Few give them a chance, but young men from Casco Viejo Panama's street gangs are out to prove they can move away from violence and into the professional world. Esperanza ("Hope") gives these young men eight weeks of emotional development, life skills, professional training and job placement that will allow them to re-integrate into mainstream society.
For a kid born in the slums of Panama the chances of succumbing to gang life are high. Once entangled, the chances of winding up anywhere other than dead or in prison are increasingly low because Panama's government (and 76% of the general public) prefer a "hard hand" approach of police and prisons. Research shows these methods are creating a vicious cycle that jeopardizes our society. And so for tattooed young men looking for a way out, very few doors are open.
Esperanza ("Hope") offers gang members and at-risk youth in the historic heart of Panama City a route into mainstream society. At the heart of the program is a simple philosophy: a better life is made from better decisions. As simple as it may sound, self-determination is a radical concept for these young men, but one that they begin to internalize over ten weeks working with Esperanza's social workers, psychologists, personal coaches and physical trainers.
At a macro level, Esperanza's cost of $1700 per participant is far less than the cost of one year of incarceration: even before taking into consideration the economic contribution of those successfully placed in jobs. Young men who move from society's margin into its mainstream make it stronger not only by removing their threat, but also by their example to their children, peers and public. At a community level, reformed young men form a rich part of the human heritage of our historic district.
This project has provided additional documentation in a PDF file (projdoc.pdf).
NYT mentioning program grad turned entreprenuer
FT Urban Ingenuity Award Mentions Esperanza (p.19)
Esperanza in the Guardian UK