Photo essay: 'We need a school'

Stephen and Anne Sickel
Tuesday, February 26, 2013


There is a small group that meets at the church in Tocumen, Panama.  No more than 30 people are there on any given Sunday, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think they can reach their community. 


Their neighborhood isn’t an easy one. it’s in the city, but not in the glitzy, cosmopolitan world of highrises a 30-minute drive away. There is violence, prostitution, and an overall air of neglect and dirt along these streets. 


Pastor Zuleyka saw the huge need in her community, and decided it was time for the church to take a new approach.  They started knocking on doors asking a simple question. “What do you need?”  There were plenty of responses (there are plenty of needs) but the one that they heard most frequently was, “we need a school.” 


Schools are very important.  The little ones in the community were not ready to enter school to begin with. Then the only thing they could afford was public school, which is in this area meant many children in very large classes. A huge percentage were falling behind, dropping out early, and getting into serious trouble.  It’s a story you hear in the inner city anywhere in the world, but this little church decided God was calling them to meet the need. 

They began with a small pre-school and a small handful of kids. They quickly outgrew the tiny space and realized they needed more. They began using every contact, every resource in their grasp and began to build.  Somehow they managed to build bathrooms and three classrooms beside the church. 

The last school year they had 50 pre-school kids as well as a few adults in a high-school completion class. Next year they expect there could be more than 80 pre-schoolers.  Mind you, this is entirely by word of mouth and a hand drawn sign hung on the fence saying “enrollment open.” They don’t advertise because they know the response would completely overwhelm them. 


There are 3 classrooms or children. The teachers are essentially volunteer. They make barely enough to cover their bus fare every day, but they are completely committed to the difference they are making in this rough place. 

They have dreams of expanding the school to slowly include higher grades. It’s only the beginning of the spark of hope they’re igniting in this dark place!

This all happened before we arrived with a team. It is a great honor for us to work with people following the call of God and touching a hurting world around then.