Bocas del Toro, Panama • 2016

July 04, 2016 - July 25, 2016

Enabling local indigenous communities to develop economically

About the project

In July 2016, a group of fifteen students from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam will travel to Bocas del Toro, Panama, to support local indigenous communities by sharing knowledge in the fields of business and economics. The aim of this program is to help these communities develop economically by improving their current activities in community tourism and help them develop new, small and sustainable businesses. 

In order to make this project a success, the participants will participate in a challenging trajectory. From September 2015 – July 2016, the students will raise funds in order to make the project financially affordable and will conduct research into the current livelihoods of the communities and the current community tourism industry.

To ensure continuity and meeting the demands of the local communities, the program will work closely together with the local NGO Redtucombo, other local stakeholders and the indigenous communities to test, improve and implement sustainable solutions with the aim of improving the livelihood of the local people and reducing the impact of tourism on their living environment.

Who are we going to support?

The local communities that we are going to support are groups of Ngäbe-Bugle indigenous people. These people are the original Indian inhabitants of Panama who nowadays live in small ‘communities’ with each other. They live their lives according to their own traditions, rituals and habits to preserve their own culture and the nature surrounding them.

Traditionally these local communities maintained themselves through agriculture. Since this way of living becomes less and less reliable due to economic interests in their lands (such as the construction of hydroelectric dams and increasing mining activities), the communities have started to participate in the cash-economy. This forced switch has not been easy on them as they struggle to generate capital and obtain the necessary amenities and resources.

As these communities struggle in the last effort to preserve their beautiful and unique culture, maintain their own lives and build a living, we are going to help them in their development of community tourism.

Why community tourism?

The Ngäbe people have few resources and employment opportunities, making them one of the poorest groups in Panama. Unemployment is one of the biggest problems that the original inhabitants of Panama have to face. The Ngäbe average annual income is around $400 and 91.7% of the population lives in extreme poverty, earning less than 2$ a day.

Nowadays many of the indigenous people face a wide variety of problems stretching from poor education and bad healthcare to malnutrition and a rather unskilled labour force. Meanwhile, land and crop shortage grow into a more generalised issue, and it becomes more difficult to find work and earn a decent living. The original inhabitant’s problems grow even more because of a sufficient lack of infrastructure and the absence of social services delivered by the government.

Therefore, any source of income or employment would make a huge difference in the community by providing some capital with which to address these problems.