Give & Surf is a volunteer-driven organization that relies on volunteers to help teach & design educational and recreational programs.
We are a locally embedded 501(c)3 non-profit organization that operates year-round providing sustainable support to the indigenous communities of Bocas del Toro, Panama. We are a family of staff members,volunteers, community members, parents, students, and teachers connected by our mutual passion to achieve positive change for indigenous communities of Bocas del Toro, Panama. We are not seeking to have a small impact on the greatest number possible. Instead, our approach has always been to have a deep, long-lasting, sustainable impact within the small communities we serve.
As a volunteer-driven organization, we rely on over 200 volunteers annually in order to sustain our operations, teach our educational programs, and fund new community development projects. We strive to provide volunteers with a meaningful experience that results not only in a positive impact in the communities we serve but also in a transformative, eye opening personal experience that has a long-lasting impact on their life and global awareness.
From creating cultural exchanges between volunteers and students to creating opportunities and training teachers, we are building up a community through action. Volunteers live in a collaborative and beautiful environment. In exchange for their services and funding in building this community, volunteers receive a wonderful cultural immersion experience that provides incredible insight into non-profit and international development work.
Prior to 2011, there was only a small primary school offering inadequate education in unsatisfactory facilities in Bahia Honda. Fortunately, in 2011, Neil Christiansen decided to give up his medical sales career and pursue his passions for helping others and surfing which landed him in Bocas del Toro, Panama where he quickly connected with Margaret Ann & Henry Escudero, owners of La Loma Jungle Lodge. Henry & Margaret were already well established in the Bahia Honda and, as parents to 3-year-old Lucho, were eager to start a program for all of the community preschoolers. And thus was born Give & Surf. Where this partnership would lead and what this small program would blossom into, neither Neil, Margaret nor Henry could have imagined.
Now, five years since its inception, Give & Surf serves over 150 students per week in five indigenous communities. In Bahia Honda & Bahia Roja, we are the primary providers of preschool, kindergarten, summer school, English classes, and other extracurricular activities. We have started to expand our reach into communities in Old Bank, Carenero, Bocas Town, and Solarte by offering teen & adult English classes and taking on new community development projects. Over the last five years, we have helped to build three schools, a library, cafeteria, playground, bathroom, water catchment system, and helped to renovate & maintain other schools and community facilities.
We often get asked why Bocas? Statistically, Panama usually ranks above their fellow Central American countries when it comes to the rate of literacy, dropouts, overall education, poverty, and other key indicators. Unfortunately, the realities faced by the five indigenous populations of Panama are an entirely different story. The Ngobe-Bugle tribe is the largest indigenous group in Panama and it is estimated that over 90% are living in extreme poverty. Due to the remote location, they have extremely limited access to education, medical care, and other basic necessities. This has resulted in high rates of drop out, malnutrition, and unemployment. Only 18% of Ngobe students are educated past a sixth grade level and the overall literacy rate is 55%. The culture and livelihood of the Ngobe communities in the Bocas del Toro islands is at particular risk due to the growing tourism sector, which is infringing on the Ngobe lands and also raising the cost of living. In order to both protect their culture as well as ensure future opportunities for employment, Give and Surf is committed to educating and empowering these communities.
We serve over 130 children each week in the communities of Bahia Roja & Bahia Honda. Volunteers provide extra assistance in the classrooms, provide more individualized attention to our students, lead recreational activities, and help create and implement new lesson plans and programs. We have also had groups of volunteers help improve the community infrastructure by building schools, docks, a library, playground, water catchment system, and other structures.