On June 24, a group of youth from New York City joined Peace Boat US as part of a two week study program through Central America focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and peacebuilding efforts in the region. The team of 24 included participants from Global Kids, an NYC-based organization that works for global learning and youth development, and interns with Peace Boat US.
Beginning in Panama, they visited a Kuna indigenous community and participated in a homestay with local families. During their visit to the Kuna community, students gave a presentation about each of the 17 SDGs, and how they might be applied directly to local sustainable development. The team then worked together with members from the community to paint a mural that depicted each SDG in a Kuna mola design, a traditional handicraft of the Kuna.
The team then traveled to the historic Casco Viejo of Panama City, where they had an exchange with members of the Refugee Education Trust (RET), an organization that deals directly with refugee families in Panama, the Youth Artistic and Cultural Evolution (EACAJ) who support young refugees. In their meeting, the groups focused on the campaign “What Brings Us Together” as a joint effort to empower youth and create awareness about discrimination toward refugees in Panama. In a short few hours the group discovered that despite their language differences, they are brought together by the desire for a more peaceful and better world, and are empowered by the energy they have to be changemakers.
The team also visited the City of Knowledge, an area that was once the Clayton US military base, and is now home to a growing international community of businesses, academics, scientists, and humanitarian organizations. It is now the headquarters for many different United Nations agencies for the Americas. Here, the team was able to meet with members of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Center for Panama to learn about the UNDP’s efforts and challenges towards achieving the sustainable development goals in the region. At the UNDP office they also heard from the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program about how it contributes to peace and development through volunteerism. At UNV they believe that volunteerism can transform the pace and nature of development through the idea that everyone can contribute their time and energy towards peace and development.
Following their time in Panama City, the group traveled by bus across the country to Colon, where they boarded the Peace Boat to travel by ship through the Panama Canal. While on the ship, the team organized an open lecture in which they presented each SDG to the participants onboard. As part of the program, the audience completed questionnaires as part of the ‘United Nations My World Survey’ indicating which goals were most valuable to their lives, which would then be sent to the United Nations Headquarters for review and documentation. For the next five days, the team was able to participate in immersive cultural exchanges in Peace Boat’s “floating international village.”
After docking in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, the group visited an iguana reservation and took a trip through the mangrove forest to learn about how climate change is affecting the biodiversity and how local citizens are working for environmental protection in the area. On the second day in Guatemala, the team said farewell to the Peace Boat and made their way to the city of Antigua where they received a tour of the historic city to learn about its history and status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their time in Antigua was completed with a presentation by Rebecca Peters from the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), which works to protect people from gun violence. Following the presentation, the team made their way to El Salvador, where they spent two days lodging at a Women’s Formation center with a frequent guest educator onboard Peace Boat voyages, Ana Francis, a Salvadorean adovcate for human rights and gender equality.
The following day began with a forum on peace in Latin America at the University of Don Bosco, with a panel of activists and academics who had been involved in the peace processes in the region. After the discussion, they visited one of the many volcanoes in the country and hiked to the crater.
The team also visited the town of San Julian, where the mayor and the local community greeted them warmly. While in the town, they joined an exchange program with local youth, tried traditional pupusas for lunch, and explored the culture of El Salvador.
The Peace Boat US staff and interns and Global Kids members had the unique opportunity to visit many communities and experience cultures new to them. In taking this experience back to New York, the Peace Boat US interns and volunteers from Global Kids gave a final presentation during the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development by sharing what they learned, and their ideas about how the SDGs can be implemented in the communities they visited.