Communication for Social Change and Development


Department of Communication associate professor and chair travels to Guna Yala, Panama to build relationships for student opportunities to work on health/environment communication, entrepreneurship, and community development.

Dr. Villar first went to Naidup-Digantigi in 1996 as a graduate student in public health at the University of Miami working with her professor Sherri Porcelain. During the following decade, she continued to go on research projects and collaborations related to health, nutrition and community development. Now, 20 years after first stepping on the island, Prof. Villar wants to provide students at FIU the opportunity to learn from Gunas about their efforts in public health and environmental conservation, and to share their talents and expertise to support community projects there.

Professors Porcelin (University of Miami) and Villar (FIU) are planning a cross-university collaboration taking students from communication, public health, international studies and other disciplines to contribute to several ongoing projects in Niadub, including:

  • Continued development of a women-led enterprise to produce and market specialty “molas” (traditional Guna textile craft) through an innovative partnership with women survivors of violence in South Florida;
  • Sustainability plan for local cultural museum, critical to preserve Guna culture and traditional skills, educate children on the islands about Guna history, and could serve as a source of income through exhibitions ans seminars;
  • Education of children and teens about environmental issues affecting their communities in the face of increasing influence from Western culture and consumption habits;
  • Cultural appropriate sexual health promotion for youth, in the context of traditional values and beliefs about sexuality and family;
  • Documentation and preservation of knowledge from Guna traditional healers, who expertise have been passed on through oral tradition and is at risk of being lost as practitioners of Guna medicine get older and fewer young people are training.

These projects are all run through local cooperatives that function with little to no funding and depend on the time and effort of members to carry our activities in support of their community. Prof. Porcelain, who has worked in Niadub for 30 years, and has been taking students from the University of Miami to work with these cooperatives since 2006. Prof. Villar hopes to join forces with ehr and bring a small interdisciplinary group of FIU starting in Summer 2017. Guna Yala is an archipelago on the Caribbean coast of Panama inhabited by the Guna Indiandra (formally spelled Juna). The area is sometimes referred to as San. Blas. Niadub-Digandigi has about 1,000 permanent residents, some of whom travel regularly to Panama City or other large islands for school, work, and to visit family. The primary language is Guna, but many residents also speak Spanish.

If you are interested in being part of the first cohort of FIU students in Niadub–Digandigi, please contact Prof. Villar at


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