Last summer I had the opportunity of collaborating with Panamanian youths from Cambio Creativo in several activities that took place in Coco Solo and Buena Vista. As their community has started to move from the Panama Canal Zone, near Colón and the Atlantic sea, to the interior land of Buenavista, Cambio Creativo has been organizing projects that support the relocation process. From cutting giant grass to planting fruit trees to making music, youngsters actively participated in the moving process and learned to confront the challenges of re-starting a new life in another place. Among all the different experiences I shared with the community, the one that I would briefly discuss in this entry is a creative media workshop I helped to facilitate and that focused on music, rhyming and flow.
For the workshop we met with a group of 17 teenagers at the space of Cambio Creativo in Coco Solo. During the previous days, I have talked with several of these youngsters about Reggae, their favorite music, and about making rhymes and singing. Music was something that all of them loved it and were very interested in learning to make. Some of them, like David, were proud of their knowledge of computer software for DJ-ing, and others like Javier, used to carry headphones all the time for listening to his favorite tunes, even while doing heavy duties at the country side. Inspired by the values of positive and conscious hip hop, we designed the workshop in order to foster unity, diversity, and having fun.
The takeaways from this workshop are quite revealing since they show the effectiveness of participatory pedagogies for developing skills such as performing, writing, collaboration, and improvisation. I was really impressed by the talent of all the youths that participated in the workshop and loved they way in which they could easily create a genuine collective performance. The final performance was like a collective poem in which they openly expressed not only the favorite things (e.g. futbol, music, peers) but also the fears (e.g. racism, fights) they are experiencing during the relocation process their community is living.
- Andrés Lombana-Bermúdez
On August 27, 25 MBA students from the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, IL visited Cambio Creativo as part of a student-led, pre-orientation trip to Panama designed to allow first year students to develop deeper friendships prior to kicking off the school year.
For the past 6 years, Cambio Creativo has been providing educational programming in the arts and sciences to students in Coco Solo – an urban, coastal and historically marginalized neighborhood on the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.
However, the Panamanian government is currently in the process of leasing the land that houses the community to the Evergreen Shipping Company as part of the country’s efforts to expand the viability of the canal.
The community is in the middle of moving inland to Buena Vista, an agriculturally-oriented region where Cambio Creativo will also relocate in order to support the community through the transition. We began the day touring Cambio Creativo’s Coco Solo facility, where we met with Blake Scott, the organization’s volunteer coordinator (and long-time contributor), and Michael Brown, Cambio Creativo’s co-founder.
In addition to learning more about the organization’s history from Blake and Mikey, the visit allowed us to better understand the stark disparity between the challenging circumstances that many in Coco Solo face and the booming economic activity spawned by the canal area just across the street. Armed with a better foundation in Cambio Creativo’s history, we then drove to Buena Vista, where many from Coco Solo had already moved, to help continue the process of clearing the dense brush in order to plant various fruit trees around Cambio Creativo’s future home.
With the help of many community members ranging from adult men and women to five-year-old boys and girls, we were able to clear enough land to plant 25 banana, lemon, orange, and yucca trees which had been generously donated by another organization. Overall, the day was an extremely meaningful experience that ultimately allowed our business students to learn first-hand about the complex issues related to economic development in Panama, as well as interact with the inspiring people of Cambio Creativo and Coco Solo.
We’d like to thank Blake and Mikey for all of the prep work that went in to making our day with them possible, in addition to the many community members that worked alongside us throughout the day. We wish them to best of luck throughout their transition to Buena Vista.
-Theodore Nash (Kellogg Student)
I conceptualized my August workshop, Kitchen Storytelling, Cuentos de la Cocina, to combine two of my greatest pleasures: food and stories. As a doctoral candidate in Performance Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, I believe strongly in the power of personal narratives. The ability to tell your own story – on your own terms – can be a transformative act. I wanted to learn the types of stories the children would share about the foods in their kitchens, homes, and community. I also wanted to give them a platform to let their individual voices be heard, valued, and respected. Having never traveled to Coco Solo or Panama, and with a limited range of Spanish-vocabulary, I thought food would serve as the perfect point of connection.
