Racial Justice Resources

Self-Development of People reports on two years of partnership in Panama

Groups selected for grants gave SDOP feedback on how things are going

by Teresa Bidert, Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People | Special to Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) has been working in Panama, as a focus country, since 2018.

During the first visit of the country in November 2018, by members of the International Task Force Committee and the SDOP staff, the selection of the country proved to be a very wise decision. Several disadvantaged communities received visits. The poor conditions of the people in general demonstrated that SDOP can be a great support for people who were living oppressed by poverty and disenfranchisement.

The SDOP National Committee approved grants for three community groups in May 2019, and the groups began receiving SDOP funds a few weeks later. The groups are:  Group of Women of Value S.A., in Panama City; Craft, Art and Beauty, in Las Tablas; and Center of Panamanian Women (CEMP), in San Miguelito.

Self-Development of People, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2020, is supported by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Members of the Group of Women of Value S.A. participate in a radio interview. (Contributed photo)

  • Group of Women of Value S.A came together to start a catering service which provides high-quality products at affordable prices which also provides employment and training to group members. In the middle of the execution of the project, here’s what group members had to say: “The effect of this grant exceeded our first expectations because, with the tasting meetings, the Expo gastronomic fair, radio and television shows, we have made new alliances with suppliers and distributors. Following our presentations at some Panamanian television channels, many people have approached us to know how to contact (SDOP) since we are the one of the first groups supported by you in Panama. Our evolution of women entrepreneurs to microentrepreneurs has been a clear example of how we are able to move forward despite the challenges that we need to face.”
  • Craft, Art, and Beauty was created by women artisans who partnered to create a workshop and a warehouse for the preparation and sale of traditional Panamanian clothing. The artisans did this to create a workplace for craftswomen and a place of sale for handicrafts where people can find their typical garments and information about traditions and customs. The group is also dedicated to train new generations by passing on their traditions, having their own income and enhancing their quality of life. The group’s feedback includes: “The Warehouse (crafts group) has been able to provide better customer service with the new equipment (semi-industrial sewing machines). It has been possible to obtain better prices in the purchase of materials by wholesale purchase with the support of SDOP financing. We have had the material required for the elaboration of our most accessible works.”

The Center of Panamanian Women received an SDOP grant to plan and launch micro-businesses for 20 Afro-Panamanian women. (Contributed photo)

  • Center of Panamanian Women’s grant was provided to plan and launch micro-businesses for 20 Afro-Panamanian women. The first part of the project has been achieved satisfactorily. The group had this to say: “We have achieved the training of at least 30 women to motivate them to develop economic ventures. We have supported the preparation of business plans for low-income women. We can summarize that to date we have 15 female entrepreneurs who have completed their business plans.”

During the second visit to Panama in 2019, the SDOP team visited with an indigenous group, EMBERA, in Darien in Eastern Panama. This group traveled four hours via motorized canoe to meet with us. They described difficult conditions in their remote area, with a lack of clean water and its health consequences. The community is well organized and has plans to build a potable water system, so they completed our grant application.

Villa Nueva community members build their water tank. (Contributed photo)

The SDOP Committee awarded the group Women Committee at Villa Nueva and Water Council a grant to build a water system. The grant was to build a rural aqueduct in a remote indigenous community. A 1,500-gallon cement tank-container for water will be built and connections will be made from the tank along several supply routes, providing each house with a spigot. There are 52 houses and a school. The group has achieved its goals on time during the first period of their project. These are some of the group’s remarks: “In this 2019 period, the drinking water aqueduct in the community of Villa Nueva has been under construction. Thanks to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who have given us this support in which the work has been carried out, with the first payment of $ 7,500. The construction of this work is of great benefit to us and we thank you for the project in which we have continued to be blessed. All the work that was done has been carried out satisfactorily together with the help of the members of the community who have given us their support.””

Another group that the SDOP team visited in 2019, Performing Arts of Colon, demonstrated impressive community work. Group members are working on their application to be submitted soon.

The SDOP International Task Force and staff will continue to work to strengthen their relationships with grassroots and underserved community groups in Panama in this year and in years to come. The partnerships established have been and continue to be about hope, dignity, empowerment, justice and compassion.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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