Boots on the ground

After two devastating hurricanes hit Central America, Kiwanians step in to help.

By Wendy Rose Gould

On November 3, 2020, the devastating Category 4 Hurricane Eta pummeled Central America. Two weeks later, while communities were still reeling and literally picking up the pieces around them, Hurricane Iota, a Category 5 storm, came through. 

The storms killed an estimated 270 people and left tens of thousands displaced. Homes, cherished mementos, important belongings and agricultural land were damaged. Throughout Panama, which wasn’t directly affected, Kiwanis clubs mobilized quickly to help. 

The clubs coordinated the receipt and delivery of donations — including food, diapers, blankets, clothing and face masks — for the deeply damaged provinces of Chiriquí and Veraguas. Club Kiwanis Metropolitano of Panama City prioritized rubber boots. 

“After the hurricane, we sent 250 boots to Chiriquí, which were received by the province’s firefighters,” says Lanny Lowe, the club’s public relations director. “Then, through a video, Colonel Gonzalo Chan, the commander first chief of Chiriqui Regional Zone, thanked us and requested additional boots for their personnel and volunteers.” 

Another organization, the National System for Civil Protection, learned of the club’s donation and also requested rubber boots. 

The footwear proved vital to rescuers who had to navigate the muddy terrain while traversing the area to reach victims. Many communities had not received any aid at all, including food and water, because flooding and mudslides had made them inaccessible. The only way to reach them was through improvised trail paths that required proper footwear. 

News spread, and from there the club effort ballooned into a communitywide mission. People across the country sent cash donations, and along with some prior fundraising, the club allocated a total of US$1,132 to the effort. An additional 236 boots were purchased for a total of 486. 

“Now Chiriquí’s emergency relief teams are equipped with boots to not only provide basic assistance, but also to give hope to those in need,” says Lowe. 

Recovery is ongoing, but Lowe says that many roads and bridges have been rebuilt. Additionally, the government is buying and dispersing land to those who were hit by the hurricanes, helping them avoid living in areas susceptible to flooding.


This story originally appeared in the June/July 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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