Vania Masías

Ashoka Fellow
Lima, LI, Peru
Fellow Since 2011

Citation

This profile was prepared when Vania Masías was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Reaching one of the most difficult segments in urban communities, Vania is transforming street children and at-risk youth in the most impoverished slums of Lima into productive leaders of society through Angels D1 (Ángeles D1). She attracts young people between the ages of 8 and 18 to join her program and take part in a support network of tutoring, counseling, and nutrition education. Vania’s curriculum is built on training in modern dance and urban hip-hop, and students are given the chance to perform in her dance troupes and earn money for their routines. Yet the graduates of her program are far more than expert dancers—besides requiring the students to return to school if they have dropped out, Vania and her team teach them essential life and pre-professional skills to become self-sufficient members of their community. Through the personal attention and counseling that each member receives, Angels D1 offers a positive and attractive alternative to joining street gangs, thus providing a sense of belonging to a damaged and often forgotten sector of the population.

Vania has developed a unique institutional model that generates income for the long-term project. The dance studios for the street children are supported by the fees collected at separate private schools that serve wealthier students and whose teachers are often at-risk youth themselves. Besides serving as a financial tactic to generate income, this model forms bonds that are key to building empathy and mutual understanding across socioeconomic classes. The star Angels at both types of schools are also able to participate in Vania’s professional touring company. The entire Angels D1 program is now financially sustainable, a feature that Vania underscores in her work with the students to teach them about the values of self-sufficiency and business administration.

Because of its financial model, Angels D1 offers a powerfully replicable new idea. The five-year curriculum seeks to empower youth leaders, many of whom go on to open their own Angels D1 schools that employ Vania’s methodology. Now reintroduced into society, the alumni are instrumental in multiplying the scope of the project into other neighborhoods, cities, and even countries outside Peru. Opening a school in these areas requires low initial seed capital; rather, the alumni coaches are passionate standard-bearers for the program who capitalize on the positive and “cool” attitudes, combined with the growing publicity, associated with the Angels to engage other communities of street children.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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