From July 31st to August 8th, Peace Boat US brought the Music and Art Peace Academy (MAPA) to Central America for a cultural exchange with indigenous communities in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama. Stephanie Smith, Peace Boat US Intern since June 2014, assisted by MAPA student participant Antoinette Stone, delivers a special report of MAPA’s tasks, tours, and adventures throughout the week.

July 31st

The MAPA Program Arrives in El Salvador

The Peace Boat US and the MAPA program participants landed in San Salvador, El Salvador at night after a long flight from New York. For the first night, they stayed in an eco hotel named Arbol de Fuego located in San Salvador. An ecological hotel is an environmentally responsible type of accommodation that applies a green way of thinking (for more information, visit Later, the participants had their first taste of papusas, a delicious typical El Salvadorian dish. Papusas are thick tortillas made from either corn or rice and can be filled with anything from cheese, beans, meat, mushrooms, etc.

August 1st

The MAPA Program Visits the Distrito Italia School for Cultural Exchange

The Peace Boat US and MAPA participants spent the first full day, August 1st, in El Salvador visiting the Distrito Italia, School for Cultural Exchange, where they learned about some of the school’s programs such as theatre, horticulture, baking and art. The children put on a phenomenal performance of sleeping beauty. The school is in an area of El Salvador where social violence is prevalent, and many children become involved in it. The school has been working to change this by providing extracurricular activities that are not funded by the government and are not common in public schools. The Distrito Italia, School for Cultural Exchange is hoping to receive funding to continue these extracurricular activities to improve the lives of their students. While there, the MAPA program donated some musical instruments, including a trumpet, to help their music program.

Before checking boarding the Peace Boat in Acajutla, El Salvador, the MAPA program participants stopped to see the ancient Mayan of Joya de Cerén, a pre-Hispanic farming community that, like Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, was buried under an eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano c. AD 600. Because of the exceptional condition of the remains, they provide an insight into the daily lives of the Central American populations who worked the land at that time. Joya de Cerén is also recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

August 2nd

The MAPA Program Visits the Cuna Náhuat Language Immersion School

On August 2nd, the Peace Boat US and the MAPA program travelled to the Cuna Náhuat indigenous language school in El Salvador. There are only about 150 native Náhuat speakers left due to the government’s suppression of indigenous cultures in the 1930s. More recently, the government has been supporting indigenous cultures. The Cuna Náhuat language immersion school receives some aid from the El Salvadoran government and the United Nations. Although the school receives aid, it is still lacking necessary resources such as a printer and computer.

The language school immerses young indigenous children in Náhuat by having native Náhuat speaking women teach the classes and also act as a “mother.” By teaching the children Náhuat, the hope is to keep the language alive since the only remaining speakers are elderly community members. For the afternoon, community members and school workers brought the Peace Boat US and MAPA participants to a beautiful waterfall near the school and served them lunch, which was also served to the children at the school. The afternoon was spent with a cultural exchange between both groups.

August 3rd

The MAPA Program Visits the Nicaraguan Botanical Garden and Plants Trees in the Mangroves

As our ship pulled into the port you could hear the people before you saw them. There was drums beating and people singing. The people of Nicaragua welcomed the boat with open arms. There were women dressed in traditional Nicaraguan clothes as colorful dresses, flowers in their hair, and braids wrapped in ribbon. The people on the boat waved to those below showing their happiness to be welcomed in such honor. You could feel the excitement on the boat as everyone got ready to depart.

As the MAPA team gathered, we got ready to go to our first stop which was the Nicaraguan Botanical Gardens. Once again as we entered we were welcomed with music, dancing, and a poem. As we went around the garden the guide talked about the many uses of the plants. Some could be used for headaches and another could help with stomach troubles. As we left the garden, our next stop was to plant trees in the Mangroves. But first we had to take a boat to the mangroves. When we got to where the boats were docked there was a family playing in the river. They happily waved and said hello to us. The MAPA team and the rest of the Peace Boat waved back with enthusiasm.

