Annual Report 2016

Fénix Report 2016


This has been a year of significant advances for Fénix, with graduations, good academic grades, improvements in job, personal and family stability, and participation in other activities

 Academic and Professional:

            Paola had her formal university graduation in January and was promoted to the post of staff Social Worker in the YMCA-ACJ, while Viviana began a Masters in Public Health at Los Andes University. This will be the most advanced academic qualification of any Fénix member so far.

                        Viviana ended the year first in her class with an unusually high grade point average, in an extremely rigorous course (about half the students who started the degree dropped out) at the prestigious and demanding Los Andes University. She is at the same time working full time as a doctor and single-handedly raising her two children. Her daughter Natalia ended her high school year with a certificate of merit for high marks.

             Zarina, has practiced dentistry for three years, and has now registered to start in January a postgraduate degree in Health Care Auditing at another old and respected Bogotá university.

             These higher qualifications are important steps towards achieving professional roles with real impact on improving care, and where they can design and direct specialist projects and programmes - - key long-term aims of Fénix. Yenifer has taken two postgraduate qualifications and is now an auditor monitoring the quality of care in the city’s largest health care company.

             In December Angélica graduated in Pre-school Care & Education and is applying for a post as an assistant kindergarten teacher. She plans to continue studying for either a teaching or a social work degree

            Guiomar graduated from high school, as did Edna who now has a job that should allow time to continue studying, to qualify first as a hospital ward orderly and eventually as a nurse.

             Indira has completed 7th grade and Paola O. finished primary school and has arranged for Paola Ceballos to help her get a place to start secondary schooling in January.

             Sandra completed the second semester of a qualification in administration, and Iveth has completed her ‘tecnólogo’ in administration, equivalent to a UK Diploma of Higher Education (“I am now in the process of applying the credits towards a university degree”) whilst also taking some English classes in Fénix on Saturdays.

             Disney is about to start the final year of her Social Work Degree, after a break to help sort out serious family problems. Her sister Daniela has passed to 10th grade, whilst also taking music lessons and daily English classes, on a scholarship, at the Centro Colombo-Americano: “ . . .one of the best things that has happened to me . . . I love it and I am eager to continue next year.”

 Kilyam continues in Amazonas as a staff nurse on a team working to prevent child malnutrition and is applying for scholarships for a Masters in Public Health.


            Attending English classes on Saturdays, when work and school commitments allow, have been Iveth, Alejandra, Indira, Daniela, Natalia, Catalina, Guiomar, Edna, Lizeth, Paola O. and others. These classes are designed to improve performance in high school, help meet university language requirements and, for some new girls, to encourage them to return to formal education.

            But English teacher Isobel Cairns has also become a mentor and friend to many girls, giving individual classes when needed and taking small groups to museums and exhibitions, where, she says: “They taught me about Colombian history and culture”. Isobel has also been working with Paola in the YMCA-ACJ programme for high-risk girls, teaching English and joining street outreach teams. The impact of working intimately with vulnerable girls has moved Isobel to apply for a Master’s in Social Work and Human Rights.

            Samantha Joeck, who taught English in Fénix in 2012-2013, and while doing field research in 2014 for her Masters degree, has applied to start a doctorate.

             It was not part of the foundation’s original purposes, but an accidental discovery that Fénix can give foreign volunteers and interns training and experience that radically change their careers towards social care fields.

             Ricardo, Faye, Megan and Ezana have also given classes in maths and English and Beatriz has continued to offer individual tutoring in text comprehension and analysis, and the grammar and punctuation skills so often neglected in high school.


             With Paola Ceballos leading a YMCA-ACJ programme for young people in sexual exploitation and   prostitution, Fénix has been able to hand over the responsibility for outreach with street youth. “The actions thought out and developed during my training in Fénix … are now a reality”. Paola reports that during the year her team supported the exit from exploitation and prostitution of 25 young people, 12 finishing secondary school. Hundreds more were attended in street outreach and day-long health and rights sessions, with testing for pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, referral on for medical treatment, legal counseling and rights protection,  Paola organized new inter-institutional networks and a conference on prostitution in La Salle University, worked with the Bogotá Women’s Department on policy planning and helped a team of peer leaders make a short film on the hard reality of central city street life

             Alejandra, Lizeth and Lady Johana have been hired by Idipron, the city programme for homeless people, to work in outreach and intervention with drug affected street dwellers, where they can apply what they have learned in Fénix. Alejandra was named team leader, and with a stable job she expects to resume higher education.

