Senior becomes immersed in Spanish culture through service trip

Lucie James

Slaugh, in blue shirt kneeling wth other students from trip.
Slaugh, in blue shirt kneeling wth other students from trip

Instead of sleeping in late and waking up to the familiar view of Mount Tamalpais, senior Mackenzie Slaugh started her day early in the morning by venturing into the Panama jungle in the month of July. She would hike into the tropical forest to plant trees and speak Spanish alongside her new local friends as well as a couple other Redwood alumni.

During Slaugh’s two week trip, she lived on the Mamoni Valley Preserve to immerse herself in Panamanian culture, help with reforestation and work with children in local villages. Slaugh’s trip was organized by herself, Jennifer Thompson, a friend of Slaugh’s who graduated from Redwood last year, as well as Cosmo Taylor and Lily Gaudin.

While most students go on service trips through specific service programs, Slaugh chose an independent path.

“I organized this by myself in terms of my summer and without my parents. Jen had gone on a Global Student Embassy trip to this rainforest preserve and loved it, and then she was going to go back and volunteer and work there, so she brought me with her,” Slaugh said.

Even though the trip was not as organized, due to the fact that it was not through a program, Slaugh thoroughly enjoyed her time in Panama. She said that the reforestation and manual labor was hard, but rewarding because it was so different than what she normally does in her daily life.

“The kind of work you do is really cool; it is a lot of manual labor. I spent two days just turning compost,” Slaugh said. “A few days we were working on clearing trails in the jungle and planting trees. Another day we would go into the communities and work with the kids and try to communicate with them and work in their gardens. It is really satisfying work, because you work until you are finished.”

Since Thompson stayed in contact with her program leader, Mark Knetsch from her previous trip in Panama, Thompson was able to organize the trip with Slaugh this past summer.

Slaugh walking with kids from Panama
Slaugh walking with kids from Panama

“My favorite thing about the trip was the feeling after doing all the work. You get a really rewarding feeling, because you know what you’re doing has a greater effect,” Thompson said.

Slaugh explained that she plans to go on a trip like this again and recommends it to others because of the impact it had on her. Spanish teacher Todd Van Peursem has been to Panama through Redwood-affiliated trips, and believes that a trip can change a student and how they view the world, even in just two short weeks.

“When traveling abroad in a type of community-service-oriented trip like the one Mackenzie went on, it allows you to get out of that personal space—that bubble that we exist in—and immediately when you do that you are interacting with the world. These trips have the ability to be transformative [because] it is experiential learning,” Van Peursem said.

Van Peursem holds a service trip each year through Redwood because he said it gives students the ability to leave Marin and experience new cultures.

Slaugh plans to go on another trip either next summer or this year, similar to the one she did this past summer.