Larisa Castillo

Larisa is from Bajo Grande, Las Lomas community in the district of la Pintada, Cocle. She first met John Keffer and Janet Robinson when they were helping her community school by installing solar panels and setting up a computer lab. She was in Grade 8 when she was asked if she would be interested in joining the Academy. 

“I immediately said yes. Even though I had no idea what it would be like.” A year later Larisa was shopping in Penonome with her mother when they bumped into Profesora Elvia. “She asked if I was sure about enrolling in the Academy because the entrance exam date was approaching. So I took the test even though I thought I would not pass.”  There were many students taking the test. A week later she received a call setting up an appointment for the entrance interview and started attending the summer program. 

“What I liked the most about my time at Forum Academy is that we treated each other like family while we were at school, there were many great friendships made, even with the teachers, administrators, and the staff working at the school. The quality of education that we were given was excellent, and it was not easy, the knowledge we acquired has helped us be successful in confronting life as a university student.” 

Larisa says the Academy not only taught her to reach a high academic level, but it also helped prepare her for what was to come. Learning the importance of having a growth mindset, putting what you learn into practice, keeping an open mind, and taking in your surrounding. “You stop being shy, become more analytical, nimble, agile, and learn to empathize with others. One needs to be reflexive and always act with integrity.”

“When the Ministry of Health first announced cases of COVID-19 I was in Panama City, I had just finished summer classes and was visiting my family in Bajo Grande. So I have stayed here on this side of the bridge during the quarantine.” When the new semester started she had to move to her aunt’s house because she had a better signal. “However, when I got there the signal was not strong enough to be able to do the assignments and connect to the classes. So I decided to move to my uncle’s house for some days while we found a place to rent. I am currently in Penonome.”

Despite the pandemic and the challenges it presented, she has been able to continue her studies and is now finishing her final semester of classes. Larisa studies Nursing Science a the University of Panama in Panama City. 

Virtual learning has its advantages and disadvantages. “For example, being at home, you don’t spend as much money on transportation and food, you have the opportunity to engage with technology and you can spend more time with family. However, to access classes and submit assignments you need internet, data, and often this is not easy. If you live in an area that has bad coverage you have to leave home, and you also have to have access to a device or a computer.”

Due to the pandemic, Larisa has only been able to complete the theoretical part of her classes, I am missing my clinical practice in each subject area. After graduation, she plans to enroll in a master’s program, although she is still deciding.

“Forum Academy taught me that when you receive something from someone, first you must be grateful, then you must help others, those who need it the most. Those who are in a similar position that you were in.”

As a future Nurse, Larisa would like to help her community. “I think you have to start somewhere. There are a lot of people who need help in our country, especially in rural areas, places that are hard to reach. Hunger, inequality, the quality of education and health care, lack of resources are just some of the challenges communities like Larisa’s face.

Forum Foundation is committed to supporting exceptional students like Larisa so that they successfully complete high school and go on to university and lifelong learning.


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