Planting hope: In Panama, a vivarium is helping reforest the lives of prison inmates
- The vivarium started production in November 2016, with the approval of the penitentiary system authorities and the police, who are now sponsors of the initiative. It also receives support from the ICRC in the form of the recycling project, EcoSólidos. Production includes fruit trees, ornamental plants, medicinal and culinary plants and seedlings for reforestation.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- Detainees arrive at the vivarium early in the morning to begin work. Most have learned how to plant, cultivate and care for plants in prison.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- The workers of Sembrando Paz have put together a comprehensive business plan. Every visitor to the garden is given practical souvenirs such as seedlings, seeds and handicrafts. The workers’ marketing plan ensures that the nursery remains fresh in visitors’ minds and reminds them of what is needed for work to continue.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- The old wheelbarrow in the heart of the vivarium reminds inmates of how the project began and how far it has come. It makes them think about how much can be achieved with so little.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- Fumigation against pests is of the utmost importance. There is a team dedicated to this task in order to achieve optimal production. Vivarium workers are constantly looking for ways to fumigate using organic products as it is difficult to bring chemicals and commercial products into the prison.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR
- The dedicated detainees grow a lot of trees that are native to Panama, something which other gardens don’t grow because they are not profitable due to their high mortality and slow growth rates. In Sembrando Paz, these trees are given place of pride and receive special care.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- Jorge, who has a degree in business administration and has studied agronomy for two years, leads Sembrando Paz. He loves what he does. He trains, accompanies and supervises fifty of his fellow inmates. Thanks to his sensitivity and patience, everyone who visits the vivarium leaves with a desire to contribute.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- When saplings have reached a certain height and it has not been possible to take them out of the vivarium to be planted elsewhere, the National Police asks the inmates to cut them back or remove them. On exceptional occasions, workers have been authorized to leave the prison to participate in the planting. Days like this motivate detainees to continue their efforts.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
- The ICRC supports Sembrando Paz by providing technical advice to workers and authorities, in addition to supplying the necessary inputs for production at the vivarium. It has also initiated an outreach to engage potential interested parties, such as the Mayor's Office of Panama, the Special Training Institute of Panama and private contractors, in cooperating with the prison nursery in a relationship that benefits both the inmates and these parties. We seek to link the inside world with the outside world.CC BY-NC-ND /CICR/B. Islas
The La Joyita prison, in Panama, offers a number of programmes to help the inmates occupy their time fruitfully. By educating themselves, the inmates also work towards reducing their sentences. One of the most popular and valued programmes is the Sembrando Paz (Sowing Peace) vivarium where more than 50 workers grow plants as part of a process that prepares them for reintegration into society.
The oasis in the prison was started by the prisoners themselves. They took an abandoned area, cleaned it up and started growing plants using their own resources.
Currently, the vivarium has over 16,000 seedlings with a market value of 20,000 US dollars and a productivity rate that could be the envy of any private garden. Part of the plant production profits is used to contribute to the Million Hectares Alliance, a programme that seeks to replant one million hectares in Panama over the next 20 years. Sembrando Paz is also one of the few vivariums in the country that has an excellent production of native trees.