By: Panorama of the Americas Editorial
Photos: Courtesy Waved Foundation
Many primary schools in Panama’s central Pedasí district accommodate children from five to twelve years of age in just one classroom. In many cases, a single teacher at these so-called “multi-grade schools” also acts as administrator and director. In fact, an estimated 50% or more schools throughout the country are multi-grade.
Just a three-hour drive from Panama City, Pedasí is known for its cultural and tourist attractions, but these riches are not reflected in the physical condition of schools in the area, where the basic facilities required for learning are often lacking.
The Waved Foundation project grew out the need to identify schools near the sea with basic necessities that were not covered by state funding. Once these schools are identified, Waved Foundation intervenes, improving infrastructure and providing English, swimming, and surfing classes. That’s right, Waved Foundation combines education and fun to achieve its goal of improving education. In the words of founder, Bastian Barnbeck, in little over a year and a half the project has confirmed that children are interested in these extracurricular activities because “they open doors, increase confidence, and uncover hidden talents.” Barnbeck also notes that the happier children are, the more willing they are to learn.
The choice of schools located near the sea is strategic: funding is closely linked to surfing, the importance of which is apparent in the Waved Foundation slogan: “One Dollar per Wave.” But it’s not just a question of surfers donating a dollar for every wave they ride; the idea is to motivate companies to become sponsors or partners in the project. Waved Foundation is already active in schools in Purio, Mariabé, Los Destiladeros, and Oria Arriba.
“Our next school is Federico A. Velásquez in Boca La Caja, Panama City, where we’ve been working since April 15. And we’ll visit our first school in Chitré, in the Herrera province, in June. Schools in Cañas and Cambutal in the Los Santos province are also possibilities,” explained Barnbeck.
Barnbeck’s experiences in multi-grade schools have taught him that, in places where the teacher works with children of different ages, older students end up behaving like older siblings, helping younger students while the teacher is busy with their classmates. “The school grows together as a big family in which everyone helps each other. Teachers have tremendous responsibility and show incredible commitment, teaching all subjects to different age groups at the same time, Monday through Friday.”
Not long ago, the Foundation secured support from the world’s best surfer, John John Florence, during the last World Surf League event in Trestles, California (United States), to which Barnbeck traveled ―with support from Copa Airlines.
At age 31, Barnbeck was among the finalists in the 2017 Heroes for Panama contest, which is organized by a local television station every year to recognize people who develop projects aimed at making Panama a better country.