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At a glance: Panama

Thousands of children receive life-changing shoes in Panama

© UNICEF Panama/2009/Ostrander
Children in Narganá Island, Kuna Yala territory, run through about in their new pair of shoes, thanks to the SolesUnited Foundation and UNICEF.

By Marti Ostrander

PANAMA CITY, Panama, 20 March 2009 –  More than 30,000 school-age boys and girls in the indigenous areas of the Ngobe Buglé, Emberá-Wounáan and Kuna Yala, as well as in the Darien province and other emergency-declared areas, received a pair of Crocs footwear as a health promotion intervention, aimed at reducing skin infections, fungus growth and other infectious diseases linked to bare feet.

SolesUnited Foundation, the philanthropic branch of Crocs, in partnership with UNICEF, donated the shoes to benefit the children in the most remote areas of the country, where poverty strikes more than 90 per cent of the children, and more than 50 per cent suffer from chronic malnourishment.

This ground-breaking, first-time collaboration between Crocs and UNICEF was supported by the Panamanian Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education.

Along with the pairs of Crocs, families – and the communities who helped organize the distribution – also received information in their own language on the importance of  wearing shoes to prevent diseases and infections. This massive distribution of footwear took place right before the start of the school year so that the children could arrive to the first day of classes in their colourful new shoes. 

Opening school doors

© UNICEF Panama/2009/Ostrander
A boy in the community of El Real, in Darien, proudly holds his new pair of Crocs.

In addition, the Panamanian Minister of Education also announced that Crocs footwear will be fully accepted and welcomed as part of the school uniform in remote and rural areas.  This announcement opens the door to thousands of children who were previously excluded from schools for lack of shoes.

One such child is José Luis Montezuma, 13, who used to work in agricultural plantations in the highlands of Chiriquí. Since he was 8, he worked 10-hour days carrying heavy loads of coffee, onions or tomatoes, to help his mother feed his other 5 siblings, and to be able to afford school supplies. But with no money left over for shoes, he often had to go barefoot.

“I am very happy I am getting a pair of shoes that lasts. They protect my feet from sickness,” he said.

Thanks to the simple gift of shoes, José can now go to school, where he wants to study to be a doctor or an engineer.

Simple solutions to child health

UNICEF Representative in Panama Mark Connolly said this was a great example of how the private sector, UNICEF, the Government and the community can work together to make a difference.

© UNICEF Panama/2009/Ostrander
A boy in Vista Alegre, in the Emberá Wounáan territory, back flips in his new pair of shoes into the Tuira River.

“All the key players partnered so that 30,000 boys and girls would be healthier, so they can have a long-lasting pair of shoes to prevent parasites, infections and other diseases, and to keep them in school,” he said.

“Through the SolesUnited programme, I have been exposed to the reality of what having a pair of shoes means,” said SolesUnited Director Melissa Koester. “Something this simple can help keep a child healthy, and we are thrilled to partner with UNICEF to provide Crocs shoes to families in impoverished areas of Panama.”



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