Though the execution of the workshop did not go precisely as planned, I can say with some confidence that my time there was valuable. At least, I hope it was. While I am quite certain that I took away more from my two-week visit to Coco Solo than I left behind, I still believe there were critical moments of exchange and learning. They patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, corrected my poor Spanish; I taught them words and phrases in English. And food did act as the common language for our cultural exchange. Through food, I learned the importance of the Center as a critical space for community connection as well as bodily, intellectual, and creative nurturance. And through food, I was able to express my sincere gratitude to the children and Cambio Creativo for allowing my visit.
To say goodbye and thank you, I baked the children a chocolate cake. I went to four supermarkets to find all the ingredients I needed; the venture prompted me to seriously think about the ease with which I access so many types of foods in the United States. On the day we delivered “el dulce” (the cake), we walked through the community inviting the children over to the Center to eat.
“¿Lo hizo (You made it)?” one kid asked with excitement.
“Sí,” I replied.
We walked hand-in-hand with the others back to the Center. It was a simple exchange. But it was one of the clearest conversations I had during my visit; the meaning behind his question and the importance of my answer were fully understood.
The University of Texas at Austin
This blog post, written by Bronson Herman was originally published in the blog Summer of RCAH, a Tumblr account from Bronson’s faculty where he is a senior. Thank you (tío) Bronson for sharing your experiences at Cambio Creativo!
For the summer I accepted an internship position as a project coordinator and teaching assistant with a small NGO, Cambio Creativo, in Coco Solo (Colón, Panamá). When my internship is completed in Panamá I will be making a return trip to the communities in Costa Rica that I lived with last summer during my study abroad program. Currently I live in the town of Portobelo on the Caribbean coast in an apartment with a Portuguese music school teacher and a Costa Rican archaeologist that live below me. With Cambio Creativo my role is to develop activities and projects for the afterschool program. Cambio Creativo serves as a location that stimulates cross cultural learning, critical thinking and self-determination through the arts. Additionally I will be collaborating with Blake Scott, a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin and volunteer coordinator of Cambio Creativo, to create an ESL-based business course for the teenagers. Other tasks include coordinating fundraiser activities, scheduling visiting artist workshops and producing media for greater exposure. As the second intern to ever participate in this developing program, focused on youth education, I was guided by their very first intern Jacquelin Tancredi.
A UMASS grad in Architecture and Design, Jacquelin also has extensive experience in NGOs in Latin America and countless adventures all around the world. While with Cambio Creativo she juggled several other projects including one in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, while also preparing for her next move to México City. On many occasions Jacquelin would claim she was not a teacher, but from the amount of knowledge I gained from her in our own interactions and the impact she had on the students we worked with, I would definitely have to disagree.
There were many elements that attracted me toward Cambio Creativo. Just reading the description on their website I saw common themes and values of the RCAH: “Cambio Creativo facilitates a space for cross-cultural education. We help each other find alternatives for social and economic development. Our programs are led by volunteers, teachers, artists and community members.” A little slice of the RCAH in Central America while working with a developing NGO and practicing my Spanish was a dream come true. Before arriving to Panamá the only thing I really knew about Coco Solo was that it was the location of the United States military base where my grandfather Wilbur Schall had been stationed. After the conclusion of WWII Wilbur lived in the very barracks that many of the students in Cambio Creativo call home today. My aunt has several letters from my grandfather chronicling the unbearable heat of the location in which after taking a shower you were already drenched in sweat. Many of the American soldiers donated some of their t-shirts to the shirtless indigenous women working the fields in the surrounding area. I never met my grandfather as he passed away before my birth, but this trip seemed like a way of retracing his footsteps. From his letters he basically described this exotic location as an unforgiving place with the climate and amount of insects he encountered. During my time here with Cambio Creativo I plan to share my family history with the youth of Coco Solo illustrating the fact I am not as much of an outsider as they may think.
