One of the most challenging things that a volunteer has to try and do once they have decided to venture out of the country for a mission or service trip is to raise the amount of money that it takes to get and stay there. The amount of money that must go into heading out into other countries is astonishing. Not only are there the costs of purchasing the plane ticket along with lodging and food, but one must take into account that you must prepare different clothes for that climate along with bedding, other materials, different immunizations, and your passport.
When heading out to Panama for a month in the summer of 2007, I was quick to learn before I left that Panama is consistently 90 degrees in their winter (our summer). They call this “winter” solely because to them winter means rainy season. It will be pure sunshine and seem like the most beautiful day there and, in a matter of seconds, there will be a downpour of rain for about twenty minutes and then return to the gorgeous day it had just previously been.
While trying to prepare some clothes for that weather, I was told from my team leaders that were helping us prep for the trip, that we were required to wear jeans or long pants on the job site because of the danger from hiking and other safety reasons while we would be building.
These clothing suggestions were extremely varied throughout the types of activities we would be participating in. We were not going to be able to reach any sort of area where we could clean our clothes, so packing lightly was definitely needed, especially due to the fact that we were only able to have our suitcase weight 50 pounds according to our flight restrictions.
While preparing for the trip, we were informed that we would only be staying with our selected host family for part of the month that we were in Panama. The other portion of the time would be spent in various villages and that they will be letting us sleep in some of the huts in the village. We were suggested to bring a self inflatable mattress that would fill up to be around two inches thick—which was definitely better than nothing on those cold dirt floors!
Along with these physical materials needed to make the trip successful, one of the other areas that rarely gets pointed out, but is very expensive (and painful) is the need for different immunizations specific to the region you are headed. Specifically for Panama, I was required to get a Typhoid shot, a Hepatitis B shot, a Polio vaccination, and take Malaria pills. Each of these ranged from around $20 for the Polio vaccine to $150 for the Typhoid shot and Malaria pills, along with the $30 doctor visit fee.
Each of these items that were needed continually added financial stress to the trip along with the initial $3000 that was required to get myself to Panama. I never once have questioned whether that trip was worth the monetary struggle it took to get myself there because it was the best experience of my entire life and I would never take back a single one of the experiences that I had while I was down there. To me, money truly means very little in my life and I would give up some financial security any day to help someone else out that needs it more than I do.