When we started Enlaces (At Risk Children Dance for Social Change), our mission encompassed more than simply dance and theatre. We longed to be a light for our students, in order to guide them to a better economic and social situation.
That was five years ago. Enlaces was young and the coordinators dreamed of a program that could reach the fame of international projects of the same quality. This year, more than any other time, we have living, tangible proof of the real impact that this initiative can have.
This proof has a name: Juan.
A dedicated student, a hard worker, and a young man with unbreakable values, Juan has been with us from the start. With incredible talent and an insatiable hunger for success, this young boy from Santa Ana has become famous in circles outside of Calicanto. In 2012 he was selected to participate in the nationwide Panamanian show “Little Giants” and between 2012 and 2013 he participated in a series of learning workshops organized by Prisma Festival.
In 2013, he participated in a conference called Youth Creation for Peace, organized by DanzÁrea, where he placed third.
All these achievements culminated in a gold medal win at an international competition organized by Danza Activa in 2014, in the Solo – Youth category.
Juan has come very far from his beginnings in the program 5 years ago. In many ways, he is representative of our mission. He is a young man that lives in difficult conditions but that benefits from the unyielding support of a grandmother who has served as both father and mother to him and who has always encouraged him to follow his dreams, no matter the socioeconomic context.
From April 20th to 24th of this year, Juan traveled to Cartagena to participate in intensive workshops with the prestigious Compañía Periferia and El Colegio del Cuerpo (The School of the Body.) We cannot stress what a huge achievement this is for him and the program at large.
The latter institution provided us with the basic blueprint for Enlaces (with some minor changes.) At The School of the Body, the teachers prioritize the value of the students’ bodies, human dignity, emotional development, and the balance between the physical and the psychological. All these characteristics are of upmost importance in Calicanto.
You could say that Enlaces is a descendant of this academy. And like sea turtle offspring returning to the beach of their birth to lay their own eggs, the cycle that started in 2010 comes full circle.
Enlaces returns to Cartagena with one of our best students to recognize that, although Juan will keep advancing and growing, he has now become the kind of dancer that can hold his own in the company of professionals five or six years older, all within the walls of an internationally renowned academy.
But the connection is also personal. José Leonardo, an Enlaces teacher, comes directly from this school. His story is very similar to Juan, with slightly different but equally important challenges.
José Leonardo’s success is an example to his student and they both see themselves reflected in the other. They represent two different stages of one success story and we are sure that, given a few years, Juan will achieve his dreams in the same manner his teacher did.
Juan tells us that he wants to be an architect one day and wants to study abroad. He says that dance has been an outlet through which he’s been able to freely and fearlessly express his feelings and his identity, without fear of being judged.
The Foundation is proud of this young man. He represents a reality that, in a world full of cynicism and pessimism, is sometimes hard to accept: anything is possible if you follow your dreams, work hard, and leave fear behind.
If you want to help Juan with the costs of his recent trip and his dancing partner Raul with his upcoming travel arrangements, visit Help Juan and Raul Dance for a Future, our microproject under "At Risk Children Dance for Social Change."*The names in this report have been changed to respect the privacy of our beneficiaries.
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.
On the 24th of March, Fundación Calicanto’s Enlaces program hosted a Puberty and Adolescence Workshop for the parents of our child dancers. 18 of 21 parents attended. This might not seem like such a significant figure, but it wouldn’t have been impossible to gather these many parents together in one place when we started this social initiative five years ago. Those who follow Enlaces closely know that our program deals primarily with prevention for at-risk children. We offer them a safe space in which to practice dance as well as partake in other artistic avenues that their young minds would otherwise not prioritize. We also provide them with supplementary schoolwork aid and counseling and we follow through with their respective academic institutions in order to ensure their continued mental development.
And yet all this can be undone if they leave the Foundation and arrive at a home with parents who prioritize other issues over their children’s continued education. For this reason, our outreach must be larger. If we are to influence the community in a positive way, we must obviously focus on its future contributing members. But we must also focus on their families. The increased interest in their children’s extracurricular activities is proof that our web of influence is growing. Now, when an Enlaces child returns home after a valuable afternoon of learning and dancing, they are greeted by parents that are perhaps a bit more interested in their endeavors. Instead of questions like “Why do you waste all that time at the dancing school?” they might hear something along the lines of “What did you learn today?”
Our older students are benefitting directly from the aforementioned workshop and from our new focus on adolescence. They are establishing balanced relationships with their parents, relationships in which both parties understand the importance of freedom but also the necessity for boundaries. Since this is such an important and difficult period for children, we want to avoid an excessive separation between the parental unit and the child. Just because they might seem like they want to distance themselves, these children (like all children) need a parent emotionally present to guide them through a scary but exciting new phase of their lives.
Our dancing lessons, study aid, psychological support, therapy sessions, and values don’t stay within the four walls of our Enlaces classroom. They can’t. Our beneficiaries include everyone linked to the children we are helping shape into adults. When we give them the tools to better their own circumstances, we must also give them the blueprints to rebuild connections between themselves, their families, and their communities that may have been lost along the way. And in some cases, we must teach them how to build bridges that might not have existed at all.