At a glance: Panama

A community centre inspires an adolescent girl to become an agent of change in Panama

By Tamar Hahn

PANAMA CITY, Panama, 5 May 2011 – Dalys Perez, 17, was seeking a positive influence in her life after her mother went to prison. Living in El Chorillo, a crime-ridden neighbourhood of Panama City, it was difficult to escape from violence. Then Dalys found her way to Movimiento Nueva Generación, a community-based organization that has changed her life.

17 April 2011 - UNICEF reports on how a local community centre is transforming a teenage girl's life in Panama.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

The UNICEF-assisted initiative uses dance, sport and art activities to motivate children and adolescents. It also offers opportunities to learn computer skills and allows them to do their homework when the school day has ended.

Dalys was attracted to the centre by the dance classes and now goes every day after school. She is a dedicated volunteer, helping children with their homework and lending a hand at the front office.

Movimiento Nueva Generación is much more than a recreational space. For many of the children and adolescents in this neighbourhood it is an oasis, a place where they can escape the poverty and violence that permeates their daily lives. The centre was created by Hector Bands, a young man from El Chorrillo who, after recovering from drug addiction, decided to turn his life around and give back to the community.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Dalys Perez, 17, has had her life transformed since she started attending classes at Movimiento Nueva Generación, a community organization in El Chorillo neighbourhood in Panama.

Glaring inequalities

“Hector was a tremendous help for my daughter,” says Adriana Elizabeth Alvabran, Dalys’ mother. “While I was in prison for three years he was the one who supported her, who lent her a hand. She grabbed onto it and that has saved her from going down the road of crime like I did.”

Despite its world-renowned canal and the impressive skyline of its capital city, Panama is a country rife with inequalities. The ever widening gap between rich and poor is a reflection of all of Latin America and the Caribbean, two of the most unequal regions in the world.

Such disparities, poverty and lack of opportunities encourage violence. Latin America and the Caribbean are also two of the most violent regions and child survival gains are often wiped out during adolescence because of it.

“Most of the children who come with me to Movimiento Nueva Generación have gone through great difficulties in life, just like me and worse,” says Dalys. “Many have relatives and friends who are gang members and if we don’t lend them a hand they might join as well.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Dalys struggled to cope in Panama after her mother was sent to prison. Now mother and daughter feel they're on the right track.

Agents of change

Many adolescents in Panama and in the region as a whole are stigmatized as violent when they should be viewed as agents of change and a vital resource in the development of their societies.

“Adolescents have an enormous potential as active contributors of their societies,” says Una McCauley, UNICEF Representative in Panama. “We need to change our approach and emphasize all the positive things they can do instead of as sources of conflict.”

Dalys embodies this positive attitude. “I would like to tell all the children from my neighbourhood that they should not listen to what others say and think,” she says. “They should only listen to their dreams and make them happen.”


 

 

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