Anna Bonadies of ‘Jungletown’ Talks about Loving and Leaving Kalu Yala

We catch up with the Panama native about helping to build a sustainable community on the VICELAND series.

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Apr 6 2017, 2:30pm

This week's episode of Jungletown highlights that, while everyone at Kalu Yala is fighting for the same thing, the constant flux of staff members—as well as an ever-rotating cast of fresh-faced interns—isn't easy. Not to mention, well, everything else that comes with building a town in the middle of the jungle. During the show's second episode, "Pied Piper of Panama," the staff questions founder Jimmy Stice, and he questions the staff as Panama native Anna Bonadies is brought front and center.

With a strong background in and a passion for sustainability, Bonadies seemed like the perfect fit for Kalu Yala. But as soon as we heard her say, "I've been having kind of a hard time," we knew that something was wrong. "They told me that either I changed my attitude, or there was no other position here for me," she said. Despite her untimely departure from Kalu Yala, when we caught up with Bonadies, she was upbeat and positive as we talked about her time there—from the importance of diversity to growing a sustainable future. "I was excited, I wasn't prepared for what was coming, but I was definitely excited." she told VICE. We hear that.

VICE: You were on staff working on design thinking at Kalu Yala. What was your experience like?
Anna Bonadies: It was hectic [ Laughs]. I was only there for a short period—ten or 12 days—during staff orientation week. The whole time, I was getting to know how everything worked there, as well as the people. Basically, I was absorbing everything and trying to deliver [my objectives] as fast as possible. I went during Panama's rainy season, too, and it's like the sky is going to fall down on you. Being in the valley took it to the next level—it gets even worse there because you're in the middle of the jungle. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn't easy.

What inspired you to go to Kalu Yala?
Ever since college, I was interested in sustainability and the Earth. I did my community service in college with Friends of Nature, and then I went to work for a sustainability company. I got to learn so much about sustainability, how we're damaging the environment, and how the model that we're living as a society is not sustainable. If we keep consuming like we are consuming, we'd need two planet Earths by 2030, so it's very in our faces and sometimes we don't see that clearly. I got very excited about sustainability, and I came back to Panama [from studying and working in Mexico] and continued my work here. I was on LinkedIn when I saw the "Kalu Yala Design Thinking Instructor" listing, and I was like, "Oh my God, these people are fully sustainable and in Panama. They're doing something completely different than what I've seen. I want to be a part of that." I applied, I got a phone interview with Jimmy, and I passed it. I wasn't prepared for what was coming, but I was definitely excited to be a part of something like that. Sometimes, in your day to day life, you don't get to.

How did you feel when you were leaving?
I was torn down, and I didn't want to leave—I wanted to stay and give it another try. I can understand the harshness or practicality of the position that they took, but I still would've liked to give it a try.

How did you feel about the staff at Kalu Yala?
One of the most beautiful things Kalu Yala has is its people. It doesn't have a well-built infrastructure or backend water, but it has people—really passionate, well-intended, good-hearted people. They're also very professional, young, and fun. They're very cool.

Do you think the staff is diverse enough?
I do think that there's a lot of people from the States, but I think that's fine for now. I have this personal opinion that if you're going to have this sustainable town in 2017, it has to be diverse. You should have an international group of people because it would be so much richer. You could have perspectives of people from different continents saying, "This is how we do this here, or this is how we do this here, and let's find the best practice for this or that." I think cultural exchange is always positive.

What did you take away from your overall experience?
I think it's important for me to know that this group of people exists [ Laughs]. They're not quitting, and that excites me a lot. As a Panamanian, having this kind of innovation an hour from your house is very cool. It makes me think of a future in which Kalu Yala and these kind of groups can eventually bring [these ideas] back to the city. Panama City can be a more sustainable city, eventually—that's how I see it. You can have all this research and development, share it with the world, and really make a big, positive impact. I think that's amazing.

Follow Brittany Joyce on Twitter.

You can catch Jungletown on VICELAND. Find out how to watch here.

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