Changing a Life Forever takes $800 in Panama

Fundacion Calicanto, Casco Antiguo

I´ve been following up the latest developments on the Health Care bill that got finally signed by Obama and couldn´t help but thinking: this is such a complex issue. In Panama, is complex too, but somehow you get a feeling that you can actually achieve something. I´m afraid that the States is so big and crowded that people can and do feel helpless.

While thinking about it, last night I attended Fundación Calicanto´s annual meeting in Casco Viejo, Panama.  It was an inspiring ocassion as we got to see the work of the Foundation on site: they are commited to breaking the cycle of poverty one woman at a time.  Well, actually twenty at a time. And their program not only works but costs  one time payment of $800 per woman.

No other fees needed, and it works. Results are immediate, concrete.  For each women changed, a family is changed.  Statistics show the family is usually anywhere between 4 to 5 members, sometimes more.  At the end of the program, they stand on their own feet.

The program started in Casco Viejo, Panama´s Colonial City but has now extended to poor areas of Panama City such as Curundu and Chorrillo.  Women entering the program go through an interview process. They tend to be single mothers (or with men that… frankly is just better to say they are single) and have between two and three kids, who are currently being raised “in the streets”.   Some of them have jobs paying about a $3 a day, most of them don´t have jobs.  Some of them have been victim of psycological abuse or even refugees.  But they are all united by a common spark: they want to get out.

CAPTA (Capacitacion para el Trabajo/ Trainning for Work) takes them into a full two to three months program that will train them into hospitality.  But it isn´t the regular classroom, where they get trained “for a job”.  In order to really pull these women out of poverty, CAPTA has had to dig deeper:  start with self esteem.  With theatre classes, art, how to take care of yourself, household management, micro finances, nutrition, best practices on health and sanitation. They even train them in CPR and emergency procedures, which has made many of them leaders in their neighborhoods as so many times they live in violent areas.

Only then, they start trainning “for the job”.  And it works.  The program has over 80% success, and so far has taken out of poverty – forever- more than 120 women.  Through them, with them, you take out of poverty and risk their children and husband (if he stays around!). Good husbands re gain respect for their spouses, children go back to school. Women get promoted. Hotels that have hired them report they are among their best employees from day one.

Even more, they stay friends among them. They create a network to help each other with their kids, they start being active in their communities.

During 2009, CAPTA graduated 40 women. This year, the goal is to double the numbers.

A while ago I´ve interviewed Julia who´s been working now for two years at the Canal House,  a hotel in Casco Antiguo who recently got a Green Award for their involvement in CAPTA (all their staff is CAPTA trainned), about her life and her goals, the impact of the program.  This is a woman who used to work for the government earning less than $5 a day collecting garbage at their sanitation department.  She used to be in survival mode. After CAPTA, her goals have changed. Now she would like to “learn English” and study.

While macro politics are needed – are crucial- I just have a spot for organizations like Fundacion Calicanto… who are actually getting things done.

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