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The Faces of Bocas

"They call it the “Bocas magic”, and once I discovered it during my first visit, I couldn’t stay away from the island. I completely fell in love with the place - the chill street vibes with live Latin music playing from the street corner, smiling faces, the ‘mañana, mañana, just enjoy life’ attitude, and - oh - the beautiful nature. This tropical island group in Panama - Bocas del Toro - has now been my home for the past six years. I just love it here. Most days I wake up, grab my board, ride a bike through the vibrant streets, and go surfing. I’ve found my happy place - where I feel the most at peace.

A couple of months ago, my neighbor approached me to ask for help; she didn’t have the means to feed her family anymore, not even a bag of rice. At that point, the coronavirus had completely changed life on the island. The economy of Bocas del Toro highly depends upon tourism, so the ‘corona travel-ban’ left a devastating mark. Day after day, the number of bankruptcies grew, and poverty became more and more visible. Working as an online teacher, I was lucky not to suffer the same financial losses as many of those around me. It was heartbreaking, watching so many people lose all they had been working so hard for. The people on the island have always been there for me, it's like a community - a family. I felt as if I had to help out somehow, to do something in return. I first started buying food and distributing it among the local families all on my own. But, after realizing the need for help was too great for me to afford, I - together with three friends, decided to raise a fund for the cause. We called it the “Faces of Bocas”, and thanks to donations made by strangers as well as great friends, we've been able to collect money and resources to provide food to struggling families all over the island. Watching them reclaim - even just for a little while - the smiles they used to constantly wear on their faces, it warms my heart. Hopefully, we’ll all wear those smiles again very soon."

- Sophie, The Netherlands

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