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Poverty in Panama
In the past decade, Panama’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing among its Latin American counterparts, its growth largely due to the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016. Yet, the growth of the economy does not translate to the prosperity of the entire country. According to a CIA analysis, Panama’s income distribution is the second-worst in Latin America. This means that even with a growing economy, poverty in Panama is still a significant issue with many Panamanians living under the poverty line.

Though the Panamanian government allocates fundings to education and social programs, poverty continues to be a significant issue in Panama. Poverty is more significant in certain areas of the country, highlighting the economic inequality within Panama. Factors such as ethnicity, income level and education level all hold influence over one’s access to basic services and opportunities such as education and health care. Here are five facts about poverty in Panama.

5 Facts About Poverty in Panama

  1. Panama’s urban and rural areas have a large wealth disparity: According to the World Bank, 31.94% of the entire population of Panama lived in rural areas in 2019. These areas rarely see the benefits of the recent boost in economic activity, as 27% of the rural population lives in extreme poverty in comparison to 4% in urban areas.
  2. The national poverty rate is decreasing, but it is still high: In 2005, the national poverty rate of Panama was at 38.3%. In 2016, the figure dropped to 22.1%. Although the poverty rate is seeing a downward trend, it is important to put these figures in perspective: over one in five Panamanians is living in poverty.
  3. Poverty affects indigenous people in Panama in particular: Seven indigenous groups exist in Panama and the government often overlooks their rights, such as the rights to their territories. Poverty is especially dominant in rural areas that include mostly indigenous populations. In fact, 86% of the indigenous population lives in poverty and over 90% cannot meet basic needs.
  4. There is a significant gap in health care access: Rural areas often lack the resources to give Panamanians equal access to health care. As indigenous people largely populate rural areas, they often have 11 fewer years in life expectancy than the overall population, at 67.75 years and 79 years respectively.
  5. Some cannot easily obtain education: Because of better access to resources and job opportunities, urban populations are the most educated and enjoy comparatively affluent and healthy lives. Meanwhile, non-indigenous rural poor are more likely to escape poverty through labor migration from rural to urban areas. However, rural areas lack the schools and resources (such as internet connection) to educate their children. According to the World Bank, the gross enrollment rate at primary schools in 2017 was about 87% of the figure in 2007.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Unemployment

There is a sharp difference between the rich and the poor in Panama. In 2017, the top 20% of the population generated 54.2% of the income, while low-income communities had high poverty and unemployment rates. One such community is Colón, a coastal city in Panama that has a 50% unemployment rate. There, inhabitants struggle to pay rent as a result of Panama’s building boom.

Panama’s economy relies heavily on global trade through the Panama Canal as well as its service section, which makes up 75% of the country’s GDP. Both saw a sudden drop in activity as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the country expects to see a rise in unemployment and poverty rates, reversing the Panamanian government’s push to improve poverty rates.

Reducing the Poverty Rate

Though expectations are that Panama’s poverty rate is going to rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall trend appears to be positive. From 2010 to 2018, the percentage of the population living on under $3.20 USD per day halved, dropping from 10.7% to 5.2%. There has also been an increase in secondary education among rural and indigenous communities. Panama’s $326 million portfolio oversees five active projects that push to improve social protection, governance, disaster risk management, wastewater management and support to the Indigenous Peoples Plan. With economic growth and government policies, Panama has made progress in reducing poverty in recent years.

The government hopes that its continued and further investment in infrastructure and social programs will foster prosperity within the general population through increased opportunities in education and jobs, improving the overall poverty rate of the country and among the poor, rural population.

SOS Children’s Villages International

SOS Children’s Villages International is a nonprofit organization that operates in Panama, fighting poverty through assisting children. At each of its four locations – Panama City, Davíd, Colón and Penonomé – the organization supports the youth population by providing daycare, education, vocational training, playgrounds and sports facilities. In the case that children do not have a home to stay at, the organization provides families for them to stay with. By providing these means of assistance, the organization hopes to decrease the child labor that is prevalent in the region as a result of extreme poverty. With education more accessible and families less financially-burdened, the organization provides crucial resources to improve poverty in both rural and urban areas of Panama.

SOS Children’s Villages International has been operating in the capital city of the Chiriquí province, Davíd, since 1999. Davíd is a city with 180,000 inhabitants and its population is mostly reliant on its agricultural sector. However, 34.6% of the population lives in poverty, over 4,000 children in the province engage in child labor and 58% do not attend school. The organization has helped the children in this province by providing 13 SOS houses for them to live in, assisting them with education and other basic necessities.

While poverty in Panama is a significant issue, it has managed to reduce it in recent years. With continued attention by Panama’s government and organizations like SOS Children’s Villages International, the country should be able to continue its progression in making poverty a thing of the past.

– Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr

Schools for Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a country with an abundant amount of natural resources located on the West Coast of Africa. From 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone endured a civil war that had detrimental effects on the country’s physical, social and economic infrastructure. After the civil war, Sierra Leone made significant progress in almost all sectors. Unfortunately, its education sector is still facing challenges. Organizations such as SOS Children’s’ Villages International and Schools for Salone, with the support of the Government of Sierra Leone, have stepped in to help better Sierra Leone’s education sector.

School Attendance Rates

Since the civil war, Sierra Leone has made great efforts in rebuilding destroyed, abandoned and damaged schools, but most schools are still in need of repairs. Furthermore, many schools lack sufficient learning materials or qualified teachers. However, Sierra Leone has seen an impressive percentage increase in primary school enrollment. Nearly 100 percent of both boys and girls attend primary school. There is only a 2 percent difference between boys and girls completing their education, boys at 69 percent, and girls at 67.

Although primary school attendance rates have continued to increase, school dropout rates for both boys and girls is an alarming concern. When it comes to secondary school, the numbers drop to 57 percent of both boys and girls attend lower secondary school. Unfortunately, that number drops even further to 29 percent for boys and 26 percent for girls when it comes to enrolling in upper secondary school. There is a 53 percent drop out rate of both boys and girls. There is even a bigger disparity in attendance rates and completion rates for both girls and boys in rural areas of Sierra Leone because of the lack of access to schooling.

Since 60 percent of people in Sierra Leone live under the poverty line, it makes it difficult for many households to afford school for their children. It was reported, in the 2015 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, that 35 percent of households don’t enroll their children in school due to lack of funds and about 28 percent don’t have a functioning school in their village or community. Building more schools for Sierra Leone, especially in rural areas, is important and vital for the future of the people and the country.

Organizations Making a Change

SOS Children’s Villages provides various programs to make sure that children have access to quality education and training to prepare them to become independent adults. Some of the things the programs have created and supported are improving child-centered quality education, creating inclusive learning environments, working with communities and authorities to build schools as well as providing speech therapy and after-school tutoring, mentoring and coaching for the youth. SOS Children’s Villages also runs the schools that it has established and built in order to ensure quality education. About 3,000 students have benefited from the organizations’ schools and programs in Sierra Leone.

In 2005, Schools for Salone began its mission to provide quality education to the people of Sierra Leone. Since 2005, the organization has built 22 primary school buildings and three school libraries. These facilities serve more than 6,500 children across Sierra Leone. Schools for Salone has also provided training opportunities for more than 150 teachers. Its main missions are to build schools, keep boys and girls in school and provide scholarship opportunities for the children of Sierra Leone.

The civil war in Sierra Leone had many repercussions and has affected all of the country’s sectors; however, it is most apparent in its education sector. Organizations such as SOS Children’s Villages and Schools for Salone have decided to help improve the education sector of the country. More schools for Sierra Leone could mean a brighter future for the country’s education sector, but more importantly, a brighter future for the children of Sierra Leone.

Jocelyn Aguilar
Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in CroatiaA member of the Balkan states, Croatia is located in on the northeastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. It is bordered by Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia- Herzegovina. The region has been experiencing a significant migrant crisis since 2015 following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. The population of 4.5 million is mainly composed of Croats, followed by Serbians at 12 percent.

Before 1991, Croatia was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Much of population was displaced by the war for independence between 1991 and 1995. Economic damage also resulted from the war and Croatia has been making a slow recovery since. About 11 percent of the population remains below the national poverty line. The question of how to help people in Croatia has been tackled by multiple nonprofit groups.

SOS Children’s Villages International is an organization that specializes in supporting vulnerable children in Croatia. Occasionally, some of the most disenfranchised children in Croatia do not receive proper care or support from government organizations responsible for protecting children. Abandoned or disenfranchised children that receive support from the ministries responsible for protecting children are often placed in institutional homes.

SOS Children’s Villages works in Lekenik and Ladimirevci, and in both locations, supports children by providing homes and education on how to live relatively independently. Most recently in 2015, the SOS Emergency Program in Croatia has responded by supporting children found unaccompanied, young people in general, mothers of children and pregnant women. In the last five years, the organization has started a kindergarten in their area of influence where children could be looked after. Child-friendly spaces were constructed as a result of flooding in 2014 as well.

Wondering how to help people in Croatia, and specifically, children? The SOS Children’s Villages International organization has established means of sponsoring an SOS village, as well as sponsoring an individual child. Sponsoring a village or a child provides orphaned children with a loving home and a more supportive community. This is a recurring financial donation occurring on a long-term basis.

Sponsoring a child also allows you to write back and forth and communicate with children in the SOS village. Meanwhile, one-time donations go towards providing emergency care, shelter, food as well as “Child Friendly Spaces.” Answers to frequently asked questions and more information can be found on the SOS Children’s Villages International website.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr