The group teamed up with the Center for Panamanian Women (CEMP), which works with low-income women located in indigenous areas throughout the country to improve their quality of life by strengthening their leadership skills, promoting the formation and strengthening of grassroots women’s organizations for community management and political advocacy, and enhancing skill sets to help provide women with a trade.
“The Panama Beauty Project opens up a world of opportunities to improve the living conditions and empower Afro-descendant women of the Panamanian Caribbean Coast,” explained Cecilia Moreno Rojas, executive director, Center for Panamanian Women (CEMP), which supported the program along with the National Secretariat for Afro-Panamanian Progress and several sponsoring companies. “We were able to make a great alliance between volunteers from Panama and the US who were interested in supporting the growth of Afro-Panamanian women living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability.”
The Panama Beauty Project took place in Portobelo, Panama from February 6-13. The event included demonstrations on how to make basic cosmetic formulas using local ingredients such as coconut oil. Beauty industry professionals who took part in the Panama Beauty Project included: Patricia Aiken, PhD; Myriam Almonor, PhD; Mary Lynn Halland, secretariat general, IFSCC; Chris Humberstone, Humberstone International; Melanie Mitchell, Gourmet Body Pastries; Emily Cooper Morse, Acme-Hardesty; Deanna Mulicka, Acme-Hardesty; Luisa Ruffin; Jolia Thadal, undergrad, Rochester Institute of Technology; and Marie Thadal, past chair, NYSCC.
According to Moreno Rojas, the Panama Beauty team helped motivate the women of Portobelo to venture into an innovative and profitable experience that could bring them great personal and economic benefits.
“The workshops for the production of cosmetics and body care not only brought new knowledge to women, but also helped to develop their skills and abilities,” she explained. “The Panama Beauty Project is an innovative experience for the empowerment of Afro-descendant women in Panama.”
More Work Needed
That said, Moreno Rojas noted that this experience in Portobelo was just the first step of several stages that must be developed. In this first stage, women were motivated and a seed was planted to continue their growth in other later stages.
“There are objective and subjective conditions to advance in the process of strengthening women,” she explained. “The social conditions of poverty of the communities; the interest of women in participating, the traditional practice of using coconut and producing coconut oil, the potential for tourism development in the area and the willingness of some business executives to acquire locally produced beauty products are factors that demonstrate the viability and sustainability of the project.”
CEMP has focused on developing a program to promote the economic entrepreneurship of low-income women in the country, which is why the Center was motivated to start this program with Afro-descendant women from the communities located on the Costa Arriba de Colón, such as Portobelo, Cacique, Puerto Lindo, Nombre de Dios, Palenque and Viento Frio. The program has four stages:
- Training of women for the production of beauty products through the use of local, natural product.
- Developing business plans and providing micro-financing and technical assistance to generate local economic ventures and the commercialization of beauty products.
- Training in human development: values, skills and skills for life. and Establishing a network of women in the service of the community.
- Moreno Rojas hopes to establish for each of these stages some specific results and verification to ensure their success and follow up on the next stage.
“With The Panama Beauty Project, conducted under the leadership of Chris, we have taken a first step with a group of Afro-descendant women located in Portobelo,” she said, noting that there is still a need to secure access to a production facility in Panama as well as continue to educate the women on how to produce beauty products.
To achieve these goals, Moreno Rojas and CEMP will stay in contact with all the beneficiaries of the Panama Beauty Project as well as Ari “Mamá Ari” Blandon and other key stakeholders in the community. For his part, Humberstone remains committed to the Project and its future.
A Worthwhile Experience
“I am always amazed at people’s generosity and how willing they are to donate their time, energy and money to a good cause,” observed Humberstone. “This was an amazing experience and I would like, once again, to thank our volunteers who traveled to Panama, our local volunteers from CEMP who took care of all the arrangements, cooked us some great food, did excellent translations and were such wonderful company on the trip. We all learned a lot from each other.
“I especially would like to thank Marie Thadal without whom none of this would have happened, and Jolia Thadal for the superb robotics project with the children of Portobelo, the look of amazement and enjoyment on their faces was priceless. I am sure we sparked an interest in learning more about science and technology on these young people,” he said.
Thadal inspired Humberstone’s Panamanian project when she created a similar project in Haiti several years ago. For Thadal, past-chair of the New York Chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (NYSCC), the focus of her year as NYSCC chair was to identify industry growth drivers and the theme of sustainability dominated.
“Ultimately, the takeaway was clear—in order for the industry to grow we have to incorporate the doing of good into our business model. The planet, its people, and the profit that can be generated are all interconnected,” explained Thadal. “My vision is to empower women in impoverished parts of the world so they can start a business, become self-reliant, and provide increased opportunity for their children.
Through the humanitarian beauty initiatives that I have organized, the women we meet have the opportunities to not only gain valuable skills in cosmetic science and business fundamentals, but also to measurably improve their life situations to become positive contributors and influences in their communities.”
Humberstone also thanked the Panama Beauty Project sponsors, especially the main sponsor Acme-Hardesty, as well as Chemyunion, Croda and Happi for their support of this project and their financial contribution to the Center for Panamanian women.
“These funds will help us move forward with our future plans in Panama,” concluded Humberstone, “We would love to hear from anyone who would like to contribute in any way to this effort.”
To get involved with the Panama Beauty Project, contact Chris Humberstone, firstname.lastname@example.org