27/08/2015 by cc_admin

Melissa’s Top 5 “C”s

By Melissa Mazurkewicz

I started working with Cambio Creativo in March 2015. I switched from working with coffee production as a Peace Corps Volunteer to working with the youth and communities of Coco Solo and Buena Vista. As soon as I started, I hit the ground running with the Courts for Kids multipurpose court project in Buena Vista. There was so much to learn and do that it felt like there was never enough time in the day. But, the end result was absolutely worth it. As I look back on the last 6 months and how much Cambio Creativo has become a large part of my life, I wanted to share the top 5 “C”s that have stood out to me:

Congo — The kids love to dance congo and are proud of their talent and heritage. They got to dance their hearts out during our African heritage celebration in May and busy practicing for another performance at an upcoming entrepreneurial event in September. (The event, Emprendedores por el Desarrollo or ExD will be September 19th in Casco Viejo, Panama City.)

Photo by Olive Nwosu

Challenges — While I have lived in Panama for over 3 years, I am still learning to navigate the Panamanian culture. We recently formed a new team at Cambio Creativo and we are learning the art of communication and how to bring together many diverse ideas and backgrounds. We are a small NGO, so we must always be flexible, innovative and able to make the most of the resources we have available.

Photo by Olive Nwosu

Coco Solo — Not many people know about Coco Solo, much less the vibrant community that breathes life into it. In the beginning many taxi drivers did not want to take me to Coco Solo because of unsubstantiated stereotypes of the area being unsafe. Once you look past the state of the buildings and take a closer look the lovely people you inhabit them, it becomes obvious that there is nothing to fear and so much to gain from their experiences and warmth. I have quickly forgotten that I am a ¨foreigner¨ and have become another member of the Coco Solo community. I am eager to see how the community grows and transforms after the transition to Buena Vista.

Photo by Olive Nwosu

Collaboration — I have met so many new friends and partners during my short time at Cambio Creativo. The work we are trying to do cannot be done alone. I enjoy seeing how everyone’s talents and contributions are helping the organization grow. It is also encouraging to see how the sharing of knowledge and experience goes both ways — the youth have as much to teach as the volunteers and partners do. [Learn how you can support Cambio Creativo’s efforts during its upcoming crowdfunding campaign with Global Giving: http://bit.ly/SupportCambioCreativo.]

Photo by Olive Nwosu go-team-with-kids

Children — They have so much energy. They make the long days and the challenges worth it. Every afternoon when the kids arrive for tutoring, I look forward to what they have to say and contribute. I love being able to support Cambio Creativo´s programs in my capacity as Executive Director, encouraging each child to know their value and offer them opportunities to explore the world around them.

Photo by Olive Nwosu


Thank you Olive Nwosu for the amazing photos!

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18/07/2015 by cc_admin

Wharton International Volunteer Program Experience with Cambio Creativo

This was originally posted on the Wharton International Volunteer Program blog. Many thanks to WIVP team project leader, Lila Holzman, for bringing together a talented group of diverse professionals who in the span of two weeks helped us flesh out ideas and concepts for sustainable revenue generation, as well as prepare us for the upcoming Global Giving Open Challenge, a crowdfunding portal for non-profits, from September 1-15, 2015. By Lila Holzman

“Working with Cambio Creativo, an educational program for at-risk youths from the undeserved Coco Solo community in Panama, was for me a transformational experience.” – Valentina Ryabova

A Little about our Team Our project brought together a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic team with individuals from Russia, India, Romania, Nigeria, and the U.S. Additionally, all five of us came from different professional backgrounds, had expertise in different fields, and brought different skillsets, worldviews, and communication styles to the table. While we contributed our complimentary knowledge and expertise to achieve our common goal and deliver on our commitments, we also learned from each other. The diversity and openness of our team provided us with an opportunity to look at the challenges and opportunities that we were presented with from different perspectives and to choose the best solutions.

WIVP Panama team with some kids in Buena Vista

Our Project Partner: Cambio Creativo in Coco Solo and Buena Vista The situation: Summarizing the nuanced history of the Coco Solo community is complicated.  The slum-like area has been increasingly marginalized over the years as Colon’s ports (on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal) continue to expand, buying up Coco Solo’s land from the government and crowding out its inhabitants.  People in Coco Solo suffer from poor living conditions and half of the community has been relocated to government housing in Buena Vista, where many of their same struggles continue.

