Student contributes to sustainability in Panama


Rebecca Mueller/Winonan

Ian Daniels, a student at Winona State University, is spending his spring semester in Panama working at an unpaid outdoor recreation internship.

His internship, with Kalu Yala Internships, began Jan. 12 and continues until April 28.

Daniels and a group of other interns are building a sustainable community near the Upper Pacora River Valley, which is about 55 minutes from downtown Panama City.

With a major in recreation tourism and therapeutic recreation and an adventure travel minor, Daniels is applying what he has learned at Winona State as a member of Kalu Yala’s Outdoor Recreation team.

“The experience so far has been incredible,” Daniels said. “Living in such an untouched, beautiful area makes every day a pleasant surprise.”

A typical workday for Daniels begins at 9 a.m. and ends at sunset. Each day includes a different set of activities, but always includes three meals and a swim in the Pacora River after work.

“There are so many things to do and so many possibilities, it is unpredictable,” said Daniels, noting that every day brings different experiences.

As part of his experience, Daniels is quickly integrating himself into Panamanian culture. He and his fellow interns will be living in the jungle for periods of up to 13 days at a time, with no access to running water and electricity.

When he is not in the jungle, Daniels lives in Panama City.

Daniels and the team of interns also work closely with campesinos, or cowboys and farmers, who live in the area.

“It is incredible to learn and spend time with people who have lived in such a remote and wild place for most of their lives,” Daniels said.

In addition to the outdoor recreation team, a number of other teams are working together to create the sustainable community. These teams include agriculture, biology, business, and community outreach.

Daniels and the other interns are working on a number of projects to develop the 550 acres of farmland and rainforest property owned by Kalu Yala. They are allowed to work on pre-existing projects and encouraged to design and implement their own.

While the property is mostly jungle, a sand volleyball court, four open-air sleeping structures, and three composting toilets have been built already.

The team is also building a 1.5-acre permaculture farm, combining new technology with traditional Panamanian farming techniques.

“The land will be used for the development of both residential and commercial real estate to create a new town for both primary and secondary homes,” said Kate Stewart, president of Kalu Yala Internships.

Current projects also include the creation and maintaining of hiking trails, constructing ranchos, which are open-air structures that function as houses and researching aquatic life in the Pacora River.

“Our biggest project is working on a water system to our base camps so we don’t have to go and fetch drinking water every day,” Daniels said.

Contact Rebecca at [email protected]