Prepara Familia: Kids and moms of the JM de los Rios Children’s Hospital find a voice

Watching Venezuela burn from far away, people naturally feel a need to help. In the first of a series of post, we vouch for Prepara Familia, an NGO doing amazing work helping the families of sick kids.

Eight years ago, members of a Catholic congregation came to the JM de los Rios Children’s Hospital offering spiritual guidance to kids and parents. Soon enough they found out that the needs were greater than they had expected, motivating them to help in ways well beyond prayer. A few years later, Prepara Familia was legally established as a non-governmental organization to support the Hospital’s patients and their mothers.

The terrible shape of Venezuela’s public health system is no secret to the world. Lack of all kinds of medicines, medical supplies, and even cleaning products are the rule in public hospitals. The situation is no different in the JM de los Ríos Hospital, the country’s main children’s hospital located in Caracas. Kids and their families come from every corner of Venezuela looking for treatment and care for their illnesses there. One of the common threads among most patients besides being from out of town is that they come from low-income households. Katherine Martinez, Prepara Familia’s founder and director, says that most are children of single moms who have no financial support, or who left their work and other children behind looking for treatment in Caracas.

Having to stay next to their children’s beds, adds Martinez, most moms have no way of lining up for baby formula, diapers, food or personal hygiene products, as shortages continue in Venezuela. And it is simply impossible for them to afford these products at four times its price in the black market. But worse, they can’t afford medical  exams or imaging not available at the Hospital as most of its equipment is completely broken or awaiting repair. These exams and imaging, including basic ones like blood and urine analyses and X-Rays, need to be performed at private diagnostic centers at costs that are beyond reach for most families. For instance, kidney patients in need of hemoculture, unavailable at the hospital, need to pay 18.000 BsF, or 44% of the monthly minimum wage.

Prepara Familia, along with its spiritual support, provides patients and their moms with essentials, including clothing, medical supplies, food, and beds for moms of hospitalized children, as well as money to pay for exams that they collect from donations. They have also hired numerous volunteers, mostly high school students who help organizing workshops for moms and recreational activities for the kids, including a monthly birthday party the last Friday of every month. But they have also set out to provide them with knowledge about their rights and how to demand action from health authorities.

Most moms have no way of lining up for baby formula, diapers, food or personal hygiene products, as shortages continue in Venezuela.

Martinez, who is an attorney with experience in dealing with violence against women cases, started workshops and training for moms and patients on empowerment and women and human rights. Today, many of these moms have taken to the streets to protest for their rights to health and proper treatment and care for their children.

A result of these protests was the reopening of the hospital’s kitchen, which had remained closed for several months. It still doesn’t have enough food, though, and makes a single menu for all patients regardless of their medical condition. Last year, several moms were invited to a hearing at the National Assembly where they talked to representatives about the many challenges faced at the hospital.

Martinez says that these moms, most of whom are extremely poor and have no way to support themselves and their sick children, have been forgotten by the State’s authorities. “We need to continue helping these moms and kids, and demanding responses from government officials,” she adds. Yet, Martinez exhibits a contagious optimism citing the support Prepara Familia has received in helping kids and moms and adding that despite the hospital’s severe situation, it is a blessing to be able to touch the lives of so many patients and families.

If you’d like to help Prepara Familia, here are contact details and fundraising page: