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UNICEF Executive Board

Executive Board honours First Lady of Panama for work with disabled children

© UNICEF/HQ08-0115/Markisz
At UNICEF’s Executive Board meeting on 31 January, Executive Director Ann M. Veneman presents Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, First Lady of Panama, with a plaque in honour of her work with disabled children.

By Anwulika Okafor 

NEW YORK, USA, 1 February 2008 – Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, First Lady of the United States Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush were on hand yesterday – day three of the UNICEF Executive Board’s first regular session of 2008 – to honour the First Lady of Panama, Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, for her work with people with disabilities.

“It is a year since the Convention on the Human Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities was agreed by the UN General Assembly,” said Executive Board President Anders Lidén. “This Convention is key to improve the lives and protect the rights of millions of excluded and hidden-away children. At this special event, the Executive Board will hear the challenges and progress made in Latin America and the Caribbean in advancing … this agenda, and how UNICEF can support, mobilize, advocate and advance this cause.”

The event occurred at the end of a full day of UNICEF board talks at UN headquarters. Mr. Lidén, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN, presided over the session.

Topics under discussion ranged from the plight of children affected by war to the means by which UNICEF evaluates its programmes. The meeting also featured the presentation of financial pledges from member countries to help further UNICEF’s ongoing work.

© UNICEF/HQ08-0111/Markisz
At the UNICEF Executive Board, Panamanian President Martin Torrijos joined First Lady of the United States Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush, who was an intern at the UNICEF regional office in Panama.

Advocate for economic development

“There are 650 million disabled people in the world, 85 million of which live in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Ms. Fernandez de Torrijos said during an impassioned statement to the board. “Two hundred million of them live in poverty or extreme poverty, and of these only 2 per cent receive care adequate for their needs.”

Ms. Fernandez de Torrijos pointed out that disabled people living in her region lack access to socio-economic development. More than 80 per cent of people with disabilities in Latin America are unemployed, limiting their chances to break free from the cycle of poverty. 

“This negatively affects the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families and it equally hinders the economic development of our region,” she added.

‘A Journey of Hope’

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman presented Ms. Fernandez de Torrijos with a plaque recognizing her work as an advocate for the human rights and dignity of people with disabilities and families.

Ms. Veneman also made special mention of Jenna Bush’s work as a volunteer with UNICEF programmes serving communities in Latin America. Based on her experiences, Ms. Bush went on to write ‘Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope’ – a personal account of a girl who struggles to break free from a vicious cycle of abuse, poverty and illness.





31 January 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on the Executive Board event honouring the First Lady of Panama.
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