Coco Solo living situation

Industry encroaching on the Coco Solo community

Buena Vista government housing is a good first step, but it doesn’t solve all problems

When asked what obstacles youths face as they continue in school, Cambio Creativo founder Michael Brown noted a few main issues, namely: a general lack of resources, individuals not knowing how to navigate the process to find and enroll in appropriate schools, and the temptation to go for quick money through unskilled employment opportunities.  Cambio Creativo combats such issues with a comprehensive approach focused on both helping kids make it through school with programs that provide nutrition and tutoring and also on empowering them to think outside the box through creative education workshops and mentoring.

Outside view of Cambio Creativo’s community center in Coco Solo

The center feels like a sanctuary compared to its surrounding environment

The organization: Cambio Creativo is a small nonprofit with big goals. They struggle to make sure they are having a significant impact, while keeping their work within the realm of what they can sustainably accomplish, given their limited resources and the challenging environment in which they work, where a lack of basic infrastructure makes all operations exceedingly complex. The organization is comprised of a few, strong characters whose differing motivations and approaches must come together to work towards their shared, extremely valuable goals. Creating a Bridge & Changing Mindsets While Cambio Creativo understands the people it works with, the local context, and what is feasible for them, WIVP participants have studied the theory of what organizations must to do to function efficiently and how to analyze critical issues like brand management, marketing, and product development. We first had to learn and understand what Cambio Creativo is all about before being able to contribute, and Cambio Creativo had to be open to challenging current ways of doing things. Both groups had to make compromises, remain open, and learn from each other. The truth is that such a process could take endless amounts of time, but a week and a half felt like a promising start.

Hearing Cambio Creativo’s founder’s story and asking him questions

Working wherever we could find free wifi

Before departing for Panama, we began learning more about the realities of the Coco Solo community and the challenges its people face on a daily basis. Some team members experienced the feeling of hopelessness and struggled with the question: “Is there anything we can do to provide meaningful assistance to these people?”  However, once on the ground in Coco Solo, getting to know the dedicated team of Cambio Creativo including Executive Director Melissa Mazurkewicz, Director of Development Diana Moschos, and co-founder Michael Brown, mindsets began to change. Their energy, commitment, and, most importantly, confidence in the success of their initiative inspired and motivated us. We realized that even the most daunting of challenges can be overcome when you have a goal, a plan how to achieve this goal, and a combined effort of people who are passionate about their mission. Our Impact It might seem that the week and half we worked with the organization is a drop in the ocean compared to their long-term mission. Therefore, it was important to develop a strategy that would allow us to achieve meaningful results within the short time that was available to us. Identifying Cambio Creativo’s needs was a crucial first step. Prioritizing these needs and selecting the most urgent ones with the guidance of Cambio Creativo’s team together with our experience and skills was the next step. This approach allowed us to generate tangible results that should have a long-lasting impact on the organization. We decided to focus on two main projects, both related to fundraising strategy and self-sufficiency.  The first was to prepare Cambio Creativo for their upcoming crowdfunding campaign on Global Giving, which they are looking to launch in September.  This was rather straight forward, and we were able to leave behind many materials and action plan steps based on best practices that the organization can use when they are ready.  The second project was to help them analyze potential products to sell as a way to diversify their funding and create a source of sustainable revenue generation.  We were able to show them how to narrow down their desired target segments and how to evaluate which products would best fit those segments.  We designed a survey to further narrow down which products are most popular and at what price points.  In our short time, we were not able to do a full cost-benefit analysis or to receive a sufficient number of survey results, but we left an organized to-do list and made plans to stay in touch to help with continued analysis.

Final meeting where we presented our findings.  Our hotel room with A/C was the best location we could get.

One key learning point for us was realizing the importance of maintaining a third person’s perspective as a consultant. It is important to scope the project with the organizations you work with in advance; however, if you feel that a directional change is necessary, the consulting team should recognize this and work with the stakeholders to agree on a new scope. Overall, the intent is to help the greater good, and that needs to be kept in mind over personal preferences. Flexibility is definitely key. Another significant aspect of our work involved making connections. Between our combined Panama, Wharton, nonprofit, and personal networks, we were able to introduce Cambio Creativo to some important contacts, and used our position as a visiting student consultant group to reach out to new stakeholders.

