Estefan visits rural school prior to concert


VALLE DEL SOL, Panama -- Singer Gloria Estefan visited a dirt-floored, open-walled rural school in Panama prior to a benefit concert aimed at raising money to replace such schools with modern facilities.

The school's students presented the Cuban-American diva with flowers and small Panamanian and Cuban flags on Monday, and sang a song for her.

"The beautiful thing is to see that things are really changing in the lives of these children," Estefan said. "I think the parents are doing an incredible job in helping their children. ... God willing, things will change even more."

Estefan was accompanied by her husband, Emilio Estefan, and Panamanian first lady Vivian de Torrijos in the visit to the school in Valle del Sol, just west of Panama City.

De Torrijos praised Estefan for supporting an education program organized by the first lady to upgrade Panama's so-called ranch schools, which often have nothing more than a teacher or two, a blackboard and chairs. An estimated 25,000 children attend such schools.

Teacher Veronica Cubilla said running a school for 31 children aged 4 to 6 in such conditions is a challenge.

"It is a problem when it rains," Cubilla said. "We all have to run to the center of the room to avoiding getting wet."