Women Leading Change: Fundación Casa Taller in Panama

In honor of International Women’s Day, celebrated by the United Nations on Mar. 8, TRF has launched a series featuring interviews with women leaders of organizations from our local network. In this first post, we’ll share snippets of our recent conversation with Gloria Bejarano, founder and director of Fundación Casa Taller, in Panama. Gloria has worked with nonprofit, municipal, national and multilateral organizations throughout Latin America for over four decades promoting a pedagogical model known as TIEC (Integrated Creative Expression Workshops).

Be sure to check back later this week, when this series travels to Mexico!

TRF: Could you describe your career in this field?

GB: When you enter into a discourse like this, I think history and personal journeys play a large role.  When I was a young girl, I felt a calling to work with groups through the theater and the arts that work on social dynamics that I saw at home and around the world. This led me to reflect deeply. Later, I didn’t think that my career was going to be in education; I always thought it was philosophy. However, observing one particular teacher roused my interest in pedagogy. Since then, that was 45 years ago, the work has sought paths that can lead us to an education that aligns with our Amerindian identity, our socio-cultural reality and in the languages that belong to our people. This is what has led me to travel around the Americas with this goal.

TRF: What led you to create Casa Taller?

GB: What drove the creation of Casa Taller? When my friend and business partner asked me, “Why don’t we do something in Panama?” I said that I would stay in Panama only if we do something that leaves a mark on education in this country. At that time, I was at a very difficult point in my life and I could have done this in another country, but Panama is a country that I really love. Casa Taller took shape with the idea that it had to leave an impact and it had to create a difference in education.

TRF: Twenty years from now, how do you hope that people will remember your work? 

GB: The tireless work in search of change. Above all, as a fight to find our identity in educatiDSC_6414on. One of the projects that stands out in this country was a project to work on cultural identity, reading and history in Panama.  Really, I can die happy if we can work towards an education (system) in our countries that can finally foster this identity, an autonomy that advocates producing knowledge from within ourselves, so we are no longer consumers of knowledge.  We have to be the producers of knowledge.  I hope that my career path will be remembered for this, for this struggle to find this identity and this need to transform ourselves, to change.

TRF: What message would you like to send to women in Latin America?

GB: The first thing is to be able to recognize in an essential way the feminine and the masculine elements in all human beings, to find balance, to not fear getting to know ourselves and the marvelous doses of each that we all have and find equilibrium. So I think that in the most poetic way, women are able to create ideas, to generate change. It’s nothing more than this manifestation of the humanity of the feminine that connects to the femininity of men, that connects in order to do what? In order to create, not only to procreate, but to create a new world. So I think that there is a much larger dimension. Now, in practical terms, I would say, that the message for women is to work on our well-being…the search for balance would take women to find these niches in development. Indubitably, women absolutely influence the world with their feminine power.

TRF: And what message would you like to send to men?

GB: For men, let’s take each other by the hand, let’s lock arms and work together towards a better world. I think that we can work side by side.

TRF: What are Latin America’s best strengths as a region?

GB: Its multiculturalism. The strength of its different cultures. Its blending of cultures. What may seem to some as a disadvantage, I see as a strength, as great potential. This diversity in our character…it enables us to fight, to move forward. These are the contributions we gain from our different cultures; we are not just nostalgia, we are not just happiness, we are not just grievances, we are not just hope. This mix, this diversity is a great strength for us. This is reflected in the richness of our lands, which we should recognize and manage for the well-being of those who live in this world, for the “good life,” as they say in many indigenous communities.

TRF: Any parting thoughts?

GB: To reiterate, as the writer Henry Miller said,”Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths.” So I would say that that is the message. We need to recognize the depths of our human nature and then understand that we are capable of communicating and working together, regardless of what country you’re from. We can join forces to move forward because we are responsible for the next generation. At this moment, we are leading the way for future generations. My message would be, to believe in ourselves, to put it as Simón Rodríguez did, “Where we will find models?  We’re independent but not free; We own our land, but not our selves.” Let’s look for new paths, we have to innovate and charter new territory. Latin American creativity must be emboldened.


By Gian Paolo Einaudi, TRF Director of Social Investments