A CAPTA student stood on a stage and used the words CAPTA and Calicanto interchangeably.
The evening began with much planning here at Calicanto. At 3, under a cloudy sky and following a countdown on our social media that had our followers on the edge of their seats, our most recent cycle of CAPTA women finally graduated.
And what a graduation it was!
Miss Panama Irene Nuñez was our Master of Ceremony and with a clear and elegant voice, she presented a fantastic group of speakers.
Our dear Hildegard Vasquez reminded the girls that, in a modern world, they cannot be Cinderellas who wait for princes to save them, but instead must be the heroes of their own story.
The director of Panama International Hotel School, Roberto Jean-Francois, gave the students and all the women in the world the title of “CAPTAlized women.” He reminded the audience to always remember the importance of the International Day of the Woman.
Tamara McPherson, director of Asociación Judio Panameña, our old friends and collaborators, expressed the great inspiration that our CAPTA women are and gifted a scholarship in order to change a life during our next cycle.
Similarly, Clínica Ford and American English Overseas Center also presented scholarships for “the perfect smile” and for tutoring in English.
But the moment the auditorium at the Museum of the Interoceanic Panama Canal was quietest was when Elena took the stage.
Mere moments after having graduated along with her CAPTA sisters, she explained to us that, when she arrived at the program, she felt there was no hope for her or her children.
She described CAPTA as a cocoon where she, the caterpillar, had transformed herself into a butterfly that was ready to be seen and to explore her new world.
With a strong voice that still broke at times, she let us know that the program changes lives and that, in only seven weeks, she leaves us a new person.
But the most interesting part was her interchangeable use of the words CAPTA and Calicanto. She switched back and forth as if both had the same meaning.
While to most, it might have seemed simply a mistake, Elena was correct.
CAPTA, Esperanza, and Enlaces (Fight Poverty: Educate Women in Panama, From Street Gang to Service Industry in Panama, and At Risk Children Dance for Social Change) might be three separate programs with three different approaches, but they are all synonyms for Calicanto simply because they have the same mission: to light a candle (as Hildegard Vasquez did with our graduates yesterday) in the darkest corners of Panamanian society, even when the day is as cloudy as it was.
The architect said it, the speakers reiterated it, and the girls showed it through their dramatic renditions: the CAPTA woman represents new light and new opportunities. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be new challenges, but that there is potential for a good future for both them and their families.
Carolina lost more than anyone should when her house went up in flames. Now she lives in a makeshift apartment in Casco Antiguo, a neighborhood that we focus on with our social programs and that she refused to abandon, with a small room and several other family members, her children and mother included. Very few would’ve blamed Carolina for having a defeatist attitude.
When we complain about our problems, they seem to be the most important thing at the time. It’s hard to put them in context and zoom out because they’re very real to us. But when we encounter people in Carolina's position, we often wonder whether, if we were forced to shoulder burdens twice that size, we would be able to move forward.
Losing your house, however, is not the same as losing your home. For Carolina and for many of our students at the Foundation, home is a synonym for family. This means that Carolina lost both. One of her children, a boy who had yet to reach his ninth year of life, passed away during the fire. He left behind his twin brother and his entire family. Instead of wallowing in her pain (and could we have faulted her for it?) she decided she would never allow something like this to happen to her family again.
She joined the most recent cycle of our GlobalGiving Project CAPTA (Or Fight Poverty: Help Educate the Women of Panama) and graduated last Thursday, going as far as winning a scholarship from our friends at the a local dental clinic for "The Perfect Smile". For many of our women, it is a hard lifestyle change to come to the Foundation from 8 to 5 and acquire knowledge in a formal setting. Can we stop for a second and imagine how much harder it is to do so when the shadow of a loss like this tried to poison Carolina's mind and drive her to self-pity and apathy every day? The mental healthcare professionals who work with us at the Foundation reported that Carolina would have episodes during the program where she would be overcome with grief, sometimes collapsing. But she had other children at home that depended on her. So after one of these bouts of grief, she would always come back the next day, ready to continue her lessons. Nothing stopped her.
Carolina did not only overcome the many social hurdles placed in front of people in her position. By graduating, she also overcame a psychological pain that she couldn’t simply escape when she went home at 5 every day. With this recent graduation, her diploma might represent her new accreditation, but it also represents the love she had and still has for her deceased son. She honors him and the rest of her family by not letting anyone or anything, not even her own tragic past, dictate her future.
(The names in this report have been changed to ensure the privacy of our beneficiaries.)
We conduct these interviews with our graduates to understand what motivates them to join CAPTA and also to provide basic insight into the mindsets of the women we train. This is Ana's interview, she recently graduated and has been able to cash in her first check which will contribute to her daughter's education back home.
What is your name?
How old are you?
I am 47 years old
Are you single or married?
I am legally married, but at the moment we are separated.
Do you have children?
Yes, I have a daughter who is 8. She lives far away from me with her grandparents and I miss her very much.
Have you finished high school?
No, I couldn’t finish high school. I reached 11th grade.
What did you do before the program?
