Rescue Through Applause – Combating Youth Violence in Panama

Global Newsletter – January 2012 (Panama) – A major source of social instability in Panama are armed gangs responsible for murder, robbery, rape, drug trafficking, among others. The people hiding “behind” the gangs are mostly young people (often minors) full of energy and idle time, but also full of anger and with few choices. And it is in these problematic neighbourhoods where most of the young refugees live together with other marginalised groups of the society: an environment that invites to engage in crimes, leading to split families who are suffering from hunger and restlessness.


To help the young refugee population in Panama, the RET, through its psychological, education and income generation components, gives them an option that allows them to heal their fears and improve their attitudes towards life. The RET Panama uses art and sport as tools to promote discipline, vent frustrations, burn energy, occupy idle time, teaching the young refugees to take charge of their own lives and say “NO” to what hurts them so as to regain “normalcy” in their day to day lives.




From a higher plane we see the scene of a young woman named Alex, alone in her cell with no soap and no water, recalling the days when she had it all. It is one of the many masks recreated in the theatre workshop with a therapeutic aim: during the workshop, each participant created a (fictitious) character by modelling him physically, socially and psychologically. Later, he (or she) learned to transform the character into a screenplay. Without noticing, the story of the mask put the participants face to face with their hidden self, a self that they had denied because it had caused them so much pain and fear. The theatre workshop, who was led by experts and psychologists of the RET, had an immense therapeutic effect on the participants.


In a forgotten and marginalised province, dancing allowed youth with behavioural problems and disrespected by the villagers, to win applause and the possibility of knowing that life had not denied them everything. The winner of the dancing contest: a young man who, had he not encountered the RET, would have ended up being just another member of a street gang.


To be a foreigner without work permit for a long period of time is the root cause of hungry and angry refugee youth, which leads to problems of exclusion and violence. Teaching and promoting self-management capacities has guided the work of the RET Panama in the framework of its livelihood activities. Thanks to the RET’s work, refugee youth and their families were given livelihood means to earn an income and create hope, minimising the risk to commit acts of vandalism.


To generate livelihoods, to give young people the ability to know that there are opportunities for them and to teach them how to create their own space where they can learn, grow and vent frustrations is the contribution of RET Panama to prevent juvenile delinquency.