As the other participants and the MAPA team hopped out of the boats, we each were given ten small mangrove trees to plant. The reforestation program consisted of planting the seedlings in the sand near the larger mangroves. You could see everyone bent over well into their planting, with some people offering to help those that were struggling. After we quickly planted the tree we got the chance to see where the first group had planted their trees four years ago with Peace Boat. The place was marked with the flag of Japan and a banner. In four years the trees had grown tremendously. The organizer of the trip, a local Nicaraguan man thanked us and hoped that Peace Boat can continue to do this kind of program to help reforest areas in need for future visits. It was a pleasure for him that the Mangroves were being rejuvenated with new plants that could now flourish making the mangroves greener. As a part of MAPA we also focus on sustainability, and supporting this activity was a great way to learn hands-on about reforestation and environmental protection.

As we drove back from the Mangroves we saw the beauty of Nicaragua. It was filled with many trees and the houses of the people were small but you could see that they were happy. Upon getting back to the port the people of Nicaragua put together a festival to have a cultural exchange between the Peace Boat and those of the Nicaraguan community. There was traditional crafts as earring carved from wood, handmade bracelets and bags. The local people in return were able to get their names written in calligraphy and try on kimonos. The Nicaraguan people then performed traditional dances. In return the members of the Peace Boat performed Japanese drumming, a djembe performance, and the young people of the boat did a popular dance throughout Japan. The festivities of the night were wonderful. It was a pleasure to be in Nicaragua and having that exchange between the people and those of the Peace Boat.

As we departed from Nicaragua we threw streamers off of the boat in many different colors as yellow, blue, red, white, orange and many more. The idea of the streamers is that the people below are supposed to hold on for as long as possible. The breaking of the streamers signals us leaving but the MAPA team will never forget the wonderful people of Nicaragua.

August 4th

The MAPA Program Presents Itself to the Peace Boat Participants

On August 4th, MAPA participants gave a presentation on their program, the Music and Art Peace Academy (MAPA). Each participant presented their background and their contribution to MAPA. Some of the participants also gave phenomenal performances in their art fields. Zion performed Capoeira, Unique sang a song and played the piano, Remi danced a modern ballet piece about nature’s cries from being destroyed, and Tony performed spoken word about rocking chairs and the life of Nicaraguans.

In the afternoon, the MAPA participants met to prepare for the music and theatre workshop late that day by practicing activities and prepping a peace and music activity by cutting out circles and creating a giant staff to put on the wall. The music circles became notes on the wall with messages for peace, and were inspiration for MAPA participant and music producer, Galo Akun, to create an original track made from each of the notes on the music wall.

The workshop began at 4 p.m. with music activities. Everyone stood in a circle and added their own beat when it was their turn going around the circle. This activity then turned into a human orchestra. Participants were put into groups and given a certain instrument sound to make by using their bodies and voices. Then one person was selected to lead the orchestra by controlling when and how loud each group played.

The third theatrical activity was used to simulate what it is like to be in a busy airport and walk around in a hurry without paying attention to others. Then everyone was asked to make eye contact with everyone they passed, and finally to say hello as they passed each person. The activity showed how taking time to notice people in a busy place or even onboard the Peace Boat when you are running late for a meeting will make everyone’s day better and more peaceful. In the end, the workshop was a huge success with many people taking part in it and enjoying the opportunity to express themselves through music and art.

August 5th

The MAPA Program Sets Sail for Panama

On August 5th, the Peace Boat was at sea travelling from Nicaragua towards Panama. During the day, two presentations were given, one from the UN Central American Organization for Resilient Cities and the other from the Director of the Peace Boat US office, Emilie McGlone.

Representatives from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama gave a presentation on Central American Resilient Cities. They talked about the natural disasters each of their countries face and how they are helping to prepare their cities for any future disasters by making them more resilient.

In the afternoon, Emilie McGlone, the director of Peace Boat US, gave a presentation about the workings of the Peace Boat US office in New York to Peace Boat participants. Sarah Halford and Trixie Cordova also talked about the internship program at the Peace Boat US office. They work alongside two other interns and MAPA program participants, Remi Takahashi and Stephanie Smith.