Before the program, I used to work as a housemaid.
When you heard about CAPTA, what did you like about it?
What I really liked about CAPTA is that the program offers the opportunity to learn important skills that could help me land a stable job.
Why do you think you need this program?
The reason I think I need this program is for personal development, as a mother I want to provide for my daughter and I want to give her a better life.
What did you feel when you were accepted into the program?
I felt the desire to improve I knew this program would be for my benefit.
What would you like to change about your life?
I think that I would prefer to have a better quality of life.
What are your goals after you finish the program?
For me it’s a must to always keep learning and growing. I would like a stable job, improve my quality of life, own my home so that I can bring my daughter to live with me and provide for her.
What change would you like to see in the world?
I’d like to see equal opportunities for children. Learning and studying are basic things that all children should have, just like food and water.
What have you learned recently that you would have liked to know when you were a young girl?
I guess I didn’t know how important school was; if I knew better, I would have finished high school.
Anything funny about your personality?
The way I communicate, always with joy even if I am tired.
What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury means being able to afford a comfortable life style. Having my own home and car to move around, having my bills up to date.
What would you tell a woman who could help you by buying something luxurious?
I would tell her how grateful I feel for the help she’s provided me and other women in need.
Would you like to receive some advice from these women? What would you ask?
Yes, of course I would. I would ask her for advice on what can I do to have the same opportunities she has.
What advice could you give to a younger woman?
A good advice for a younger woman is to study, so that she does not regret it later.
How did this program change your life? Has there been a change in your life after the program?
The program helped me to improve as a person. Now I can solve conflicts and express myself without aggression. My life changed because they gave me the key to change things in my life. For example, now I have a stable job and I am about to cash my first paycheck. I will send that money to my mother to help pay my daughter’s education back home.
When Kimmy arrived to Fundacion Calicanto we saw a young 18 year old girl with an introverted personality, monotonous speech, low self-esteem and if she ever answered a question, it was usually a shy and awkward yes or no answer with her head tilted toward the floor, avoiding eye contact at all costs.
The first week of CAPTA, Kimmy had difficulty communicating with the other women in the classroom; she had a child-like attitude and cried every time a teacher insisted on her participation. She had not finished high school; she only made it to 9th grade due to learning difficulties and because her mother couldn’t afford to send her to school any longer. By the time she entered CAPTA, she was financially dependant of her mother, and so was her younger sister.
On the third week of the course, positive changes in Kimmy started to show through the interventions of the psychologists and teachers. In the Computer Literacy course, she impressed the teacher with her high abilities to use the computer and finishing first in all of the assignments; and due to her dexterity in this class, the teacher asked her to help the other women in their work. This sparked a new attitude in Kimmy, for the first time in her life she felt she was good at something, and she spread this new feeling of self-satisfaction and self-confidence in the other courses. She began to express herself with her classmates and everyone who works at Fundacion Calicanto. Her personal appearance changed; she would come with impeccable hair, dress and make up. She started to be more outspoken, and would even volunteer for small tasks that would involve having to ask for things or talk to someone else.
During the practice at the International Hotel School, she excelled and received a recommendation letter and a diploma for her high performance. Kimmy was chosen by her classmates to be their spokeswoman in the graduation ceremony and received a Perseverance Award. A few days after graduation she passed by Fundacion Calicanto for an update, she said she couldn’t wait to start her new job and continue her path towards personal success.
My name is Marlene
I am 19 years old
Yes, I have a 2-year-old daughter
I’m studying right now. Trying to finish.
Before the program, I was working in a company that manufactures and selects buttons for clothing.
A neighbor and friend of mine told me about a program that would teach me how to find a job and how to change my life in a positive way. Hearing this was very exciting for me and I told my relatives that I wanted to join the program, not just because it would help me find a job but also because I wanted to learn! I wanted the opportunity to keep learning and make my dreams come true.
To improve as a person and change my life, I want to be better and have more stability. I feel like this program will help me.
I felt happy and I got really emotional, I even started crying because I was full of joy.
I would like to change the way I am and be able to communicate more with my family and to hold a fluent conversation and not end up arguing with them. I would like to understand them without fighting.
My personal goals are to find a job, finish building my home and finish my nursing degree, that’s the dream I’m following.
Respect, value and no discrimination for women. That would a good change.
I wish I had a mentor who constantly encouraged and supported me to keep studying and working to get my college degree to find a worthy job.
When I first meet someone I’m usually very serious but once I start to trust I’m all laughs.
Luxury to me is having a full make up kit.
I would thank her because with her donation she is helping women who don’t have the resources to continue studying.
Yes, I would like to ask her what she did in her life to get to where she is. How did she overcome all the obstacles to reach her goals without giving up ?
To continue studying and finish their college careers. Don’t give up despite the obstacles in the way, because with effort we can go further.
The program helped me understand that anything in life is easy as long as we fight for what we want. I learned to have a good attitude, to be positive in everything I do and to believe in myself. I feel more confident and now I know how to act when I am in a difficult situation. I learned to say things at the right time without offending or hurting others and I dialogue more with my family.
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