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[In the Field] Disparity between rich and poor in Panama poses risks to kids

crumbling buildings
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
Our group watched a soccer game, part of a tournament organized by the center. Here’s a group of the players on a brief break.

Hola from Panama!

My name is Jessica Dolan and I’m from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Chicago office. I’m writing this entry Monday evening and we’ve had an eye-opening first day in Panama City.

In the wealthiest parts of the city, newly constructed glass towers and beautifully restored colonial homes dominate.

Hola from Panama!

My name is Jessica Dolan and I’m from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Chicago office. I’m writing this entry Monday evening and we’ve had an eye-opening first day in Panama City.

In the wealthiest parts of the city, newly constructed glass towers and beautifully restored colonial homes dominate.

crumbling buildings
U.S. Fund for UNICEF

But just a short drive away squatters live precariously in crumbling buildings. Here it is easy to see how statistics don’t tell the whole story. Although Panama appears from the outside to be a wealthy country, a huge number of Panamanians still live in poverty while wealth is concentrated in a few hands. This is true for the Latin America and Carribean region as a whole.

Neverthless, UNICEF is supporting great programs that focus on those in poverty who are otherwise excluded and invisible. Today we visited PROBIDSIDA, one of the most effective HIVAIDS advocacy and care providers in Panama. PROBIDSIDA provides support, testing and counseling for those living with or affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as preventative education in hospitals and schools. We met some of the courageous people leading this effort, including Orlando, who has been living with HIV for 20 years and used his status as a respected physician to found this organization, and Edith, the first woman in Panama to come forward to speak about her HIV positive status. She now leads support groups and provides counseling for newly diagnosed women.

Note: In Panama, as with much of Latin America, HIV and AIDS still carry a heavy stigma. We refrained from taking photographs at PROBIDSIDA to preserve the privacy of those we met there.

After leaving PROBIDSIDA, we went over to Movement New Generation, a UNICEF-supported youth center in the Chorillo neighborhood of Panama City, one of the poorest and most dangerous areas.

Linda Naugle and Byron
U.S. Fund for UNICEF

Linda Naugle of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF New York office speaks to Byron, a 13-year-old who has been coming to the center for about a month. He spoke to our group about how proud he was to have an opportunity to “rescue our peers from violence and drugs.”

Children here are vulnerable to violence and the lure of the sixteen gangs that lay claim to the area. But the center”clean, bright, cheerfully noisy with the voices of children”provides a safe space amidst conflict, and a constructive way for kids to spend their time. Children can participate in soccer tournaments or spend time in the well-furnished computer center or the upstairs library.

Lizzy Repass tour
U.S. Fund for UNICEF

Lizzy Repass gets a tour of the computer center.

The center was founded by Hector, who was born and raised in this neighborhood. He and other community volunteers preside over the center, and their pride in it is evident, but they are commited to doing so much more. Soon, a second center will be opened nearby. It is a vibrant and hopeful place.

soccer team on break
U.S. Fund for UNICEF

Our group watched a soccer game, part of a tournament organized by the center. Here’s a group of the players on a brief break.

Tomorrow, we’ll be getting up at 4 AM to travel by plane to Chiriqui, a northern province of Panama. We may not be able to send in another update until we return to Panama city on Wednesday night. Thanks for checking in with us!

One Comment

  1. Nancy Latner
    Posted September 6, 2007 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi,
    Thanks for the information about Panama. The photos are very illuminating. Please say hello to John Tscarios for me. Hope your trip continues to go well. Nancy Latner

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