conservation is an important international member of the Bocas del Toro Hopespot team\. The mission is to “explore, enable, and inspire positive change for threatened marine wildlife, their critical habitats and dependent human communities.” MarAlliance works with coastal communities in efforts of ocean conservation, sustainable fishing habits and marine science education. Your donation goes a long way toward protecting threatened marine wildlife, their habitats and dependent communities.
The School For Field Studies
Another member of the Bocas del Toro Hope Spot team is The School For Field Studies. They are a non-profit 501(c)3 education provider that provides “educational programs that explore the social and ecological dimensions of the complex environmental problems faced by their local partners, contributing to sustainable solutions in the places where they live and work.” This is taken from their website’s mission statement. Having the pleasure to observe their tenure in Bocas del Toro and the way their faculty and students have interacted with the community, this statement rings very true. A donation to The School For Field Studies is a contribution to the next generation who will be in charge of tackling society’s biggest challenges.
Sea Turtle Conservancy Bocas del Toro
The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group. An international nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the ogranization was founded in 1959 to save sea turtles from imminent extinction through rigorous science-based conservation. As Bocas del Toro is home to four different species of sea turtles, it is an important branch of the group’s operation. Locally STC engages in sea turtle education in the schools and in the community, as well as research, habitat protection and conservation efforts while providing employment opportunities. Where traditionally turtle hunting was previously a threat, STC aims to employ community members from coastal areas to instead monitor and record sea turtle activity, protect their nests and lead sea turtle nesting watch expeditions with tourists. Providing income opportunities in the area of conservation and research is important to mitigating the threat of illegal turtle hunting and egg poaching. The Sea Turtle Conservancy’s research, education, conservation and habitat protection efforts have been vital to the world’s sea turtle populations. The organization also operates in Costa Rica and the USA, so if you want to make sure your donation benefits Bocas del Toro and the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca specifically, write “Panama” in the comment section of the donation.
For The Love of All Animals on the Island
In researching all the wonderful and worthy causes on the island, there are a few individuals that stand out in their care for our furry and four-legged friends on the island.
When the pandemic hit and international travel to Panama ceased, it was evident that many of the stray dogs and cats in town were going hungry. The animals normally rely on restaurants being open and receiving leftover food from the establishments and their patrons, but as the restaurants were suddenly all closed and people were mostly locked in doors, the hunger and desperation for stray cats and dogs soon began to set in. Evertz Jose Mejia noticed this and took the initiative to purchase a bag of pet food from his place of employment, Supermercado Isla Colón. He then embarked on dog and cat feeding missions in his time off work. The supermarket continued to donate bags of food, others took note and began to help as well. Soon, permanent feeding stations made locally and easily with pvc pipe were installed and Evertz has been regularly filling them since March. You can donate toward his cause on PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcela Rafael is another person who cares for Bocas del Toro animals and came highly recommended by readers of The Bocas Breeze when we were researching worthy causes to support in the community. Marcela works closely with Evertz to make sure the feeders are filled and she helps to care for as many low income family’s pets, local strays and wild animals as she can handle. She is known to facilitate veterinary treatments, sterilizations and chemotherapy for animals in the area (dogs, cats, pelicans, sloths, opossums, oropendolas, etc). She has a pet grooming and pet sitting service where 100% of the proceeds go to caring for animals in the area. She has begun to sell painted rocks to help cover the expenses of her animal care endeavors. Check out her creations in Instagram @art4critters (pictured above). These animals are lucky to receive the care at extremely discounted rates from Dr. Gloria Fonseca of Bocas Vet Clinic, who Marcela tells us, and many will agree, is the “most caring vet she has ever met.” If you would like to contribute to this cause, you can make a donation directly to Dr. Gloria in Marcela’s name or on PayPal: email@example.com.Support Bocas del Toro animals on #GivingTuesday!
Soroptimist Club of Bocas
Women are economically empowered when they have control over their own finances and well-being, and when they have a voice in the financial decisions to shape their lives and the lives of their families. When women and girls are empowered, they have a personal sense of autonomy, self-confidence, and the power to control their private and public lives. The Soroptimist Club of Bocas focuses on access to education because we believe it’s the most effective way toward empowerment. This year the club awarded their first “Living your Dream” scholarship to Yoseline Elizabeth Pineda, a young woman working at a law firm, helping to raise her younger sister and pursuing an accounting career. This scholarship will be used to help pay for her university studies. Soroptimist Club of Bocas is currently fundraising for the next scholarship and other endeavors that will support women’s education on the islands.
Club Leones de Bocas del Toro Isla
Club Leones de Bocas del Toro Isla is a voluntary service organization dedicated to supporting the needs of the less fortunate neighbors in Isla Colon and surrounding areas, while creating and fostering a spirit of understanding among all peoples to respond to humanitarian needs. Recently facilitated the donation of the Bocas del Toro Isla Colon hospital’s swabbing booth, maintaining the highest biosecurity measures doctors and patients possible when testing for COVID-19. They also participated in a collaborative effort of equipping students with tablets and getting free internet WiFi installed in the La Solución neighborhood. Club Leones de Bocas del Toro continues working to serve the community of Bocas del Toro. Contact the group on Facebook to organize a contribution.
Tablets For Bocas del Toro School Children
Tammy Misner recently collaborated with the Club Leones Bocas del Toro Isla’s educational efforts. She helped organize the fundraiser that helped purchase 49 tablets and the installation of the La Solucion internet in benefit of the school children of Bocas del Toro. We recommended her cause for this Giving Tuesday list. Though her fundraising efforts are over at this time, she made it known that she can still accept tablets. If you would like to donate a used tablet in good condition, or purchase a new one, Tammy can accept them and will make sure the Lion’s Club and school faculty will find a student that could benefit from it in their studies. You can contact Tammy via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Tablets for Bocas del Toro School Children for #GivingTuesday!
Bocas Surf Crew
When you see the surfboard smiley face pop out of the water in the line-up, you are seeing the work of a group of dedicated local surfers working to engage with the future of Bocas del Toro in an incredibly meaningful way. Surfing is a practice not just in athleticism, but in discipline, patience, commitment, comaradery, ocean safety, and respect for mother nature- and all in one go. It’s productive, teaches great habits and can provide opportunities in life. That is why the work of Bocas Surf Crew is so important.
On Saturdays the Bocas Surf Crew gets together with local children to teach surf theory, surf etiquette, stretching exercises and, of course, they get in the water to practice paddling and catching waves. They also participate in beach clean-ups and educating children in the importance of taking care of the environment. The crew even makes sure the local surfing youths have a chance to get in the water with their very own boards. For that reason, Bocas Surf Crew will always receive donations of new and used surfboards in any condition. They can even receive damaged boards and will do their best to fix them up. Once each board is ready to be ridden by the kids, they will tag it with their signature smiley face on the nose of the board, to be used in their lessons and even gifted to one of the “groms.” Aside from surfboard donations, you can contact Bocas Surf Crew directly on Instagram to organize any type of contribution to their cause.
Recently relocated from California and now headquartered in Dolphin Bay, Planet Rehab is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the planet’s ecosystems, propagating endangered species, and providing education on the current challenges that our planet faces. Their current campaign is a reforestation effort, “Just One Tree,” where they seek to plant and protect Almendro trees in the Bocas del Toro region, a very important rain forest tree endangered because of its use in the lumber trade. On Giving Tuesday, Planet Rehab will also be introducing their “Native Farm Survival Kits,” a program aimed at not only helping the environment but also assisting Ngäbe families of the Buena Esperanza Village by providing each family with a “Starter Farm Kit” which will include fruit trees and plants that are high in nutrition, easy to grow and with excellent production rates. Join them December 1st with video presentations and live music for their Planet Rehab Giving Tuesday Extravaganza.
Television and Cable For The Asilo Angels (The Senior Citizens of Bocas del Toro)
Last, but definitely not least, is the Asilo Angels (our senior citizen friends of Casa de Asilo). For years there ran an elderly home on Isla Colon right on the water known as the “Asilo de Ancianos,” but have been relocated due to flooding. The folks there get pretty lonely and are often under-served by the state. What members of the Bocas del Toro community and the “Friends of Casa de Asilo” volunteer group do is provide significant and meaningful support for the residents; food, medicine, hygienic supplies, furniture, repairs to the facilities, and medical care from The Floating Doctors. The Friends of Casa de Asilo have continually advocated for the residents to the government when they were neglected and under-served. The volunteers have also made regular visits with special foods, treats, live music and entertainment.
In 2019 the facilities and surrounding seawall deteriorated to the point that the residents had to be evacuated due to flooding. The residents were moved to a new location on mainland Bocas del Toro, in Rámbala (Chiriqui Grande). It is much further to visit from Bocas Town, however before Covid-19, the friends of Casa Asilo would still make occasional trips to surprise the Asilo Angels for a special party like they used to do on a weekly basis. In the post-Covid world, that is just not the safest thing to do at the moment, however the community would still like to support our elderly friends with a form of entertainment.
Currently there is no television nor cable installed at their Rámbala residence. Carla Rankin of Hotel Bocas del Toro has suggested a donation of a television and to raise funds to pay for one year of cable television. This way our friends at Casa de Asilo can pass their time with some movies, news programs, telenovelas and whatever they would like to watch to enjoy themselves. We love Asilo Angels and we support the idea.
Donations can be brought to Hotel Bocas del Toro 7:30am to 6pm. Please call +507 6675 0619 to arrange beforehand, as the hotel is not open yet.