Ngäbe-Buglé’s Women and Children

Snapshot of a group of Ngäbe-Buglé’s women and children filling in plastic bags with dirt for a reforestation program sponsored by the United Nations in Altos de Chamí in the Province of Chiriquí, Republic of Panama. Photographer unknown.

During the period 1990-1994, I worked for the Panama government as Chief Internal Auditor for the Ministry of Economics and Planning (MIPPE)  and the Panama Bureau of Tourism (IPAT).  Those five years were the most productive years of my life.  I was putting in more than eighteen hours a day trying to get the country back on its feet after the invasion of U.S. military forces known as “Just Cause”.

The United Nations played an important part in the reconstruction of the country during the Guillermo Endara’s Administration.  The country was in shambles and needed all the international help it could get.  Nobody was lending money to Panama.  We were not reliable a country that would honor its obligations.  The credit window was closed by the World’s Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB),  and the European Union’s Central Bank.  We had no alternative but to live within our own cash-strapped economy.

The then Minister of Economics and Planning, Guillermo “Billy” Ford, asked me if I could supervise a community development program known as “Programa Mundial de Alimentos—PMA” (World Food Program) sponsored by the United Nations.  The UN would provide basic foods to Panama in exchange for community development.  The donated food consisted of corn, rice, lentils, sardines, flour, cooking oil, and powder milk.

Several communities were selected for this program based on their level of poverty.  They would engage in a reforestation program by planting barren hills with small pine trees imported from Honduras.  Instead of paying them with cash, they were paid with food based on a special diet coordinated by the Ministry of Health.  We avoided the use of money, since our experience indicated that cash easily flowed its way to the cantinas of the area.  Alcoholism amongst the Ngäbe-Buglé’s Indians is very high.

The following government entities participated in the program:

  • Ministry of Economic and Planning
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Education
  • Ministry of Labor
  • Panama Institute of Credit Unions – IPACOOP

It was a wonderful project which I enjoyed immensely.  During the weekends, I visited the communities distributing food, medicines and agricultural accessories.  The communities were warm and friendly and wishful to learn.  During the next few days I will insert pictures of this extraordinary program.  My wife found the photographs inside an old box while cleaning a closet.  I thought they were lost.

One of the many faces of the Ngäbe-Buglé’s Indians who participated in the U.N. world relief program. The face of the woman in the photograph expresses a deep message of human suffering. Photographer unknown.

2 thoughts on “Ngäbe-Buglé’s Women and Children”

  1. What a wonderful post, and a fascinating glimpse into your prior work. I’ll be lazy and just ask rather than going digging – were these Indians the same who were protesting – I believe in Chiriqui province – over the water rights?

    It’s no wonder you post with such pride about the development of the country. I didn’t realize that so many of its troubles were so recent. It seems very long ago, indeed – though perhaps not to you. 😉

  2. Hello Linda:

    Roger that. These are the same Indians that have been blocking the building of new electrical projects in Chiriquí en Bocas del Toro. They are opposed to progress and have a very rudimentary culture. Electricity means nothing to them.

    We tried very hard to change their culture, but it was not an easy task. You will see what we did with these Indians in future blog posts.

    Warm Regards,


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