Iveth has been working in Idipron all this year in outreach in some of the most impoverished and marginalized barrios, with children and young people at high risk of abuse, drugs and violence.

“They tell me their problems and worries . . . mostly these children are alone all day as their parents are working, in prison, or in the depths of drug abuse or drinking, and have no time for them. It is wonderful when the children see us arriving and rush up for a hug and to ask: ‘Ooh, what are we going to do today?’ ”

             Some Fénix members who are single mothers and many of those they bring in for advice and support or meet in street outreach have problems in getting government authorities to enforce payment of child support by the fathers. Although the law is clear and strong, the officials who should enforce it often prove inept or lax, and Fénix not only has to guide these mothers on how to insist they carry out their obligations but sometimes to look for legal action to ensure their rights. We are very grateful to Alejandro Lanz of Los Andes Law Faculty for his legal support in these cases.

 Other workshops and activities:

            For Colombia 2016 was marked by peace negotiations with the FARC guerrillas, and a plebiscite on the agreement – first defeated by a populist campaign based on half- and un-truths – re-structured and then approved by Congress. Beatriz and several Fénix members participated in a programme of workshops and education on the peace process, and held sessions for Fénix members and guests on non-violent communication and mutual comprehension.

            Zarina joined a group of volunteer professionals taking health care brigades to distant impoverished communities that lack services:  "It was lovely . . there are very needy communities, above all their children. In dentistry we attended over 200 patients with different pathologies such as caries, gingivitis, periodontitis, amelogenesis imperfecta among others, many caused by the lack of potable water”.


          Psychologist Deyanire Sosa provides essential support in handling daily difficulties, “developing personal skills and taking decisions about emotional, family, social and academic life” and working through the vulnerability that persists from childhoods of neglect and trauma. She has also worked with other young people that members brought in because they needed intervention in depth and, in some cases, referral on to psychiatry.

           It is another dimension of Fénix that members now have the ability to identify and engage friends, work colleagues or fellow students with emotional difficulties or crises and bring them to Fénix for support. A warm and welcoming environment in Fénix makes it easier for them to talk about painful abuse and to start psychotherapy. “I have never been able to tell anyone about all this before, not even my mother” (Martha, 24).

            Disney adds: “One of the most difficult things in all our lives is coping with the lack of love and security, that our families failed to give us"


               A university bursary initially promised to Viviana was instead awarded to an even needier student and she was then also told she had to buy an expensive top line computer and software for complex advanced statistics, leaving a large gap in the budget for her fees and costs. An urgent appeal for support was responded to with overwhelming generosity and speed by Professors Regina Yando,  Renée Soulodre-La france and Luisa Melo, by Richard Herbert, Kate Seal, Gwyneth Simmons, Jane Grimes, Alan Riding and David Lloyd, to all of whom Viviana and Fénix owe a huge debt of gratitude.

                We also give profound thanks to Esther and Andrew Oldham who sponsored Angélica through her course, to Douglas Farah and Kate Seal for funding Disney’s university education, and to Professors Malcolm Deas and Kris Lane, to Martha Martinez, Alison Wood, Titus and Brian Moser, Camille Marquand  and Children of Colombia, whose kind regular donations help to ensure the education and future of these girls.


            Members have begun to discuss and define what they hope for the future of the foundation, and their own responsibilities for making Fénix grow. Many already take Fénix principles and methods into their working lives. Now we are talking about how to put the education they gain through Fénix and their skills and experience into developing the foundation and adapting it to the changing needs of other vulnerable young people and the new steps forward that their own academic and professional growth make possible.