2019 Report


                                     2019 annual report

            “I want to study Social Work to become a professional who can help to make those small changes that change people´s lives, as Fénix does to my life . . thank you for being a family that supports me at every stage of my life (Angélica).

            Fénix has to be a family for girls without families that support them. For Christmas Eve, some of the girls with no one else to share with came to Fénix for turkey, Christmas cake and presents, and to gossip, play, laugh and feel they belong and are cared for.

            This is one side of being a family: others are firmly teaching disciplined study habits, ethical values and insisting on high marks: all help them towards becoming fully-fledged adults.

            Fénix has many facets. Some girls need this long-term substitute family, while others only need brief help when in crisis.

Oriana was recommended to Fénix when her father became gravely ill and could not work or cover her education. Fénix paid for courses for the very competitive exams for state universities. She won a place for a degree in Community Education and Human Rights, gaining exceptionally high grades in the first two semesters. At the same time, she is taking a Spanish university online diploma course on women´s rights and works in the Colombian peace movement where she coordinates youth projects.

With violence and human rights violations again rising in Colombia, Fénix girls are more interested in rights and the peace process. Co-founder Beatriz, a peace activist and conflict resolution specialist, has given workshops and taken groups to meetings and related events, including a meeting with former guerrilla commander and later congresswoman, Vera Grabe, the launch of a book on armed conflict at the Bogotá bookfair and a showing of the film ‘A Call for Peace’. Several members were able to talk to former guerrilla fighters at the launch of Malcolm Linton´s book of photographs of FARC rebels in their transition from combatants to civilians. “We learned a lot from them” (Sandra).

Beatriz has continued to stimulate critical thinking about conflict, rights and ethics in her Saturday classes on text comprehension and analysis: the classes have concentrated less on the rules of grammar and punctuation than on comprehension of what they are reading and a critical attitude to the texts. This year the girls enthusiastically read international writers such as Julio Cortazar, Mario Benedetti and Fernando Savater, and also two Colombian poets and sociologist Alfredo Molano.  Reading Savater generated intense discussions on ethics in everyday life and Molano introduced them to hitherto unknown aspects of Colombia.  “Books have now become important in my life; before I never paid them any attention.” (Sandra)

These and the other Saturday classes, English given by Ezana and Annabel, and maths, by Andrés, provided vital tutoring in their weakest subjects for members in high school, Indira, Camila, Angie A. and Lorena, those preparing for university entrance, like Lizeth Angélica, some already in higher education (Sandra, Maria José) and others wanting to get back into school. On some Saturdays there is also a workshop on such themes as human rights, women´s rights, vocational aptitudes, mentoring or the basics of counseling. We are sad that Annabel has had to end her stay in Colombia and return to the UK.

The Saturday classes have proved a way to bring new girls into Fénix, gradually integrating with the group, hearing of their experiences, beginning to share their own and perhaps asking to talk with a psychologist. Deyanire usually comes on Saturdays to work with girls still suffering from early neglect, abuse, abandonment, sexual exploitation and other traumas, the stresses of adolescence or being a single mother, or for guidance on career aptitudes or bringing up their own children. She and Karim both have master´s degrees in psychotherapy and are much appreciated by the girls.

Some less committed girls, Gloria, Adriana, Ana, Jessica, Tatiana, Marilyn, Andrea, Flor, come sporadically, or telephone or email, for crisis attention, advice, help with CV´s, job applications or legal rights, or just to have someone with whom to share. This is another important facet of Fénix.

Good films also help develop critical appreciation and lead to discussion of ethical and social issues: one group made a trip to the new Bogotá cinemateca to watch Alfonso Cuarón´s Oscar winning film ‘Roma’, beautiful, moving and rich with themes of social class, ethnic relations and violence in politics.

