Now that we've been back in the US for a week or so, we (the administrators) have had some time to reflect on this process with our student-athletes and how we all changed as a result of this very important educational/mission trip.
When our Director of Athletics approached us about creating this trip for our student-athletes, we knew that it would be something special, but that it would also take a great deal of coordination, because we had never done something like it before at UCF.
We contacted the Office of Study Abroad and worked very closely with their staff to create this project. Angel Cardec was extremely supportive and took two administrators (Kimya Massey and me) to Panama to meet some of the people we would be working with and to get us more comfortable with the surroundings. That turned out to be invaluable in this process. We were able to meet staff members from the Technological University of Panama - and they partnered with us to complete this project with their own students.
When we landed in Panama City just more than two weeks ago, we were all in a state of anticipation - the student-athletes for one set of reasons, the administrators for another. We had to make significant and unexpected changes to our project plans just two days before the trip, but we didn't want to disappoint the student-athletes, so we waited to tell them. The great thing about all of them was that they just "rolled with the punches." They asked some questions, but were very willing to adapt to whatever we needed to do.
We had some logistical tasks that needed to be accomplished before they could actually begin the work, but in the meantime, they created excitement by playing with the children at the orphanage. That was extremely helpful to us - we knew we didn't have to worry about them entertaining each other and the children - sports was our vehicle for communication! It was awesome to see our thoughts in action, to see our student-athletes breaking down barriers by playing a game they all loved.
We subsequently bought our supplies and were able to watch our student-athletes do some amazing work. They were tire - exhausted really - but they kept pushing, because they saw how much the painting was needed. We saw something else that made us proud. In addition to the painting, our student-athletes were constantly looking around to see what else they could help with. They were shocked at some of the conditions of the homes and wanted to do more. We promised that we would come back to this specific orphanage in the future to address some of their concerns. We will be working on fundraising to help with costs for repairs of roofs in the near future!
After completing the work at the orphanage in Colon, we moved on to the orphanage in Panama City. The children were very different than those our student-athletes had encountered in Colon, and I do believe that they were somewhat shocked by it. These children were more mature and had obviously weathered some more serious issues at their young ages. But they really connected with our student-athletes once we brought out a soccer ball and our student-athletes started to climb some trees with them. One of the biggest things we all learned was that even though we didn't speak a common language, it didn't prevent us from communicating.
Our student-athletes represented UCF with excellence and maturity. They made us all very proud - they didn't complain about the heat, the work, or how tired they were. That is very different than many people their age!
We want to thank every individual who provided our student-athletes and staff members with the means to go on this trip. I know that it made a difference in everyone's life!