2019 Mid-year report


 2019 mid-year report

            The central purpose of Fénix is to help vulnerable girls overcome difficulties and become leaders and change-makers, educated in caring professions and able to contribute to the community.

In present-day Colombia, still wracked by poverty, injustice and violence, this means learning to think about the social structure, the different actors in it, and the long drawn-out attempts to end warfare and repression. In recent months, following previous workshops on human rights, conflict and peace, Fénix girls have become steadily more interested in the peace process and have asked for new workshops on these themes.

Co-founder Beatriz, a peace activist and conflict resolution specialist, in June gave a lively, well-attended class on the Colombian peace process, and in April took a group to the Bogotá book fair for the launch of a book on the armed conflict – as well as a witty story-telling session by author Nicolás Buenaventura and a conference by a Spanish botanist on environmental issues. Offered a book each, their choices included Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving and Thomas More's Utopia.

A group of members went in June to the launch of Malcolm Linton’s book of photographs of FARC guerrillas in their transition from fighters to civilians, where they talked at length to former combatants.

We learned a lot from them” (Sandra). Malcolm later came to Fénix to show his pictures and to enlarge on and explain the context and content of each one and how they showed the process of change in their lives and in the nation.

Another group  watched the Oscar winning Alfonso Cuarón film ‘Roma’, which gave them much to think about, on the conditions of domestic servants, class and ethnicity, child-parent relations and love and loyalty – apart from being a beautiful and moving film masterpiece.

This is part of Fénix’ efforts to develop informed, thinking young adults with real knowledge of political realities and their own social responsibilities. 

Books have now become very important to many girls, and Camila, a constant reader, has been co-opted as Fénix librarian: keeping a stock of books; reviewing and recommending those she reads; as each girl finishes reading one, swapping it for another, and collecting requests for new books to buy for the floating library.

Constant reading is one way they can improve the text comprehension, vocabulary and writing skills essential for higher education - - and which Beatriz teaches in her Saturday classes, to help overcome the generally poor teaching in schools of basic grammar, punctuation and spelling. The girls enjoy reading good poetry and prose: Benedetti, Galeano, Cortázar, Violeta Parra, Savater…

On Saturdays volunteer English teachers Ezana and Annabel also take regular classes and Andres gives tuition in mathematics.

Improving their English is still a major preoccupation, with Zarina taking an intensive English course in a New York community college, Lizeth also in New York studying and working, and Eunise taking daily classes in the Bogotá Centro Colombo-Americano.

Camila, Indira, Sandra and Angie all year have been conscientious students at Fénix´ Saturday classes, more recently joined by Lorena, Maria Alejandra, Maria José, Carmen and Andrea, brought in by existing members who realized they needed support.

Most Saturday mornings psychologist Deyanire works with girls who have distressing family situations, problems with child-rearing, difficulties and crises in their lives or for help in making career decisions. More peripheral girls, Gloria, Adriana, Ana, Jessica, Tatiana, Marilyn, Andrea, Flor, come from time to time, or telephone or email, for crisis attention, advice, help with CV´s, job applications or legal rights, or to be listened to and to feel cared for.

Angélica comes to classes when her job allows: for the past six months she has been employed as an assistant kindergarten teacher. But for her degree course she plans to take Social Work (“I can always take a teaching diploma afterwards”) and is studying for the difficult exams for entrance to a highly competitive state university. She has kept up a friendship with a previous volunteer English teacher, Samanatha Joeck, now working in Medellin on her PhD research on harassment of women in public spaces.

Daniela is also to take new exams in hope of achieving a scholarship grade for a teaching degree and continues working in two jobs to save towards her living expenses while studying.

Oriana has completed the first semester of a degree in Community Education and Human Rights at a leading Bogotá university, and Natalia has passed to the second semester of her law degree, kindly supported by Richard and Amber Herbert.

Iveth has finished the fourth year of her degree in administration while working with the city youth programme in very difficult shack-town barrios, one close to Fénix and from which we sometimes hear gang gunfire.

Progress is unfortunately very slow in completing the design of a proposed intervention project for at-risk pre-gang children in this barrio, as Iveth, Paola, Disney, Lady and Angélica have so little time over from regular jobs, courses and raising children.

Angie and Lorena have completed the penultimate semester of high school and in August will take exams for university entrance.  Camila and Indira, another avid reader, are both younger, and still have a year or more before finishing. Andrea, Carmen and Maria Alejandra are older and have come to Saturday classes to help them get back into education and to finish high school.

Lady Johana is completing her course in community development, while working in the main Bogotá HIV education, prevention and testing programme in which she has gained vast knowledge and experience. Next semester she plans to return to a degree in psychology.

Sandra has passed to the fourth semester of a higher education diploma and intends to continue to a full degree.

Disney continues with a sister organisation, applying her training as a social worker and experience with Fénix´ street outreach programme to work with victims of extreme social exclusion and poverty, 80% of whom are refugees from Venezuela. “My next goal is to move on to a different post in which I can gain experience in other fields and continue advancing in my profession”.

Graduate social worker Paola is also working in another foundation with Venezuelan migrants, especially children and young women forced into prostitution by poverty and lack of residence papers and work permits. There are an estimated 1.5 million in Colombia fleeing chaos and hunger in Venezuela.

Helping girls to become educated, clear-headed citizens, who improve care for other vulnerable young people and contribute to society, is a goal that is being achieved.

“I hope to learn more every day and in the future to be able to help many other women who have had problems and upsets in their lives” (Maria José)

Our immense gratitude and warm regards go to Children of Colombia, Malcolm Deas, Alan Riding, Brian Moser, David Lloyd, Alison Wood, Carmenza Patiño, Tova Solo, Regina Yando and all the other friends of Fénix, donors, sister organisations and ‘padrinos’ whose constant support makes this possible.