Later in the evening, everyone celebrated the addition of the MAPA program and the Resilient Cities program onboard the Peace Boat by having a Latin Music and DJ night. Members from all of the groups mixed and danced the night away to Latin beats and phenomenal music by DJ Galo Akun.

August 6th

The MAPA Program Passes Through the Panama Canal

On August 6th, the Peace Boat spent the day passing through the Panama Canal from 5:30a.m. until about 5p.m.. This year is an important year for the Panama Canal, marking the 100th anniversary of its completion.

There were many passengers on deck watching the sunrise and waiting for the Peace Boat to enter the Panama Canal. Not many passenger ships have this opportunity, since mainly cargo ships pass through the Canal. It was a great experience for the MAPA participants and all the other passengers on board.

In the afternoon, the MAPA program and the Resilient Cities participants experienced a taste of Japanese culture by taking part in a traditional tea ceremony, origami making, and calligraphy with Japanese Peace Boat participants. A traditional Japanese dance was also performed.

Shortly after the Peace Boat docked in Panama, MAPA participants were able to explore the shopping and restaurants near the port.

August 7th

The MAPA Program Visits the Embera and Kuna Communities in Panama

On August 7th, the MAPA participants enjoyed their last day with the Peace Boat by attending a tour to explore an indigenous community in Panama. The MAPA program had the pleasure of meeting and participating in a cultural exchange with the Embera community. The Embera community is originally from Darien (an area bordering Colombia), however they were forced to leave their homeland and rebuild their village. The Embera have since rebuilt their home and have focused on ways to sustain their village financially and culturally. Ecotourism allows the tribe to sustain their community for the long term by selling handmade crafts, and to enforce their traditions through cultural exchanges with visiting groups.

To get to the village, the Peace Boat tour group took a bus halfway, and then ventured the rest of the way by boat for about 30 minutes. Upon arriving, the group was welcomed with music and dancing along with an introduction to the village. After the welcome, the Embera community guided the group on a tour of their village to see how they live. The Embera live in huts lifted off of the group with roofs made from dried leaves. Their village also has a hut designated as a school where all the children attend until high school. At the moment, they have a Panamanian teacher teaching in Spanish. They hope that next year they will have a community member teaching them in their native language and in Spanish.

In addition to seeing the village, MAPA participants learned that there are three important figures in the Embera community: the chief, the botanical shaman, and the spiritual shaman. All three are important for the community to stay healthy and sustain itself.

After the tour of the village, the group had a delicious traditional meal prepared by the community. Following lunch was a cultural exchange between the Embera people and Peace Boat participants. The Embera performed their local music and dances and the participants from the Peace Boat performed a traditional Japanese dance and song and taught the Embera youth about the art of origami and calligraphy. The cultural exchange was followed by a goodbye ceremony and the Peace Boat group’s return to the ship.

Upon returning, the MAPA program disembarked the Peace Boat and headed to the Kuna village for a homestay. The community, especially the children, warmly welcomed the MAPA program. Everyone gathered in the community center for dinner and a cultural exchange. Both groups performed and talked to each other until late at night. Following the exchange was a homestay program with the Kuna. MAPA participants were able to see how the Kuna live with the bare minimum but still maintain very happy and fulfilling lives.

August 8th

The MAPA Program Learns about the Kuna Community and departs for New York

August 8th was the last day the MAPA program had with the Kuna and in Panama before returning to the USA in the early afternoon. In the early morning, MAPA participants had breakfast made by three lovely Kuna women, and then went on a tour of the community. They learned that the Kuna people used to live on islands in Panama, but 17 years ago decided to move to their current location near Panama City for better opportunities concerning jobs and schooling. When they first moved to the current location, the area was a jungle. They started building their houses by sticking branches in the ground. Throughout the years, they have built durable houses and a walkway through part of the community. They were able to have a water system installed in the community with little trouble, but it took them ten years and a worker’s strike before they could get electricity in the village. All of the Kuna have put a great deal into the community to make it what it is today. They are constantly working on improving their community by continuing to build the walkway, creating a computer room for all, and creating programs for the children to be involved.

After an intensive week of activities on and off of the Peace Boat, the MAPA program returned to New York.