Panama: Boxing to a better life
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
PANAMA CITY – Eusebio Pedroza, a former world boxing champion, started punching at age 9 in a local gym. But he hid it from his parents for a decade, sneaking off to Friday night fights with his trainer uncle, until he made it professional. “They wanted me to study,” he says.
These days kids have nothing to hide – as boxing is making a comeback across Panama. In April, the government inaugurated the Roberto Duran arena, a $16.5 million renovation expected to attract world-class title events. Panama currently boasts three world champions – no small number considering the country’s population of 3 million.
It is in this context that Mr. Pedroza has set up a nongovernmental organization to help the kids in the same hardscrabble neighborhood where he grew up shining shoes and selling candy on the streets as a small boy.
The two-year old Association for Organic Human Development helps in all kinds of ways: with tutoring or after-school activities to steer boys away from gangs and girls from prostitution. Boxing is just a piece of it, but one that Pedroza is willing to teach.
“Boxing is more than just an art, it is defense for an individual and it teaches discipline,” he says. But education is what he tries to underscore. “Education is always the priority,” he says.
And he teaches by example. He might not have the celebrity status of Roberto Duran, but Pedroza has an advanced degree, has served in public office, and continues to work in a variety of capacities for the government.