Paige Myers reflects on Kalu Yala internship in Panama

Paige Myers, junior in global resource systems, builds a living fence for a raised garden bed while interning at Kalu Yala in Panama. The stakes will eventually regrow into small trees.

Katlyn Campbell

Not many people can say that they participated in the Kalu Yala internship in Panama and got robbed by two locals with a machete while on a cliff.

Paige Myers, junior in global resource systems, can attest to this experience. During the 2016 fall semester, Myers interned in Panama, where she helped build a new village, Kalu Yala, with people from across the United States. After the 10-week program, Myers set out to travel with a friend before returning to Iowa. Little did she know, this travel experience would be nearly as educational as the internship.

Taking note that she was in a foreign place and alone on a cliff by the ocean, Myers thought rationally during this confrontation and gave the two men her money.

With little cash left, Myers and friend Heidi Kalb, also a student in global resource systems and intern for Kalu Yala, obtained enough money with help from the place they were staying at. On an island with no ATMs, the two received money from a local restaurant so they would have enough funds to leave the island. Luckily, the two men were only interested in taking cash and not passports.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Myers said.

Kalb laughs about it now, saying that only Myers would be put in a situation like this.

During this experience, Kalb walked ahead of Myers to look off the side of the cliff to see the beach they were headed to.

“I was on the edge of the cliff and [Myers] was like, ‘Heidi, can you come back here? I think I’m being robbed’,” Kalb said.

Kalb said that during the situation Myers was assertive, as she refused to give the two men all the contents of her bag.

“She wouldn’t let them have [her whole bag] and that was like classic [Myers],” Kalb said. “She was like, ‘I don’t think you need that.’ She knew what she had in her bag and she was not going to let them have everything.”

The internship, a sustainable agriculture program, focused on permaculture. The goal was to build agriculture so well that it would become a permanent part of the landscape. The implemented agriculture was sought to be helpful to the surrounding ecosystems while mimicking nature.

“It’s a very holistic kind of framework,” Myers said.

While at Kalu Yala, Myers’ work largely consisted of manual labor. She spent time working to manage a greenhouse by organizing it, seeding, propagating plants and building up the stock of plants. She also helped build a fish pond and dug ditches to prevent flooding and to better direct water.

Myers’ interest in global travel came to her while still in high school. While attending the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute, Myers learned about issues from food security to resource use and realized that there were problems that needed aid in solving.

At the institute, Myers heard from an Iowa State professor who presented on the global resource systems major and realized that was what she wanted to study in college.

“[Global resource systems] has allowed me to apply for travel opportunities, to form relationships with people that are concerned about the same issues, but approach them through a different perspective,” Myers said.

After the Iowa Youth Institute event, Myers went to Tanzania with a service organization to help locals at a feeding center. Since high school, she has gone to Costa Rica twice, Colombia, Spain, Bangladesh and Panama. She hopes to travel to Nicaragua this summer for her global resource systems internship.

Taylor Fah, junior in management information systems, met Myers through being community advisers and describes her as “adventurous” and “fearless.”

“When I first met her she had just gotten back from Bangladesh and she would tell these stories about how she couldn’t leave her room,” Fah said. “The way she told the stories was like it was no big deal. It didn’t even phase her.”

Through all her experiences, Myers has achieved a global perspective about how different communities behave and interact.

“It’s a global world and a global economy and [traveling] really changes your perspective,” Kevin Duerfeldt, global resource systems lecturer, said. “Lately, with some of the politics and current events people will say something about another group of people without having met with them or talked to them or knowing their perspective, and getting out into the rest of the world helps you broaden your world view.”

Kalb described Myers as having a global mind, which helps her approach situations with sensitivity as people can have differing views on topics.

“You never have to worry about her saying something mean to someone both because she’s kind and because she’s respectful,” Kalb said.

Despite having travelled across the globe, Myers wants to start exploring the United States after college.

“I’m thinking of doing a year of service after I graduate with AmeriCorp or FoodCorp,” Myers said.

As a global traveler, mostly visiting places less wealthy than the United States, Myers has learned to live with the minimum. As long as Myers has room and board she’ll be fine with whatever life throws at her.