Panama Award Nominees are Heroes for Youth

By Jennifer Brookland

November 17, 2014

Three directors of Youth Outreach Centers and a national volunteer leader have been nominated for “Heroes for Panama” award, which one of the country’s largest TV networks bestows each year.

Panamanians will vote online to determine if nominees Carolina Freire, Eduardo Barsallo, Edelgar Macre and Frey Javier Garcia will win the ultimate prize—a cash award they can put toward their volunteer work.

The winner will be announced Nov. 25.

The four nominees were partners in Creative Associates International’s Alcance Positivo Project, which has continued improving the lives of young people thanks to deep private sector and civil society support. Creative’s role ended in October 2013.

In 24 de Diciembre, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Panama City, for example, Barsallo is combatting dysfunctional, incomplete families and high rates of school dropout and crime with tutoring, job training and sports leagues.

His Youth Outreach Center has benefited more than 500 young people aged 12 to 29, who learn to use and repair computers, earn money through a sign and daycare business, receive counseling, study English and even practice their barbering skills in a Santa Claus chair.

Not content with local change, the Fundacion Auydando a Vivir Barsallo works nationally to unite the nonprofit and private sectors in bringing opportunities to young people from all over Panama.

“I am passionate about this project because I believe in giving opportunity to the youth, and above all, to the ones who are at social risk,” Barsallo says.

His Youth Outreach Center is among more than 20 set up or supported by Creative to address growing youth crime and violence in Panama.

Creative’s model has proved successful across Central America, where 201 Outreach Centers now provide opportunities to socialize and build confidence through games and sports, boost young people’s academic performance and life skills through tutoring and mentoring, and learn marketable job skills.

“And so, together, we make progress little by little and create a much fairer and more inclusive society,” says award nominee Garcia, who runs a Youth Outreach Center and a Parish school for 650 students across town in the “red zone” of El Chorillo.

Garcia says one of his greatest joys is having someone come up to him to say a course he took at the school or center enabled him to make a living, and feed his family.

These local efforts are starting to coalesce in Panama, as foundations, nonprofits and businesses come together in associations and networks built to encourage and facilitate volunteering and social action.

Freire created the national volunteer center in Panama and—with Creative’s support—Ponte en Algo, the first virtual platform that connects people with 140 social organizations that could use their help.

She believes volunteering is a personal and social mission and a requirement to transform society. But it’s still nice to be noticed.

“Volunteers are people who do not wait, they take action, they decide to transform lives and communities, and we accept and we are very pleased with this Heroes nomination and really take it as recognition of those people who are active in making a better Panama,” Freire says.

If you ask these heroes, these efforts truly make a difference.

“We have succeeded in changing kids’ lives,” says Edelgar Macre, Executive Director of a Youth Outreach Center in Colon.

His message to young people: There are opportunities.

Macre’s center uses jujitsu as a teaching tool to help young people find discipline, respect and inner peace. Coach to Panama’s national jujitsu team, he’s even brought several of his students to international competitions—where they’ve brought home the gold.

“I don’t feel that I’m a hero, because I’m not alone in this fight,” Macre says of his award nomination.

He may nevertheless be recognized at one, when the winner of the Heroes for Panama awards is announced on Nov. 25.

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