The province of Colón in Panamá is neglected by the government creating problems with crime, violence and despair. But after visiting this region and meeting the people there, I learned there is also a great deal of faith that is contagious. My initial exposure to Coco Solo was via images on the web of dilapidated army barracks filled with rubble where the locals live without water, limited electricity and very poor sanitation conditions. A YouTube video titled Panamá’s Coco Solo: A Short Documentary, which offers a tour of this neighborhood by pastor Michael Brown, the honorary mayor of the town and board of director for Cambio Creativo, was what finally made me feel that Cambio Creativo was the right place for me. False promises by the Panamanian government and financial shortcomings caused these temporary housing units to become permanent homes. Adjacent to the Cambio Creativo community center and the homes of these citizens are two container terminals located on the northwest side of the Panamá Canal. These terminals are Colón Container Terminal and Manzanillo International Terminal which is the busiest container port in all of Latin America. Many taxi drivers do not know where Coco Solo is or choose to ignore it while others refuse to visit in fear of being robbed. Telling local Panamanians that you work in Coco Solo can elicit a wide range of reactions. From my own experience the majority have been of appreciation and curiosity. First pulling up to Coco Solo I was deeply affected seeing what these people have to endure on a daily basis just to survive.
A lot of my own personal concerns evaporated when I took my first step into Cambio Creativo’s community center where there is a library, a computer lab, and a classroom space. Children came flying down the stairs to swarm Jacquelin with hugs as some giggled and cheered through their gummy smiles. At this moment all I could do was smile. Cambio Creativo’s main purpose is to offer a safe space for the children of Coco Solo to dream, imagine and express themselves through many different mediums of art and education. These kids may not have a lot of material possessions, but they possess something with greater value that cannot be measured. Finished creative projects reveal that these children are intelligent, spirited and creative students who just need an outlet and support. Attention, respect and opportunity are what these kids need. Within my fifth trip to Cambio Creativo there were several students already referring to me as tío (uncle) Bronson. By far my favorite moments are when they critique Jacquelin and me for our accents while speaking Spanish. Many times it feels as though you have a flock of teachers inside the classroom giving directions. Through Cambio Creativo they have come to value their own abilities to learn and teach. Venturing to Coco Solo can be quite frustrating and exhausting while taking the packed public bus in the humid Panamanian climate, but seeing the smiling faces of the children at Cambio Creativo is a reinvigoration of life and energy. Most importantly for the community it is an important message of hope.
El día domingo 01 de junio, el grupo juvenil Los Luchadores de la Nueva Jerusalén y Cambio Creativo en la comunidad de Coco Solo, hicieron la inauguración públicamente de dicho grupo, comprometiéndose a ante la comunidad a poner de su parte para ser mejores, capacitándose en todos los aspectos necesarios cada día, para apoyar a la comunidad y a las personas que lo necesiten, este evento conto con la presentación folclórica del grupo de baile Congo de Cambio Creativo y una pasarela de Modelaje por las niñas de la comunidad, al finalizar la celebración de una liga de futbol organizada por jóvenes miembros del grupo juvenil los Luchadores.
Mi viaje fue una experiencia muy fabulosa ya que era primera vez que salia de Panamá. Fue muy emocionante para mi que la Junta de Cambio Creativo confiara en este servidor para que los representara en este importante seminario que realiza la Fundación Stracham en su país Costa Rica, de hecho muy hermosa esa tierra y su gente. Los seminarios muy atinados a nuestra organización, ya que trabajamos muchos de los temas allí impartidos, de las múltiples opciones o temas que ofrecieron. Me agrado participar en círculos de lecturas, teatro y círculos en este ultimo pienso que el niño podrá resolver conflictos o situaciones difíciles que se dan en sus comunidades y que por medio de esta técnica el niño/a podrá con mayor rapidez dar respuesta a su diferencias de opiniones y sobre todo tolerar distintos tipos de caracteres que se enfrentan a diario. Espero que nuestra organización continué capacitando sus colaboradores porque de esta manera tendremos unos pilares sólidos que llegue a cubrir los objetivos en el trabajo diario de nuestras comunidades.
