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Poverty Alleviation Projects

March 8, 2009

Dear Friends:

Welcome to your February 2009 report for The $10 Club.

While Panama is not near the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, there is significant poverty in this small Caribbean nation. More importantly, the income distribution is extremely inequitable. The national poverty level is about 30% (down from 37% a decade ago), but rural poverty is extremely high, estimated to account for close to three-quarters of the national poverty figure.

According to the World Bank, “Poverty in indigenous areas can only be described as abysmal.” The Bank estimates poverty among indigenous Panamanians running at 95%. Further, the Bank notes that “there is a strong correlation between poverty and child malnutrition in Panama. The poor (particularly the indigenous) have a lower life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality and malnutrition, and continue to die from infectious and communicable diseases despite Panama's epidemiological transitioning. The poor and indigenous have less access to health care, and are less likely to seek medical treatment in case of illness than the non-poor. Low access to health services bears a significant link to child malnutrition in Panama.”

Clearly, there is a need for targeted action in Panama. The Movimiento Campesino en Defensa del Río Cobre (MOCAMDERCO) has asked The $10 Club to support its project entitled “A Community Project to Promote Socio-Environmental Stewardship and Sustainable Development for Communities Benefiting from the Rio Cobre.”

MOCAMDERCO works with rural peasant communities to increase sustainable business initiatives, educate community members about the importance of environmental protection, conduct environmental restoration programs (such as reforestation efforts), and generally to improve the quality of life in the communities it serves. Recently, members of MOCAMDERCO have been campaigning to educate communities along the Rio Cobre about the impacts of a planned hydroelectric dam so that community members can take a more informed role in the public debate about the dam.

This month, 366 of us joined together to donate $3,660 to MOCAMDERCO to support their work throughout 15 communities in the region. Specifically, we will support local drawing and singing contests in school; meetings with communities to discuss reforestation projects; creation of the nurseries; meeting with local groups to discuss agricultural development; establishment of agricultural projects; a summer youth camp; and project evaluation meetings with the communities. Thank you.

Upon hearing of our support, Larissa Duarte, who has put her own University program on hold to organize the work of MOCAMDERCO, wrote: "We are very emotional because this will be the first small project we will be managing directly on the Rio Cobre…. Our idea is to create models for sustainable (alternative) development projects. Many thanks again."

The population living in the territory in which this project will be implemented is composed of many young people, the majority of whom come from rural farming families. In terms of economic conditions, the predominant economic status of these communities is extreme poverty, demonstrated by the absence of essential infrastructure such as electricity, running water, and adequate outhouses. The principal income for the families of these communities comes from subsistence agriculture and temporary employment as day-laborers. The community lives in rural housing which provides only the basic conditions and supplies only the basic necessities for each family group.

Ms. Duarte noted in her proposal: There are no programs geared toward benefiting this population and our idea is to create a small model to start incentivizing similar community initiatives in other regions. In addition, as peasants, we need to learn to explain that we need our lands and that we do not need to depend on private infrastructure that exploits our resources without generating real benefits to our communities. We are convinced that real sustainable development is tied to changing cultural patterns so that our communities begin thinking not only about today, but also about the future.

With our grant, the communities served will have:
  • A drawing contest benefitting 10 primary schools, which have a total matriculation of approximately 600 students. We will provide crayons, paper, and other items for the contest. The drawing contest theme is “The Cobre River and Me” and the singing festival is called “What the Youth Sings about the Cobre River.” With the drawings, the children will make calendars and postcards, which can ultimately be sold to help bring in funds to the community and promote the work.
  • An apiculture project. We will provide equipment, training, and work tools necessary to expand the apiculture projects along the banks of the Rio Cobre as a sustainable development alternative and an adequate use of the resources of the area.
  • A tree nursery and reforestation program. We will provide seeds, irrigation equipment; protective gear, wood and sacks for the nursery trees. The reforestation project will be for 3 communities in the towns of San Bartolo, Cerro de Plata, and El Rincón and be part of the “Planting Life with a Tree” campaign. Each training will be for at least 10 community members. The work groups will include 30 people (who in turn will benefit their respective communities).
  • A summer camp for one hundred kids of various ages. We will provide everything needed for the camp activities including a portable generator and multimedia projector. The camp will teach participants the value of natural resources and to promote community rights; will enrich rural cultural identity; create and/or reinforce a sense of community participation; and increase social actions which help conserve the environment.
  • Working alliances with local authorities, governmental institutions, and non-governmental organizations that promote cultural and environmental activities for the area’s youth.
According to UNICEF, in Panama, “over 50 per cent of children under 5 live in conditions of poverty, and nearly 30 per cent in conditions of extreme poverty. Most of these children come from indigenous areas.” Further, “Panama is one of the two Central American countries that have experienced a rise in chronic malnutrition of children under 5 in the last six years. Malnutrition affects about 19 per cent of this population. The problem is more serious among children living in areas with a predominantly indigenous population: more than half of all these children suffer from [being] underweight.”

Anything we can do to help the indigenous people of Panama is worthwhile in my opinion. And the fact that, with your help, we can narrowly tailor our grants to those people most in need, speaks volumes about the work we are doing together.

Saving the world, ten dollars at time,


PS. Please get your March contribution in right away if you haven’t already and make sure you share this report and all the work we do with your friends, family, and coworkers. With each new $10 Club member, someone else has their life enriched.

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