Houstonian enriches kids' lives through Frisbee

June 30, 2011 9:26:46 PM PDT
Imagine spending three years living a small hut you built yourself without any electricity or running water. That's exactly what one Houston man has done as part of his service in the Peace Corps.

Ben Searle graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a degree in economics.

But instead of jumping into the business world, he joined the Peace Corp, moved to a small Panamanian village and quickly learned the power of a Frisbee.

Panama is a country of 3.5 million people and a $20 billion economy. It is growing leaps and bounds, but Panama is also a country with essentially no middle class. If you're not among the wealthy, you're likely very poor, meaning little chance at a good education or great health care.

Nearly three out of every 10 people in Panama live in poverty. Only six in 10 attend high school. And more than 20,000 Panamanians are living with HIV.

Education and aids awareness are the two top items on the agenda for the Peace Corp. And that is where native Houstonian Searle comes in.

"We're focusing on HIV aids and also leadership in the schools," Peace Corp volunteer Ben Searle said.

For the last three years he's lived in a small hut he built himself in western Panama while helping teachers and health workers better educate families and children.

"I worked in a community of 500 people, so I really got to see a whole another world, another way of life," Searle said."A lot of times in the education system, kids have their cuadernos, or their little notebooks, and they're copying. The teachers will write it on the board and they'll copy exactly what the teacher's written and that's actually a large percentage of their education."

And so Searle and others found that a fantastic way to communicate and teach was through, of all things, the game of Frisbee.

"For the most part we're focusing on self esteem and confidence building so you really can actually notice a big change in the kids' attitude-after throwing a disk and immediately telling him great throw," he said.

Searle and his team traveled throughout the country, hosting family field days and teaching what he calls the spirit of the game.

"We have to respect everyone else. We have to be honest and we have to solve our own problems," he said.

Problems one man from Houston saw firsthand and tried to better one throw at a time.

The typical Peace Corp enlistment is two years, but Searle extended his time an extra year because of how much he felt he was helping the children in Panama. Incidentally, his service ends today but says he's sure he'll go back and bring his Frisbee with him.

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