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“Nothing Stops A Bullet Like A Job”

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Last night was the 1-year anniversary of Fortaleza Tours: Fried Fish and Mojitos, a company that emerged from our gang intervention and reintegration program Esperanza (“Hope”) here in the historic district of Casco Viejo, Panama.

It was a very surreal experience for me: to have some of my greatest mentors and friends sitting in what used to be a bullet-ridden alleyway…

Esperanza Panama

Only now we were enjoying champagne and violin.

Esperanza Panama

Our graduates, the five former gang members who now run Fortaleza, gave a short presentation announcing proudly everything they’ve accomplished in the past year.

Esperanza Panama

And after their presentation, they asked (well, forced) me to say a few words. So I revealed that when I started with my vacation rentals in Casco Viejo back in 2007, we would tell our guests one thing upon arrival:

“We’d say here is a map of our neighborhood: do not wander up into this area because it is controlled by a gang called Ciudad de Dios and you will…get…robbed.”

esperanzapanama2

(Of course, we had plenty of guests who didn’t heed our warning and of course, they got robbed.)

But today, I explained, when guests arrive to Los Cuatro Tulipanes we tell them something slightly different upon arrival:

“Today we say, before you leave Casco Viejo you MUST wander up into this area and take a tour with the former gang leaders of Ciudad de Dios. It is simply the most awe-inspiring tour experience that is offered in Panama City. (Men’s Journal | LA Magazine | El Visitante)”

This is when I pulled out my ace in the hole: 50 copies of a map supplied to us by the chief of police showing neighborhood crime in the past 15 months (I’ve outlined the Ciudad de Dios area in red ink):

Matt Landau Esperanza

Every person in the alley (including our graduates themselves) was amazed to see that the former Ciudad de Dios area had NOT ONE robbery, assault, nor domestic violence dispute since we began our intervention in January 2014. In the words of Father Greg Boyle of Homeboys Inc in Los Angeles, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

“A map like this,” one graduate, Jaffet added, “is something that we are most proud of.”

esperanzapanama3

Fortaleza Tours is only one of the six businesses that have emerged from Esperanza (we have a handyman company, a creole restaurant, a seafood distribution service, a recording studio, and a messenger/delivery service.) And with the help of a sustainable urban development team from MIT’s Sloan School, I have now designed an innovative impact investment fund that will provide seed capital to our new entrepreneurs as well as a full support network to see that each one has the opportunity to achieve results like Fortaleza…

MIT-Esperanza

If you would like to pledge your support, here’s the fully tax-deductible donation opportunity to make it possible:

Click Here To Support Matt’s Transformation Initiative

I need to raise $10,000 in the next few weeks in order to make this work. So I am appreciative of any help you can give. I also see all the names on the donations and will be personally writing the thank-you notes, on behalf of our entire team, to tell you how much this means to us!

esperanzapanama6

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • Cal

    Congrats Matt! This huge giveback to the community started with a your vision.

    • Matt Landau

      Muchas Gracias, Cal!

  • ¡Felicitaciones! Very impressive. You and your group (helpers and members) have much to be proud of.

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Kim!

  • Welshwitch

    Fantastic to see!

  • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

    Truly remarkable! Congrats to each of these courageous men and to you and your team 🙂

  • Wonderful success story!

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Seb!

  • tdistinguishedg

    Congratulations! I wish you and you team all of the success in the world! You certainly deserve it!

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Alanna, for your always unwavering support!

  • Brenda

    Wow!!! Most of us see problems and run from them. Life is so busy and complicated as it is. To have seen the need and assumed you could do something to change it . . . AND then to work diligigently to make if happen . . . is phenomenal! I know you’ve had setbacks. All ambitious projects do. But you hung in there and gave these individuals hope, you obviously expressed a belief that they could be better than what their circumstances seemed to have dictated, and then you assembled the resources to make it happen. You should be VERY proud. Though I am still struggling to get everything done each day that I have tasked myself to do, I am soo glad to be a member of your Inner Circle and a have access to the resources you and its members are providing. I hope to become a more active member and be able to give back in kind. But I am especially warmed by the knowledge that I am working with someone who is really helping to make one corner of the world a better place. You’ve set a bar for all of us to meet.

    • Matt Landau

      Amazing Amazing Amazing to read this Brenda, thanks for you support!

  • Many years ago I was given a chance. A person wrote me a check of $500 after I was literally broke due to circumstances beyond my control. That person somehow influenced the rest of my life. I took the cheque, framed it and placed it where I could see it everyday, then I swore to myself that I would have never ever used it and I would have made it once again all by myself, like the phoenix rising from ashes.
    I made it. And the cheque is still there, 20 years later, lost somewhere in a box in my garage.
    You’re giving hope, Matt, a reason to look back inside oneself and a wake up call that can make all the difference.
    Keep going, I’m with you (hoping my drop can help building your ocean).

    • Matt Landau

      Amazing! I am going to include this in our weekly meeting with the grads, Antonio!

  • There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that you have changed someone’s life for the better. This was obviously a labor of love, Matt, and it shows. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Debi!!! And thanks for taking part!

  • NakinaAce

    Well done, Matt! Not only have you had a positive impact on these former gang members but on the entire community where they are. I have just made a donation to your cause and wish you every success in your good works (as well as your vocation). Kind Regards, Martin

    • Matt Landau

      Martin, I appreciate that so much!!! I believe we have a community here too and it’s such an honor to be in the company of such wonderful minds 🙂

  • Incredibly inspiring. Great work, and the photos definitely capture an amazing energy/spirit!

  • Congrats, Matt! What a wonderful thing you’re doing.

  • You continue to inspire all of us in so many different ways. It is beautiful to read about and help … keep it up and keep sharing 🙂

  • Wonderful achievements Matt – this is so inspiring and motivating. That map is a stunning testament to the program – benefiting so, so many people.

  • Wendy Jackson

    Simply awesome! You and THEY should be very proud!

  • Absolutely fantastic, an unselfish commitment from you to make the world where you live a better place and to show some people that were temporarily ‘lost’ find their road again and create a life with a great purpose. Kudos to you and your ‘gang’ !!!

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Liz!!!

  • Toni A.

    You are changing the world, one Fortaleza at a time! Where next, Matt?

    • Matt Landau

      Two blocks up! It will be the 4th (and final) group we intervene…and successfully reintegrate.

  • Wow this story really touched me. I’m originally from Colombia (Medellin) and few things make more happy than to see disturbed neighborhoods transformed into healthy and safe places, as has been the case in Medellin. Amazing project you’re doing in Casco Viejo, congratulations to the owners of Fortaleza Tours: Fried Fish and Mojitos. Thank you Matt!

    • Matt Landau

      Lovely to hear Veronica! Come visit for a tour!

      • I will!! Promised. I’ve heard so many good things about Panama.

  • Chris DeRose

    Congratulations Matt, you’ve come a long way since 2008 when you told me where to go shopping to set up our apartment in the city. My husband and I will be taking the Forteleza tour next time we come to the city. .

  • Justin Mitchell

    Awesome post Matt, it’s amazing to see how much of a positive impact you are all having on the neighborhood! Hope all is well buddy!

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