Panama has one of the fastest growing economies in the whole world, so on the surface it appears as if the country is doing well. However, it is also one of the five most unequal nations in all of Latin America and the fortunes of the rich and the poor diverge greatly.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Panama City, often referred to as “Little Miami”, which is viewed as one of the most developed capital cities in Central America. Here, wealth lives side by side with the biting poverty of the “El Chorrillo” and “Curundú” slums.
Life in the slums is extremely difficult. Residents live in very poor quality housing and have very little access to vital public services, like sanitation and healthcare. Everyday life is punctuated by extreme violence, with soaring homicide rates over the last decade mostly being linked to gang violence.
This violence makes growing up in the poorer parts of Panama City particularly hard, especially since those from poor backgrounds are the most likely recruits for gangs. These children get trapped in a violent culture of crime, and will often struggle to live normal lives even if they are able to leave gangs.
Life in poverty
Even for those children who have not been recruited by gangs, life in the slums is extremely difficult. Poor families often struggle to get by and rely on any sources of income, which can often mean that children as young as 5 are forced to work rather than go to school.
In the worst cases children will lose parental care altogether as a result of the stress that poverty puts on families. These children lose out on a proper childhood, which would have given them the foundation of a happy and fulfilling life.
Our work in Panama City
We opened our SOS Children's Village Panama on one of the first patches of land returned to the country by the United States in 1977. We have always taken a holistic approach to supporting children and their families and we will continue to expand our efforts in the future.
Families not gangs
Though we do not work directly to combat gang violence in the slums of Panama City, our family strengthening programme has a direct impact on those most at risk. Ensuring that children have full parental care and support is key to ensuring that they are not easy targets for recruitment by gangs.
With this goal in mind we offer parents from poor backgrounds advice and counselling to help them cope with their challenging situation. This enables parents to care for their children and create a loving and supportive family environment that will allow them to flourish in later life.
A loving home and a supportive upbringing
Every child deserves the chance to grow up in a supportive family environment, so when they can no longer stay with their biological parents they are able to find a home with one of our SOS families. Here, children are cared for by their loving SOS mothers, who are all trained at the nearby SOS vocational centre, and get all the benefits of family life.
When children from SOS families are old enough to leave home and begin their independent lives, they are able to draw on the support of the SOS youth programme. We offer them accommodation and advice as they make this transition and they are also able to access our different scholarship programmes, which enable them to continue their education.
Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face a life of crime. Help us provide support to families in need and a loving home to children left alone and sponsor a child today.