Alumni Spotlight: Vanessa Gerber

Vanessa is from San Rafael, California and currently attends UC Berkeley. She enjoys playing the guitar, nature, and rowing.

Vanessa and her host sister

Morning: I would wake up, crawl out from under my mosquito net, slip on my sandals and walk outside to the kitchen. I helped my host mom wash and slice plantains to fry for delicious patacones, and then would boil some water for coffee. After eating and chatting with that morning's visitor, I would walk down to my partners' houses where we would plan the rest of our day.

Afternoon: My two partners and I would show up at the school just before lunch time. After eating with the kids, we would do fun environmental health activities with them like a community-wide trash pick-up, songs about protecting the water, or drawing pictures of their favorite plants. Then we would hang around and play soccer or tag with the kids after school. When that was all done, we would head back to my house and help my host mom cook or we would head down to the soccer field where the older kids were starting their daily after school game and join in.

Evening: I would hike back up the hill to my house and take a nice cold bucket-bath, get dressed and then help make dinner or keep my little host sisters and brother occupied while my host mom was making dinner, doing things like playing guitar, making friendship bracelets, drawing or just goofing around.

After dinner, I would do the dishes and meanwhile a few community members would congregate at our house, so when I was done I would often chat with them, or play my guitar as they requested quite often. It was really fun being a part of a family in the community and hearing them talk about funny things that happened in the past, and I could laugh with them and feel at home.

Stay with a local family in Panama

Highlights: I would have to say that the highlight of my experience was probably the first time I really felt a part of the family. I got sick within the first few days in my community, and when I was lying in bed my host mom came, brought me some soup and sat on the bed next to me, crying as she pet my head, because she didn't know how to make me feel better. From that point on, I knew that not only my host family, but entire community loved me like I had been a part of the family all along.

A few days later I asked my host mom if I could call her "mama" and she said of course, and that I was already like another daughter. Throughout my entire experience in Panama, and even still to this day, I know that I have another family that will always love me and be there for me because we shared something special. We bonded immediately, and that bond will never be broken.