Projects for Peace Grantees Equip Women in Panama with Entrepreneurship Skills

Sara Garza Gonzalez ’25 and Valentina Liberman ’25

When Sara Garza Gonzalez ’25 and Valentina Liberman ’25 applied for the Projects for Peace fellowship a year ago, they didn’t expect to be selected as first year students. “Pomona has a lot of amazing people with amazing ideas,” says Liberman. But their proposal was selected both by Pomona College and the Projects for Peace program, and they received $10,000 to develop entrepreneurship skills for mothers from the Kuna community in Panama last summer.

Projects for Peace awards grants to 100 students from over 90 partner institutions each year to encourage young adults to develop innovative, community-centered and scalable responses to the world’s most pressing issues.

Liberman, an international student from Brazil, had worked with girls in the Kuna community, an indigenous people group, for several years in high school. Gonzalez had her own experience working at a girls’ shelter in her community of Tampico, Mexico.

Gonzalez and Liberman met as soon as they arrived at Pomona during the orientation for international students. “We were both looking for where to find our keys in the dorm,” says Gonzalez, and their friendship has continued since then.

When Gonzalez came across the Programs for Peace fellowship on the Draper Center for Community Partnerships webpage, she approached Liberman about applying together, knowing that Liberman had worked with an organization called Grandes Sueños to help at-risk girls.

We tried to do something that the girls and women wanted and actually needed.

Funding from the grant would bring both money and human capital into the Kuna community. As Liberman and Gonzalez spoke to the girls as well as their mothers over Zoom leading up to their summer stay, the plans for the project evolved.

“We tried to do something that the girls and women wanted and actually needed instead of just coming in with a project because we think this is what should change,” says Gonzalez.

Their project eventually settled on developing entrepreneurship skills for 15 mothers. The mothers had expressed a desire to increase their household incomes and financial independence. “The moms really just want to do better for their kids and for themselves,” says Gonzalez.

To that end, during their time in Panama last summer, Gonzalez and Liberman organized workshops on making jewelry and mola (traditional hand-made textiles worn by Kuna women) and created courses to teach business skills. The end product was a structured plan for the long-term objective of operating a cooperative.

Since the project ended, Grandes Sueños has agreed to continue supporting the mothers and helping them execute their business models, which Gonzalez and Liberman are very pleased by. The two of them have also continued to help the women remotely by developing their online presence and staying in touch.

“The mothers are very happy,” says Liberman.

Here at Pomona and in the U.S. there’s so much opportunity.

Going forward, Liberman plans to major in economics “because it’s a huge part of how the world works and what impacts us on a micro scale every day and also big country decisions and global choices,” she says. Her Projects for Peace experience reinforced her passion for using business to help people.

Gonzalez intends to major in psychological science while minoring in gender and women’s studies. “You cannot really study behavior and minds and personalities without getting into race and social economic status and gender,” she says. Projects for Peace helped confirm for her that she wants to work with people and to have a real-world impact.

Gonzalez and Liberman are both currently applying for more grants to continue to help the Kuna community.

“After getting this first grant, I realized that here at Pomona and in the U.S. there’s so much opportunity,” says Gonzalez. “There are people who want to connect a community that has specific needs with money. If we present the projects, people are going to be interested in working with these communities.”