Meeting in the Free Trade Zone in Colon

A Few Concluding Thoughts One familiar discussion point regarding volunteer trips abroad is the fact that if the monetary expenses incurred by volunteers while traveling were instead donated directly to the organization, then this might help that organization reach some of its short-term goals. However that would have been just that — a short-sighted thought. We believe the discussions and thought that developed during the trip will help the organization in a more long-term, sustainable way. Additionally, the reality is that volunteers would likely not donate monetarily directly to an unfamiliar organization such as Cambio Creativo. Instead we have contributed in a way where all involved have been able to learn a great deal and get out of this experience more than we put in. We worked hard, enjoyed getting to know one another, and certainly gained exposure to what Wharton likes to call “stretch experiences.”

Tourism day out in the jungle

panama-pic93 New paths


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02/07/2015 by cc_admin

An Experience with lots of Takeaways

By Jeniffer Garcia

 The first time I came to this program, I experienced many things that made me appreciate the patience and dedication of my teachers and parents while I was growing up. Teenagers are peculiar beings— not a child, but definitely not an adult— which results in angst, insecurities, and rebelliousness. Now imagine dealing with a group of them and the range of emotions and behaviors this dynamic entails. Some would be the instigators, pushing the envelope as far as possible. At this point, as a volunteer teacher I would have to step in and show them the importance of listening and following instructions, both important behaviors that promote respect and understanding. After a while, once we got used to each others, things did improve, but the challenges remain.

despedida-jeniffer-buena-vista despedida-jeniffer-coco-solo

Jeniffer and the students at her going away party in Buena Vista and Coco Solo.

This experience with Cambio Creativo has helped me understand the important role non-profits can play in marginalized and underserved communities. There is a void where Cambio Creativo operates, allowing kids to act like kids while encouraging them to develop life-skills and habits. It’s much more than an after-school program and its other program areas. Cambio Creativo empowers Coco Solo and Buena Vista to dream, to explore, to feel safe in an environment where they are simply allowed to be kids.

despedida-jeniffer-comida despedida-jeniffer-corona

Jeniffer with Mikey, who made sancocho (chicken soup) for the Coco Solo going away party. (top) Jeniffer watched the kids perform a congo dance. (bottom)

I also learned a lot about myself. I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone as soon as I deplaned in Panama, a country I had never been to. I quickly learned patience through my two-month volunteer period. I came into Cambio Creativo wanted to achieve fast results, and came to understand it was an impossible feat – it took the organization several years to transition from a volunteer-run group to an institutionalized non-profit. And, while the education program has been a staple of the organization since its beginnings, it wasn’t until last year that the volunteer teacher program was created. I feel proud to be part of this growing initiative of intercultural exchanges and learning. It will take time, but I am certain that Cambio Creativo will eventually reach their desired outcome thanks to a small, but dedicated group of staff and volunteers who believe these children, these communities, can and must succeed. I wish Cambio Creativo the best of luck and thank the organization for so many numerous experiences!

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12/05/2015 by cc_admin

Celebrating African Heritage

Last week we had the opportunity to spread the word about Cambio Creativo at our African heritage celebration on May 9 at the West Indian Museum of Panama. It was a lively, colorful event:

  • a group of Coco Solo students did congo dances for the audience:







We would like to thank our friends at the Society of Friends of the Afro Antillean Museum of Panama (SAMAAP), Magnolia Inn, Salsas Picantes Sistá, La Esquina del Jabón, DJ Tin Valero, Carlos Méndez, Ela Spalding, La Tapa del Coco, Donde Stan, our supporters, and especially our students for helping us create an open space to celebrate the richness of the Afro-Panamanian culture. We hope to celebrate again next year!






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27/04/2015 by cc_admin

May 9: fundraiser at SAMAAP

On Saturday, May 9 we will celebrate African Heritage at the Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP)! Live Presentations:

  • Coco Solo Youth Congo Group
  • Ela Spalding
  • Carlos Méndez
  • DJ Tinvalero
  • Jaguar Clandestino

Raffle Prizes ($5):

  • One (1) night stay at Magnolia Inn Casco Viejo
  • Sistá Natural Hot Sauces
  • Handmade soap from La esquina del Jabón

Tickets cost $25, which includes refreshments, hor d’oeuvres, entertainment, and a good time.

You can also buy tickets, make a donation or buy artwork from the community kids at Oferta Simple Panama or through our Banco General account: Fundación Cambio Creativo 04-05-01-732444-9 (savings account).

We will also accept cash donations at the event. RSVP here.

