Educate the daughter of a Panamanian coffee worker

We (Graham and Sylvia) met Yelenis through some of her relatives when we visited Panama, and were impressed with her enthusiasm and work ethic. We have offered to host her for a year in Canada, including all living expenses and school supplies, because we believe she has the capacity and social support to be successful, We are confident that people in her community will come together and raise the funds for her plane ticket to Canada, so that is taken care of. Please read her story in the words of her honorary grandfather and our new friend in Panama:

Yelenis Fuentes, the second of the four children of Giovanni and Yariela Fuentes, is a bright, affable, athletic, hard-working  Panamanian high school student who turned sixteen on Feb. 26, but is mature beyond her years.

Her father was raised in a cane-and-thatch shack at the side of the Pan-American highway by a single mother who was left with 6 children when her fisherman husband drowned in a storm. He “graduated” at the age of 12—from a one-room primary school where teaching, without books or equipment, was basic at best—and worked as a sugar-cane cutter in the cane fields nationalized by the military dictatorship of the time. At age 18, thanks to Catholic vocational schools, he was able to secure remedial education in the 3 R’s and eventually, at the age of 23, earned a secondary-school diploma as an agricultural and livestock technician. Although the field-foreman on a major coffee and avocado plantation in the rural highlands of Panama, after twenty years of employment in a position of real responsibility he supports his family of six on an annual income under US $12,000.

Yelenis's mother, one of five sisters raised on a farm by her mother and stepfather, is a homemaker and can provide a supportive home life but little by way of cultural enrichment. Having been deprived of education themselves, Giovanni and Yariela have instilled in their children and respect for and hunger for learning and from the earliest grades have actively supervised homework until the English-language instruction, math and science outpaced their own abilities.

Their two eldest daughters, Yelenis and her older sister Yohanis, received their primary and secondary education thanks to scholarships from a friend of the father’s employer, at a local, nominally “bilingual” school where social studies and sciences are taught in the teachers’ basic English, the remainder of the subjects in Spanish. This school, though the best locally available, has no laboratories, gymnasium, or any of the other facilities found in typical Canadian high schools, but it does have a small marching band in which Yelenis has over the years played various instruments. Among the academic subjects, the high-school level science and mathematics programs are, thanks to a particular couple of teachers, quite advanced for this area. Neither Yelenis’s school nor the community has a library, and an annual bus trip to the capital, 500 km away, to visit the Canal and the science museum there, is about the sum total of extra-curricular enrichment.

Yelenis, known as Yeleny to her family and Yele to her high school friends, aspires to become a physician. She needs better science education and  greater fluency in English to have a chance at securing the financial aid that would allow to her embark on that career. A year of education and English immersion in Canada will help to ensure that she is, when seeking aid to attend college, able to compete with urban students who have many advantages.

At her local high school she has always been among the top three in her grade, and often among the highest in the entire school, maintaining a nearly 5.0 average.

She has always taken full advantage of the meager extracurricular activities available in a somewhat isolated rural village (fast becoming a town). She holds a junior-division black belt in Taekwondo, plays piano and guitar, sings in the Catholic Church, and often joins her elder sister in a small musical group that performs at small country weddings. Additionally she, with her three siblings, has helped since an early age in the family housekeeping. She finds the time two or three times a week to visit her honorary “grandfather” and help him with the running of his small farm and guest-house.

It it to her greatest advantage to attend a Canadian high school, but as an international student she must pay the entire cost of tuition ($13,500) for the school year. We are looking to raise this amount through this GoFundMe campaign.

Yelenis will bring a very different perspective, that of a rural Latin American teenage girl, to the school, community and church, as she is very outgoing and friendly.

Funds are needed by March 31, 2020, in order to proceed with the school application and study permit (visa).

Yelenis will share her experiences in Canada on social media, so you can follow her learning and developments.

(Note: to protect her privacy we are using a kindergarten photo of Yelenis. She isn't 6 years old now!)


  • Mary Jo Mackinnon-SImms 
    • $100 
    • 5 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $300 
    • 5 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $700 
    • 5 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 5 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 5 mos
See all

Fundraising team: Team Yelenis (2)

Graham Stratford 
Kingston, ON
Sylvia Poetschke 
Team member
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