Play 4 Change: Transformation Stories from Panama
Unity 4 Orphans’ program Play 4 Change is giving children in dangerous inner city Panama a place to belong, keeping them off the streets and helping them see their potential.
Our end-of-year blog series features transformative stories from 5 different locations, each highlighting a separate program: Education 4 Change, Healing 4 Change, Nutrition 4 Change, Play 4 Change, and Shelter for Change.
Dangerous Neighborhoods in Panama Threaten Vulnerable Children’s Safety
In Curundu, Panama City, daily life presents difficulties like gang violence, hunger, absentee parents, and lack of familial guidance. Without solid adult supervision, children can easily experience abuse, be led astray, and forego their education.
Unity 4 Orphans values the transformative educational lifespan, not just with the little kids, but taking them through college. In 2024 we want to help make that happen for some of our students.
–Joe Brandi, U4O Founder
By partnering with a local established nonprofit we’re helping to provide local kids with a safe place to play and learn. Juntos Podemos’ humble roots began nearly 17 years ago with a group of volunteers who saw a need and made a bold choice to extend a helping hand to children experiencing poverty and lack of adult supervision.
Play 4 Change Provides a Safe Place for Children to Belong
Without the community center’s Saturday program, many children wouldn’t have a safe place to be as the streets are dangerous and playgrounds are controlled by guns and violence. The family unit has also declined to such a degree that many parents don’t even know how to take care of their children and often have multiple children from different fathers who don’t participate in their lives.
In addition to giving children a safe place to play and serving them food, Enrique and his team also teach them life skills, providing mentorship to lead them to better outcomes in their education and lives.
–Caitlin Snyder, U4O Engagement Director
Enrique is at the heart of Juntos Podemos and dedicates his time and energy to providing a solid adult relationship and family atmosphere for local kids. He and a group of dedicated volunteers run a Saturday program where nearly 100 students attend weekly, receiving 2 meals, help with homework, lessons about Christ’s love for them, and a space to just be kids.
Caring Adult Relationships Help Vulnerable Children Build Confidence
People in the area refer to the parents of children being assisted by Juntos Podemos as a “lost generation” because they don’t know how to be parents. The dissolution of true family connections is evident in modern society which fosters darkness and leaves children feeling abandoned and in need of someone to look up to.
If we don’t open our doors, kids will just be running around in the streets and the neighborhoods and playgrounds are run by gangs and violence. They like to come here because they know they have a place where they can belong and be taken care of. Most children have a lack of care and education and are not being looked out for by their families.
–Enrique G., Program Director, Juntos Podemos
Although most of the students supported by the Saturday program are ages 7-12 years old, some 13- and 14-year-olds attend with their younger siblings and friends. Due to interruptions in their education and social development, they’re often a year or two behind in school. One boy named Manuel had been molested and the teacher made him her assistant, taking him under her wing.
Children Who Have Witnessed and Experienced Abuse Need Advocates
Through careful attention and love, Manuel is now thriving in school and wants to be a doctor. Our vision is to come alongside students like him who want to continue to university. By providing for their need for care and connection Enrique and his team are shepherding children and teens to not only brighter futures but also instilling a sense of community.
We tell the kids, if you study, we will help you. We push them regularly to pursue a college education and provide mentorship along the way to earn higher grades and learn to be a positive influence in their community.
–Enrique G., Program Director, Juntos Podemos
Strengthening relationships with their peers and authority figures gives children a feeling of security, enabling them to experience joys in childhood and reach for transformation as adults. We look forward to sharing more encouraging news from our partners in Panama as together we join hands to bring hope to the children we serve.