Our Mission and Vision: Cambio Creativo is a grassroots educational volunteer-led organization serving youth and members of the community from Coco Solo who were relocated to Buena Vista, Colon, Panama. We cultivate personal growth and community development by implementing public programs, workshops, and transformative experiences. Our vision is that those we serve become agents of educational, social and spiritual change within their community.
Our History: The non-profit was founded in 2010 by Mike Brown, a local pastor and community leader, and Fulbright alumnus Rose Cromwell. For years, local and international volunteers have organized workshops, after-school tutoring, and specialized classes through Cambio Creativo’s cross-cultural educational platform.
Our Philosophy: We believe in the transformative power of cultural exchanges among youth, and between students and teachers. We believe service-learning, interdisciplinary education and cross-cultural creative exchanges are essential to building life-long skills and healthy communities. We believe in the value of “Each One, Teach One”: the shared responsibility to contribute and be accountable to one another’s continuing education and development. We believe that all youth have the right to explore, imagine, create, and grow in a nurturing and safe environment. Self-expression, self-determination and self-worth are our educational goals.
About Coco Solo and Buena Vista: Coco Solo was located near the Free Trade Zone of Colon and the Manzanillo International Terminal in Colon, Panama. More than 400 families lived in the area, which was formerly a US naval base (founded in 1918). The Panamanian government began to move local families to the old base, particularly the barracks, in the 1980s, after their homes were destroyed by fire. Initially, the housing was meant to be temporary. However, for over thirty years the same families remained in crumbling facilities. Community members lacked standard living conditions such as running water, basic healthcare services, stable electricity, and clean public space for their children to play in. Due to the expansion of the ports in Colón, starting in 2016 the community began relocating to Buena Vista, Colon, in government-developed single family housing units. Cambio Creativo has remained alongside the community throughout this transition.
Cambio Creativo believes in the power of education and its lasting effect on individuals, communities, and societies. Currently we offer after-school education to a cohort of 24 students in Buena Vista and Coco Solo between first and sixth grade. We specifically focus on math and literacy reinforcement, as well as ensuring that students understand and complete their homework. Students also participate in workshops covering a variety of topics, including computer skills, art, music, storytelling, sports, farming techniques, history and geography. These workshops led by professional educators, scholars, and volunteers from Panama and abroad promote cross-cultural exchanges, personal empowerment, experiential education, and community service. Students who participate in the after-school program also receive supplemental nutrition and are invited to participate in youth empowerment and development initiatives. Cambio Creativo also offers small stipends to eligible students to help cover costs associated with their higher education needs, including registration fees and transportation costs.
Cambio Creativo’s community development program encompasses a variety of activities and focus areas. Our organization serves as a bridge between community members and employment, training, nutritional, recreational, housing and alternative educational opportunities. Currently, we connect youth over age 18 with job trainings and employment opportunities. We are also cultivating a group of youth who are participating in entrepreneurship workshops and a leadership development initiative called Jóvenes Luchadores. Additionally, we offer a supplemental nutrition program three days a week in Coco Solo for students participating in the after-school program as well any resident who needs a plate of food. Recently, we partnered with Courts for Kids to build a multi-purpose basketball court with the Buena Vista community and students from the University of Oregon. As the Coco Solo community transitions from the barracks to housing units in Buena Vista, Cambio Creativo has served as a community advocate in meetings with government officials. Once the move to Buena Vista is finalized, we will continue working with the Coco Solo community as well as surrounding neighborhoods to continue offering our services and programs. Because our main goal is to provide the community with tools and resources to fulfill their basic needs and pursue opportunities for growth and improvement, we hope to implement a microfinance program in the next five years.
Our Spiritual and Community Affairs Director Michael Brown works to address not only physical and educational needs, but also the spiritual and emotional aspects of their lives. For nearly two decades Pastor Brown has used faith and open dialogue to ease tensions, promote understanding and alternatives to violence within the Coco Solo community. As the community transitioned to Buena Vista, interfaith dialogue played an important role in the integration of Coco Solo residents with current Buena Vista neighbors, many of whom have lived in the area for decades. Through open dialogues with faith and community leaders, our goal is to create a coalition of leaders to jointly promote peaceful relations and ease potential tensions among all Buena Vista residents, as well offer spaces through which the community can come together regardless of race, creed, denomination, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age or physical or mental ability to discuss, share and promote the values and bonds that unite us as a people.