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Country Overview: UNV in Panama

01 September 2000

BONN: Panama has one of the most stable and prosperous economies in Central America. Owing to revenue from the Panama Canal, a banking sector using the US dollar as legal tender and the Colon Free Trade Zone, Panama enjoys a relatively high per capita income of $2,590. About 45 per cent of the country's 2.8 million people lives in poverty, however, with 20 per cent in extreme poverty.

The poorest of the poor live in rural areas. Among the peasant poor, the worst living conditions are those of the indigenous people, such as the Ngobes. This ethnic group of about 70,000 people inhabits mostly mountainous and remote regions in western Panama and has its own language and traditions. They have little access to education as well as health care. But now they are benefiting from a project developed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Ministry for the Youth, Women, Children And Family. The United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) is also taking part on this project through a Spanish volunteer doctor with experience in tropical regions.

This UNV specialist and his collaborators focus on promoting sexual health and preventing domestic violence. They started the programme in the Ngobe Reservation in January 1999 with an information campaign on sexual illnesses and care. They also provide medical attention and coordinate the efforts of local community actors.

Under a regional project in Central America and the Dominican Republic, three UNV specialists -- one Costa Rican and two nationals -- began their work to support local implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN Volunteers started their work in Panama in August 1999 with the collaboration of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The UN volunteers provide technical expertise in drafting and implementing national conventions on children, promote interagency coordination and exchange of experience, establish training courses and workshops and carry out civic education.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)