Shenna Bellows Project
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High School Scholarship for Young Girls in Panama

October 24, 2000

Dear Peace Corps Panama Friends,

I am writing to invite you to participate in a WID/GAD scholarship program. (WID/GAD is the Women in Development/Gender Awareness Development committee of Peace Corps volunteers.)

In 1997, WID/GAD members began to discuss inequities among educational opportunities for boys and girls here in Panama. For rural families, secondary education for their children often entails great sacrifice as the teenagers must travel to and live in the community where the high school is located, often far away from their home. Families are often unwilling, or even more frequently unable, to support the costs entailed and cultural tradition makes them reluctant to send their daughter to live among strangers.

Consequently, the WID/GAD committee established a scholarship fund to enable young Panamanian girls to attend high school.

The committee decided that rather than disbursing money, we would distribute uniforms and books as well as pay transport, housing and matriculation fees directly to the schools and other authorities. We also decided that scholarships would be renewable for the full six years of secondary education here, provided that the recipient pass all her classes and demonstrate continued financial need.

The primary selection criteria is the girl´s level of need and her motivation to continue her studies.

The application consists of one page of basic information, one page of financial information, a personal essay, a grade report and two recommendations from a teacher and other community member.

Peace Corps volunteers are asked to verify information where possible. While we solicit grade reports, we do not place emphasis on grades because low grades may reflect a language barrier for indigenous students using Spanish for the first time or a myriad of familial problems including domestic violence, neglect and poverty. We judge the personal essay most closely, trying to assess, not the applicant´s grammar, but rather, her goals and enthusiasm to attain those goals.

The first scholarships were disbursed in 1999. We allocated slightly more than $700 among seven indigenous girls living in the province of Bocas del Toro.

In 2000, five of the initial scholarships were renewed and an additional five scholarships were distributed to girls in Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui and Colon for a total sum of almost $1100.

The year 2000 has brought some important changes to the scholarship program.

Foremost, is a partnership formed with a Panamanian nongovernmental organization, Fundación para la Promoción de la Mujer (Fundamujer) to jointly administer the scholarship program. We decided that in order to make the program sustainable, we needed to integrate a Panamanian counterpart. The hope is that over a five year period we may transfer full ownership of the program to Fundamujer. In this way, we can ensure that the program continues long after Peace Corps leaves Panama.

We also changed the nature of our fundraising efforts.

Prior to this year, we have raised necessary funds through used clothing sales, artisanry sales, t-shirt sales and the occasional donation.

This year we have begun to approach private business in Panama with the hopes of attracting donors with resources here in Panama. WID/GAD groups have met with local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce, APEDE and the Lion´s Club.

However, potential donors have been slow in acting. The current national deacceleration (as the Ministry of Commerce calls Panama´s current economic downturn) has not promoted any increase in charitable giving this year. Nonetheless, efforts continue in raising public awareness about our program through a benefit dinner and raffle being held this month in Chitré and Chiriqui as well as other activities being planned for 2001 in Panama City and Santiago.

Our goal is to establish an endowment fund of a minimum $40,000 whereby the annual interests on a savings account (at the current interest rate of 5%) would generate an income of $2,000 annually to be used for 15-20 scholarships per year. (It costs approximately $100 per year to send a girl to school.)

Finally, we have expanded the scope of the program opening it to applicants from all over the country for the year 2001.

We invite all of you, friends, family and interested community members, to get involved. Your donations would help build the endowment necessary to make this program a sustainable one that endures beyond our stay here.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at Thank you.
(Note: To use email address, remove "PCPF".)


Shenna Bellows
PCV La Arena de Chitré, Herrera
Co-coordinator, WID/GAD committee

Donations for project can be sent to Jerry Lutes, PCPF Treasurer, who will forward them.
Jerry Lutes
21 Farm Haven Court
Rockville, Maryland 20852-4231
Email address:
(Note: To use email address, remove "PCPF".)

(See "How to Use PCPF to Donate to Volunteer Projects")