Developing skills in English is increasingly a major theme in Fénix´ activities – essential for university admissions and degrees, and for higher education certificates and job applications. Angie and Lizeth Angélica both gained scholarships for intensive English courses at the Centro Colombo-Americano, where Eunise also studied before going to the USA to polish her English. Zarina continues her English course at a New York community college, and then hopes to take a professional dentistry specialization before returning to Bogotá. Lizeth is also in New York studying and working

Indira, Sandra and Angie all year have been dedicated students at Saturday classes along with Lorena, Maria José, Camila, Carmen and sporadically Andrea and Maria Alejandra.

Angélica comes to classes when her job permits: all this year she has been employed as a kindergarten teaching assistant. For her degree, she plans to take Social Work and is waiting to learn if her application to a major university is successful.

She has kept up contact with former volunteer English teacher, Samantha Joeck, now in the fourth year of a doctorate in anthropology, focusing on how harassment of women affects their use of public spaces. Sam´s fieldwork is in Medellin, so she can visit Fénix from time to time and is a valued ‘big sister’ to Angélica.

At the end of November Angélica and Indira suffered a terrible emotional blow when their mother died after a painful battle with cancer. We have all tried to give them comfort and support.

Daniela is still undecided about whether first to polish her English as an au pair in the US or to make another try for a scholarship for a teaching degree. Meanwhile she continues working in a bilingual call centre to save towards her living expenses when studying.

Natalia has passed to the third semester of her law degree, generously helped by Richard and Amber Herbert.

Iveth finished the penultimate semester of her degree course, to graduate in 2020, while working with the city youth programme in violence-wracked barrios, one just behind Fénix from which gang gunfire is sometimes heard.

The proposed intervention project for at-risk pre-gang children in this barrio did not go ahead as it would require more time than members could give after regular jobs, courses and raising children, and greater risk than was felt to be justified.

However, Maria José and Angélica are developing a less time-demanding (and less dangerous) proposal for a group to work with the younger children in a day centre at a sister foundation that supports very poor and marginalized central city families (usually single parent). Indira is already volunteering at the kindergarten where Angélica works. These volunteer internships provide valuable experience that can help shape career choices.

Angie and Lorena have graduated from high school and taken the national exams for university entrance.  Angie received an award of honour for her high grades. Lorena wants to study psychology, and Angie physical and sports education. Camila and Indira are both younger and still have a year of high school.

Lady Johana has graduated in ‘Human Resources and Social Welfare’, while working with a Bogotá hospital in HIV education, prevention and testing and with another organization to locate and bring into treatment people – largely from LGBT and prostitution street communities -- found positive for HIV in earlier rapid testing programmes but who did not follow up for further exams and anti-viral medication. She has applied to begin a psychology degree in the New Year and hopes to continue working in HIV prevention and testing programmes, in which she now has great experience and skills.

Sandra has passed to the final semester of a higher education diploma in administration and on graduation hopes to apply the credits towards a full degree.

Disney continues with a sister organisation, using 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. There are estimated to be 1.5 million in Colombia fleeing chaos and hunger in Venezuela, often in the lowest paid jobs or petty crime, many girls and women finding no option but prostitution, stigmatised victims of growing xenophobic hate. Disney and her partner are delightedly expecting a baby, which she knows will take most of her attention in 2020, but for the following year she plans to take a Masters degree in family social work.

Kilyam, a staff nurse in her home state of Amazonas, is now a proud mother, while Yenifer has been a senior nurse-auditor in a Bogotá hospital and is looking for new professional experience in the US, where her partner has found work.

Graduate social worker Paola is with another foundation working for the rights and social care of high-risk street communities, especially transgender people in prostitution, victims of social exclusion, stigma and, often, of violence.

 We are all hugely grateful to Children of Colombia, Malcolm Deas, Alan Riding, Brian Moser, David Lloyd, Alison Wood, Carmenza Patiño, Tova Solo, Regina Yando, Jairo Díaz Ramírez, Andrés Díaz Tribín and all the other friends, donors, sister organisations and ‘padrinos’ whose constant support makes Fénix possible.