-Orlando Savage, Tesorero
YOUTH GROUP INFORMATION
In the Coco Solo Community, seeing the need to help the youth and continue with a positive change, we have gathered a group of young people that we consider, have great potential to influence the others in their circles, with the support of all the people that make up the Cambio Creativo team.
We have been meeting, after school, with a group of 12 young people every thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. since February 10th.
The objective is to work with necessary subjects for the personal training, instilling values and practical advice to coexist and to know how to deal with real life around us. We know that it is necessary to educate the young, so that when they are adults, they don’t stray from the correct path. We have decided on a name for the youth group that identifies us and it is: JOVENES LUCHADORES. We decided on this name after several votes, with the objective of identifying ourselves with the daily struggles that each and every one of them has to confront to get ahead in life, most do not have the economic resources to be able to study and reach their dreams of becoming a professional.
Now, every member is creating a logo that represents de name we have chosen and on the next meeting, we will vote for the best one
We are all very motivated and we want to train them with the knowledge and necessary tools for them to:
-educate other young people and also become part of this new iniative of change
-be able to satisfactorily develop themselves intellectually as well as in other comprehensive formation areas
-represent the Community and the Foundation and
-be able to make correct desicions wherever life leads them.
Festival Abierto is a colorful and art-filled festival centered around protecting the environment and fostering eco-friendly lifestyles through culture, science, and education. Non-profits and ONGs are the backbone of Festival Abierto, presenting and expressing what they are doing to participants through creative, physical, and artistic activities. This huge outdoor 2-day event took place in Parque Omar, with lots of music, activities, and tons of incredible energy. Cambio Creativo was able to participate this year for the third time in a row with great success.
Saturday, March 22, we set up our booth at Parque Omar at 9 am, completely unaware that the day would be filled with so many new opportunities and future connections. Other participating ONGs had incredible set-ups and engaging activities, which to be honest, was slightly intimidating because we were more modest in comparison, but this did not hold us back at all….the people were all so drawn to WHO we are, WHAT we are doing, and HOW they could help. Our story, our history, and what we have accomplished holds more weight than any activity or display. And it was incredible to see how evident this was to those around us and the impact it has.
In particular, festival goers were drawn to our Alphabet Song, a project in which students chose words to represent each letter, photographed a visual representation of these words, and then wrote and recorded an accompanying song. People from all ages and backgrounds stopped to take pictures of it, ask how it was made, and were in awe that the children of Coco Solo MADE it!
The children painted a canvas picture frame to be displayed for passerbys to take “selfies” in. Another success! So many people wanted to take pictures: “¿Puedo tomarme una foto?”
“¡Sí! ¡Claro que sí!”
Some even chose to wear the masks the student created in a taller last year.
Sunday, March 23, on the final day of the festival, we were approached by TVN Channel 2 news for an interview! As the day proceeded, more festival goers stopped by to spend time with us. Some of the Cambio Creativo students also came, and they had a blast! They interacted with almost every single they came into contact with, opening their eyes to new opportunities and drawing more people in to work with us.
Through our participation at Festival Abierto it was evident that we are making a difference: one small step at a time, and in a way that is fun, touching, and will have a long term effect on these children’s lives through interactive and creative exchanges.
By the end of the weekend, we had a list of folks who are interested in volunteering with Cambio Creativo through workshops! What a wonderful weekend. I can’t wait for all the new volunteers and fun to come. Here we go, Cambio Creativo!