Place: The Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP)

Date: Saturday, May 9, 2015 Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm D

irections: Google Map (in front of 5 de Mayo Metro station) fundraiser-flyer-samaap-050915


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26/04/2015 by cc_admin

Welcome Jeniffer!

jeniffer-garcia-in-a-paper-tiara Last year, we launched our student volunteer program, and we are excited to welcome a new intern this week! Jeniffer Garcia is a biology major at the University of Michigan who will be joining the Cambio Creativo team for two months, working closely with our educational program, but also providing support throughout the organization. Jeniffer is an enthusiastic and committed volunteer who has experience in literacy and language tutoring. Last year, she tutored low income students at the Bryant Community Center. Jeniffer has also tutored international students at the University of Michigan to improve their English and conversation skills at the LSA Language Institute and the Michigan Language Center. This year, Jeniffer also volunteered for the America Reads program at the University of Michigan, tutoring in Ypsilanti school to improve literacy skills through individual attention and instruction. Jeniffer said she hopes to gain another learning experience at Cambio Creativo. She also wants to “see first hand how a volunteer could make a difference” during her 8-week volunteer experience in Colon.


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24/04/2015 by cc_admin

Thank you Cambio Creativo for changing my world perspective

By Elías Santos Dubón, educational programming volunteer

My name is Elias, and I am from Honduras. Coming from a Central American country known for its hardships, I always had the impression that Panama was a rich country with a famous canal and economic luck. Although some of that turned out to true, what I never imagined was that in spite of the wealth, there are many places in Panama that are suffering the same hardships I see in my own country. I remember the first day we arrived in Colon on a bus from Panama City. Having seen tall buildings, clean streets and modern transportation, I was shocked to see the other side of the Canal in Colon with dilapidated buildings and littered streets.

Despite the fact that Colon was a forgotten city, I quickly learned to see beyond its physical appearance and see the great cultural wealth within its people and communities — something that seems to be lacking in its sister city of Panama. That feeling remained with me during my first days in the community of Coco Solo.

Surrounded by one of the largest ports in the Americas, the reality of the community of Coco Solo strikes a stark contrast to the millions of containers probably filled with enough goods to supply all the country’s citizens. In spite of the abandoned and crumbling buildings, when you enter Cambio Creativo’s center, the space where we work with the children, you feel transported to another world — the reality on the outside is one thing, but inside there is shining hope. During December and January I had the chance to be surrounded by youth, working with them in different workshops, such as crafts, recycled gifts, and holiday cookies. More than that, we shared and made an impact on each others’ lives.

Even though it was challenging to work without much infrastructure or support, the children’s energy motivated me to continue collaborating and helping develop the educational program. With support and inspiration from Michael Brown and Jesús Blanco we created an after-school program, hired a teacher, and conducted outreach to parents and students in Coco Solo. Then, in March we launched the program in Buena Vista.

Now, it’s been more than a month with the new program and I feel great pride with the progress and small successes each of the students, the program itself, and the staff has achieved in such a short period of time. The children who showed up from the beginning and gave me a hard time, have now united into a group that is inspiring other children in the community.

The transformation in their behavior and attitude to become leaders in their classrooms has been very inspiring for me. Although I feel sad to leave, I am certain they will be successful come the end of the school year and in the future. The months Elly and I have collaborated with Cambio Creativo have been educational and worthwhile. While in Panama, I met people with a big heart and vision for helping and supporting those most in need.

Thank you Michael, Jesús, Diana, Orlando, Melissa, Beatriz and the members of the Board of Directors for giving me the opportunity to be part of a great change which has changed my world perspective.

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23/04/2015 by cc_admin

The school year that seemed to never start

By Beatriz Abre, Cambio Creativo teacher

At the beginning of the school year, many children in Coco Solo are abuzz asking themselves, “Who will be my new teacher?” and “Will I meet new friends?”; while many others ask “Will I even go to school?”

The excitement overcomes many of the students, but there are other children waiting for an opportunity just to enter a classroom. Among those are three pre adolescent girls whose school years have been unstable: one year they’d go, the other year they didn’t. This was their reality.

They saw the school year arrive without hope that they would attend. It wasn’t until they started to participate in our afterschool program that they shared their dreams to go to school.

Immediately, we facilitated conversations with the school administrators, opening the way for these three low-income girls to be able to reach their dream: an education.

It was for them a great satisfaction to see their dreams become reality on April 6th, they walked to the new school and said to their neighbors and friends, “I am in school!”. The joy was reflected in their faces and in their spirit.

