Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

Md. churches’ youth group ‘safe,’ leaving Panama amid political unrest

A Maryland church group leader said 17 kids and several chaperones came to Panama’s southwest coast July 7 to volunteer building a school in the mountains.
A youth mission group from two Maryland churches is “safe” and headed home from Panama, a spokesman said Saturday, a day after a chaperone said about two dozen people were stuck at an oceanside compound amid protests that have shut down major roads in the country.

“The mission group was able to make it through the protest blockade during a brief window early this morning and are now safe at a secure location where they are making flight arrangements to travel home,” Evan Knott, director of communications for the Chesapeake Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, wrote in an email Saturday morning.

Lisa Shepard, a chaperone from Jessup, said 17 preteens and teens as well as several young and older adult chaperones had come to Las Lajas, on the southwest coast near the Costa Rican border, on July 7 as volunteers to build a school in the mountains nearby.

When the group members — from New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fulton and Frederick Seventh-day Adventist Church — first arrived, they hit roadblocks that delayed them for a few hours, Shepard said in a text to a friend, adding that “at the time we were unaware of the gravity of the situation.”

For the past week, thousands of Panamanians have been marching in the capital and in cities across the country to express their anger over skyrocketing fuel prices, the Associated Press reported. Members of Indigenous groups from the area where the church groups are stuck are among the country’s most impoverished people, and they joined protesting teachers and workers from Panama’s powerful construction industry as the unrest grew. Protesters blocked the Pan-American Highway, the AP said, and some buses that tried to cross roadblocks were damaged by protesters.

Shepard, who works for a children’s hospital, said the driver who was supposed to take the youth to and from volunteering each day had been stuck on the roadside by the blockade for a week. The group was fearful, Shepard said, though there have been no reports of injuries, according to the AP.

Church volunteers have been going to the area to work with Indigenous groups for nearly a decade, Shepard said, though the coronavirus pandemic had interrupted the trips the past couple of years.

A notice dated Thursday on the U.S. State Department’s website warns of protests in Panama and recommends that visitors “exercise caution near any large gatherings or protests and maintain situational awareness.”

“Unfortunately, protests and road blockages are a part of life in Panama,” the warning states. “There may be demonstrations to protest internal Panamanian issues or, more rarely, manifestations of anti-U.S. sentiment. While most demonstrations are nonviolent, the Panamanian National Police have used tear gas and/or riot control munitions in response to demonstrations, particularly when roadways are blocked or aggression is used against the police.”

Shepard said there were no such warnings before the group headed to Panama.

She said organizers had contacted the State Department and several Maryland officials last week. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.

The power went off for a while Friday, Shepard said, but the compound’s owners were “using their underground network” to secure food for the youth group. She said chaperones have tried to keep the teens’ spirits up and not worry them.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation and keep parents and families informed,” Knott said Saturday.

Related Articles

Today's news from Britain - 9th February 2023
China has declined the US's request for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speak with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe after the US Air Force shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon, according to the Pentagon
The five largest oil companies in the West generated combined profits of nearly $200 billion in 2022, which has led to increased calls for governments to impose tougher windfall taxes
2 earthquakes in Turkey killed over 2,300 people
U.S. added 517,000 jobs in January, snapping five-month string of slowing employment growth
Powerful Earthquake Strikes Turkey and Syria, Killing More Than 1,300 People.
Turkish photographer Ugur Gallenkus portrays two different worlds within a single image. Brilliant work
Tennessee Bill Would Imprison People for 3 Years If They 'Lie' About Rape to Get an Abortion.
Charlie Munger, calls for a ban on cryptocurrencies in the US, following China's lead
EU found a way to use frozen Russian funds
First generation unopened iPhone set to fetch more than $50,000 at auction.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT - US Memphis Police murdering innocent Tyre Nichols
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will block Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from serving on the House Intelligence Committee
Almost 30% of professionals say they've tried ChatGPT at work
Interpol seeks woman who ran elaborate exam cheating scam in Singapore
What is ChatGPT?
Bill Gates is ‘very optimistic’ about the future: ‘Better to be born 20 years from now...than any time in the past’
Tesla reported record profits and record revenues for 2022
Germany confirms it will provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre Photo Is Fake: Ghislaine Maxwell
Opinion | Israel’s Supreme Court Claims a Veto on Democracy
Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gets Married On His 93rd Birthday
Who’s Threatening Israeli Democracy?
Federal Reserve Probes Goldman’s Consumer Business
China's first population drop in six decades
Microsoft is finalising plans to become the latest technology giant to reduce its workforce during a global economic slowdown
Tesla slashes prices globally by as much as 20 percent
1.4 Million Copies Of Prince Harry's Memoir 'Spare' Sold On 1st Day In UK
After Failing To Pay Office Rent, Twitter May Sell User Names
Lisa Marie Presley, singer and daughter of Elvis, dies aged 54
FIFA president questioned by prosecutors
Britain's Sunak breaks silence and admits using private healthcare
Hype and backlash as Harry's memoir goes on sale. Unnamed royal source says prince 'kidnapped by cult of psychotherapy and Meghan'
Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
Google and Facebook’s dominance in digital ads challenged by rapid ascent of Amazon and TikTok
FTX fraud investigators are digging deeper into Sam Bankman-Fried's inner circle – and reportedly have ex-engineer Nishad Singh in their sights
TikTok CEO Plans to Meet European Union Regulators
France has banned the online sale of paracetamol until February, citing ongoing supply issues
Japan reportedly to give families 1 million yen per child to move out of Tokyo
Will Canada ever become a real democracy?
Hong Kong property brokerages slash payrolls in choppy market
U.S. Moves to Seize Robinhood Shares, Silvergate Accounts Tied to FTX
Effect of EU sanctions on Moscow is ‘less than zero’ – Belgian MEP
Coinbase to Pay $100 Million in Settlement With New York Regulator
FTX assets worth $3.5bn held by Bahamas securities regulator
A Republican congressman-elect is under investigation in New York after he admitted he lied about his education and work experience.
Brazilian football legend Pele, arguably the greatest player ever, has died at the age of 82.
Hong Kong to scrap almost all its Covid rules
EU calls screening of travellers from China unjustified
US imposes Covid testing for visitors from China