Fundacion Calicanto

Calicanto is a community based organization dedicated to safeguarding the historic and human heritage of Panama City's inner city historic district through social, educational, cultural, and conservation programs and initiatives.
Sep 25, 2015

"I want to work to protect my child's life"

Photography by Jorge Duarte
Photography by Jorge Duarte

Abigail’s story

Abigail gave birth to a young girl just days before her 15th birthday. She never took a sex-education course before or had access to birth control because she was born and raised in an indigenous region with a very strict culture that believed bearing a baby during childhood is a betrayal of the family and a sin. After giving birth to her child she was forced to leave the house.

She dropped out in the fifth grade and moved to her aunt’s house at Cerro Batea (makeshift houses atop a mountain).  She didn't have stability in her home, shifted from house to house until she finally met her partner. The instability and long distances between these homes and her school made it impossible for her to continue her studies and led her to drop out at a young age. 

No access to water or electricity, Abigail’s lives in a makeshift home, roughly the size of a regular bedroom, with her partner, daughter and two cousins. She is now 20 years old and faces the reality of many poor women living in Chepo (district in the outskirts of Panama). 

She found the Project CAPTA (Fight Poverty: Help Educate the Women of Panama) through her aunt, a CAPTA graduate, who told her that there were job opportunities for her in the hotel industry and all she had to do was call and ask about the job.  At that time she neither worked nor studied. “I have a daughter. I need to work and do everything  possible to survive for her”she said. Doubtful at first, she was finally encouraged by her aunt to participate in our intense seven-week program that would conclude with a job opportunity.

To participate in this program, Abigail faces many difficulties and makes tough choices  everyday such as: leaving her four year old daughter alone, not knowing what they will eat or where she will find the money to feed herself and her daughter. In the wee hours of the morning when most of us are still sleeping she is already on her way to San Felipe where the foundation is located. It takes her two hours, walking by herself at dusk, a bus and a train to arrive on time. 

One of the most valuable things she has learned in the course is to control her anger. Assertive Communication has taught her to think things through before speaking, to be more tolerant of others and to improve her attitude. In order to make the most of this opportunity she tells herself: “I have to fight for this, I have to achieve this!”.

“I want to work to protect my child’s life”. In spite of all the obstacles she faced, Abigail finished the program with a better self-esteem and is now ready to pursue a professional career that will help her pay for her daughter’s education expenses. This will be the way out of poverty for Abigail. Now she counts with the tools and skills to find a job and she has the confidence and ability to deal with the challenges ahead.

(The names in this report have been changed to ensure the privacy of our beneficiaries.)

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Abigail and her daughter
Abigail and her daughter
Her makeshift house
Her makeshift house
Abigail
Abigail's aunt and her children
Abigail at her graduation
Abigail at her graduation
Jul 29, 2015

Esperanza 2015 Mid Year Report

It may be just past the mid-year point, but we already have a lot to report. 

Most importantly, Esperanza has completed Phase I of our five year plan!  As you might recall, we intially set out with four goals:

1. Demobilize the three gangs operating in San Felipe, Casco Viejo (Intervention)

2. Provide their former members with real opportunities to integrate into formal society (Integration)

3. Create a lasting prevention capability with the most promising graduates to prevent the next generation from becoming gang involved (Prevention)

4. Systematizing Esperanza's methodology so that it can be replicated (Replication)

In April we completed the intervention with the third and final gang operating in San Felipe (Las Terazzas)  and in June we received the Monitoring and Evaluation report from Vitalitas Consulting and the results strongly indicate that, with completion of this third and final group, Esperanza has succeeded in its first goal and completed Phase I.

Determining whether a gang is operating as a gang or not is as much art as it is science. To do this, we use a diagnostic took created by Vitalitas Consulting that asks key questions of the participants, the surrounding community and the police before and after each intervention regarding their perceptions of safety and gang activity. The survey also looks at quantitative and qualitative factors surrounding the individual participants' behaviours as well as those of the entire group.  

Again, the results at the community and group levels were impressive. In just six months the percentage of residents and police who answered "yes" to the question of whether a gang was operating on the street decreased by over 50%, indicating a major improvement in community perception following the program.

At an individual level, we look to see whether certain worrisome behaviors have decreased (we call them risk factors) and other positive behaviours have increased (protection factors).

One of the most important protection factors is formal employment. Eighty percent of the graduates of the third group either obtained formal employment or started their own businesses. Other important protection factors such as social capital (the measurement of an individual's personal network) and participation in community activities increased, while key risk factors showed significant declines, such as arrests and victimization. (The full Vitalitas report is attached.)

All of these are good signs, but in reality, they are just the beginning. Changing indiviual behavours to the point where former gang members can permanantly integrate into formal society isn't quick or easy. The Vitalitas survey is a snap shot of a moment in time, but we know that without extensive ongoing support, all of those changes can be lost quickly. (In fact, a number of the last group lost their jobs following the Vitalitas survey and are now working with Esperanza's counselors to get back in the saddle). 

The total cost of the first phase was approximately $160,000. It may sound like a lot, but when you consider that incarceration of the graduates for even one year would have cost at least twice that amount it begins to look like a bargain!

With the ex members of the three former San Felipe gangs now focused on changing their lives for the better, we turn to Experanza's second phase (Integration), which is ensuring that the former members gains are permanant and they don't revert back to old habits. We don't expect this to be quick or easy, but it is critical to make sure the program's gains are permanent. The main goals are:

  • Formalizing the graduates businesses so that they qualify for credit and can begin moving into formal housing
  • Completing a "restorative justice" process so that the remaining tensions among individuals are resolved to prevent future problems
  • Working with the Panamanian government to remove the graduates from the national gang database so that they are not stigmatized

Phase II will take us 18 months and will have a cost of approximately $125,000. In some ways it's going to be the least visible work we do. How do you get donors excited about someone keeping a job, not doing drugs or not getting arrested? But the honest truth is that no matter how good an eight week gang intervention program is, without serious follow-up by trained counselers and social workers, change won't last long. 

As always, we are deeply appreciative of your support, as are the graduates themselves. They know that Esperanza is not a government program. That it is supported by hundreds of people who want them to succeed makes a big difference to them, as it does to us. 


Attachments:
Jul 7, 2015

Dancing Changes Lives! Here's Proof!

Juan dancing with one of his teachers at a show
Juan dancing with one of his teachers at a show

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.

Juan dancing
Juan dancing
Juan at the end-of-the-year recital
Juan at the end-of-the-year recital
Juan at a ballet recital based on Disney
Juan at a ballet recital based on Disney's Frozen
 
   

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