Born and raised in the community of Alto Riecito, Rio Indio. Candy’s journey with Forum Academy began after graduating from public school in Las Marias in 2014.
“The first time I heard about Forum Foundation, was at my school in Las Marias. They were helping the school by providing breakfast for students who lived far away and had to walk a long road to get to school, I was a beneficiary of this assistance
That is when Candy met Profesora Elvia Martinez, who was recruiting exceptional students to attend Forum Academy located in Chiguiri Arriba. “I was very interested because I wanted to continue my studies and I knew this was a great opportunity.”
One of Profesora Elvia’s strategies to help recruit students was to bring former students like Moises Rodriguez to speak, Forum Academy. “Moises told us about his experience as a student at the Academy. He told us about the requirements to enroll and the unique benefits that Forum Academy offered. The experience of being accepted to the Forum Academy was unique, and I am grateful for the people who made this possible. I can still remember getting the phone call from Profesora Elvia, I cried tears of joy when I heard her say I had been selected to attend the Academy. I was also a little sad because I would have to move away from my family. But I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by, not for anything in the world.”
Fond memories of the Forum Academy Family, a second home, a second family, abound. “The Academy was filled with people with big hearts, full of love, ready to help us. I remember them fondly and carry them in my heart. Even though they were from different communities, with different personalities, different likes and dislikes, we all practiced humility, respect, and love. It is something you can’t compare to anywhere else.”
Candy remembers having a difficult time adapting to the food at the Academy because the menu was different from what she was accustomed to eating at home. Vegetables were especially challenging. “I had to have a glass of water to help me swallow the vegetables at first. But I faced this challenge and overcame it. Now I miss that food.”
Candy may not have enjoyed eating vegetables at first but she did enjoy learning history, especially world history, given her interest in learning about the reasons wars were started. She also enjoyed Spanish class, because there were many novels to be read and discussed in class.
“I feel very grateful for the support that Forum Foundation has provided me. If it weren’t for this help I would likely be at home, because my family does not have the resources. But the Academy was there to help, and with their support throughout the three years of high school, I was able to graduate. The opportunity to receive a high-quality education at no cost was incredible. I didn’t have to worry about anything. The assistance even helped us be able to travel back home to visit our families. So we just had to focus on our studies, eat and sleep to be successful and to make the most of this opportunity. I owe much of my success to my professors, that day in and day out put forth their best efforts to share their knowledge and help prepare us for the future.”
“It is thanks to Forum Academy that I am presently in pursuit of my next goal. Studying at the Academy has been an enormous help because I learned what it’s like to live with different people, collaborate, and work as a team. I also learned that no matter the problems we may face we will always persevere, no matter the cost. Forum opened the door to knowledge, it showed me I could be nimble, well informed about the world around me, and most importantly have an open mind no matter the situation. There are so many other lessons and moments I remember, I could go on forever. “
After graduation Candy set her sites on going to university. She had the option of studying Panamanian history and Spanish and chose Spanish. As she explains her love of literature, something instilled in her during her time at Forum made the decision easy. When Candy started university in Penonome, she didn’t have a place to stay (Universities in Panama do not usually have dormitories). “The Foundation provided me with a room in an apartment I shared with other university scholarship students. During the pandemic, the Foundation continued to help us with financial assistance to pay rent. I also received assistance to purchase cell phone cards so that I could continue attending my virtual distance learning classes.”
Learning during the pandemic has meant that most of Candy’s learning is done via Whatsapp. “It is not always easy, sometimes it is hard to understand what the professor is explaining, the classes also take a long time if we have problems with connections. No one was ready for this.”
Currently, in her third year of Universtiy at the Universidad de Panama in Penonome, Candy hopes to get a job as soon as she graduates. “It does not matter where, I want to teach, and share my skills as a teacher. I want to make students fall in love with Spanish just like I did.”
Although the Academy has closed, Candy sees a bright future ahead for Forum Foundation. “I think the Foundation will be able to continue helping students because the financial aid is what helps motivate students to stay on the path and complete their studies. Many don’t have the assistance or resources they need. Or perhaps they don’t have a place to stay to attend their classes. I would love to continue helping the Foundation, because just like I was given an opportunity, I would like to see more young people from the mountains of Cocle have an opportunity to a brighter future.”
Forum Foundation looks forward to working with former students like Candy Perez to help make change sustainable.