We feel satisfied that this was accomplished and we are thankful to those that helped to make the dream of these three girls going to school a reality.


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17/04/2015 by cc_admin

We are taking our educational programming to the next level

By Melissa Mazurkewicz, Executive Director

Cambio Creativo has always been dedicated to youth education. For many years we have been offering workshops and activities related to education and creativity with the help of volunteer teachers, artists, activists, and workshop presenters from Panama and abroad. As we our organization becomes more structured, we have launched an after school program with elementary students. This year, thanks to a grant from the Strachan Foundation, we are consolidating our tutoring sessions and monthly workshops into an educational program focused on helping students with their homework, especially as it regards to math and reading, two important subjects for any individual. Participating students also receive a meal through our Soup Kitchen.

During February, Elias Santos Dubón started to provide math reinforcement and Spanish to a group of 7 children. In March, we hired an Education Coordinator, Beatriz Abre. Alongside her assistant, Kaina, they are tutoring in Coco Solo every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to a group of 15 children. Starting this month, Beatriz started working in Buena Vista with a group of 13 kids. Towards the month, we will welcome our first volunteer teacher for 2015, Jeniffer García, a student from the University of Michigan, who will be with the organization for two months. launch-of-cambio-creativo educational-programming In addition to evaluating each student individually, Beatriz is in touch with their school teachers to ensure each child receives adequate and personalized attention. We will also conduct workshops throughout the year to integrate math and reading into artistic and culturally stimulating experiences that evoke creative thinking and the development of new skills.

This year’s goal is for each student to pass the school year successfully. We want to continue working the same cohort of students through high school, adding a new student as others graduate. Our overarching goal for this educational program is to contribute to a decrease in the high dropout rates in Colon, increase high school graduation rates and encourage these students to pursue higher education.

We thank the Strachan Foundation and individual donors for their support, especially Elias Santos Dubón and Jesús Blanco for making the educational program a reality!


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14/04/2015 by cc_admin

A dream come true: a multipurpose court in Buena Vista!

Note: This blog post was extracted from its original post on the Courts for Kids website. Read the original post here.

On March 19, 2015 a group of students from the College of Education at the University of Oregon traveled to Buena Vista to work alongside the community on a multipurpose court thanks to a partnership with Courts for Kids, an international NGO that connects volunteers with local organizations and communities to build courts in economically disadvantaged areas. Many thanks to Anibal for spearheading this life-changing project!

By Aníbal Cárdenas, Courts for Kids Panama Director

It was almost midnight when we arrived to the community, and we were surprised to see a group of community members waiting for us with fireworks, huge smiles and hugs.

The next morning we enjoyed traditional Panamanian food from the community and we started the prep work for the court that was partially started by the community. The group connected very well with the locals and gained their respect very quickly. Having a group that was composed of 13 women out of 16 total team members resulted in a cultural challenge of demonstrating that women can work as hard as men, but it was overcome easily.

We worked together despite a series of challenges, such as the mixer not working, the community running out of water and things happening on Panamanian time, which was a big test of patience for the group. Overcoming these challenges and delays, we worked extra hard, including evenings of work with headlamps.  The last being a 15 hour- journey proposed by the volunteers and the community. And so, on our 5th day of work we finished the first court with Courts for Kids in Panama! Excitement and joy were everywhere and both community members and volunteers went to bed with big smiles and great spirits.

In addition to the work, the two groups had plenty of time to connect with one another. Panamanians taught the US group some traditional dances, including a Congo dance that has been passed down for generations celebrating their African heritage. The US group taught the Panamanians how to Cha Cha Slide. Midway through the trip was the two year anniversary of the community, complete with more traditional dances from children, inspiring words from community leaders and culminating in an epic soccer showdown.

The day after finishing, the group went on a well-deserved city tour in Panama City: (Panama Canal, Causeway and Casco Viejo) where we could see the huge gap between the rich and the poor in the country. We could contrast what it is to live in both faces of reality for Panamanians.

The inauguration was beautiful. There were kids everywhere playing and enjoying the court. We played games, we had some beautiful words from our trip leaders and community members, we ate cake together and then lights went off in the community, but right on time for more fireworks, and a beautiful night full of bright stars, hopefully a foreshadowing of the future sports stars that will come out of Buena Vista!

A gigantic thank you to the Quest Foundation and all other sponsors who helped make this project possible.


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