This year I learned what it feels like to read a list of prescriptions your tiny baby needs, and know right away, that some of the things you will not find, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much money you’re willing to pay. I also learned how other parents, who are not as lucky as I am, struggle to provide essentials they couldn’t find. How they managed to reuse diapers that are only to be used once. How they fed their babies things they shouldn’t be fed, because that’s all they could find.
Which is why all year I’ve kept an admiring eye on Comparte por una Vida, a Venezuelan NGO set up to provide public hospitals, foster homes and schools with baby formula, food and supplements for children.
I got turned onto them because I’m a father, but I couldn’t help but think like an economist. After contacting them to write this post, I had to ask the “what if” question.
“Any intervention is only worth it when it adds value, if it’s better than the alternative,” the economist who lives inside of me kept reminding me.
So when I talked with Marianela Fernández, the General Coordinator of Comparte por una Vida (CPUV), I asked her what would happen if they didn’t exist. If CPUV and the other NGOs that are giving supplies to children in public hospitals didn’t exist, what would they eat? What’s available in these children wards?
NGO that provides nutrition supplies for the children at 35 public hospitals, 10 foster homes, and daily meals for all the children in the municipal schools in El Hatillo.
“Whole milk, if anything. Sometimes,” she answered.
Here’s where the economist shut up, and the father took over.
Whole milk for many infants means nothing, because infants under one year old can’t digest it. And whole milk for children with severe allergies can be potentially life threatening. And whole milk may be harmful to the children who require special diets due to their illness and may need specific types of nutrition.
And because, even if a child can consume whole milk, a child needs so much more than that.
Comparte una Vida is seeking to provide the necessary alternatives. They’re a legally registered NGO that provides nutrition supplies for the children at 35 public hospitals, 10 foster homes, and daily meals for all the children in the municipal schools in El Hatillo.
This NGO was born on April 5, 2016, when its founder, Ana Isabel Otero, head of a digital media agency, read in the newspaper that the previous week 30 out of the 38 children in the public children’s hospital J.M. de los Ríos who required baby formula or special diets had gone to bed without getting any.
The next day a newspaper interview painted an even grimmer picture, with the Hospital director saying they had stopped receiving baby formula from the government in October 2015.
Otero visited the hospital, bringing along a few packages of baby formula. Right away, she appealed for donations on social media. Lines of people carrying supplies started forming outside her office.
What struck me the most about Comparte por una Vida was their success in channeling the need of the Venezuelan diaspora to help others back home. They’ve come together to help in a big way. While the foundation is raising funds online at a good pace, and they collect donations in-kind inside Venezuela as well, most of their supplies are collected abroad and sent to Venezuela. This is important since no matter how much money you have, it’s currently nearly impossible to find some of these important items in the country.
Soon after she appealed for donations in social media, lines of people carrying supplies started forming outside her office.
CPUV has 71 collection points in 7 countries (plus 10 in Venezuela), all managed by volunteers who are lending their businesses and homes. Shipments from places with lots of Venezuelan immigrants, like Mexico, can be of hundreds of boxes.
CPUV gives baby formula, whey protein and Pediasure to public hospitals all around the country. They work closely with the Nutrition and Baby Formula staff in each hospital, who prepare a list of their needs every week. All supplies are given directly to them, who keep it in locked rooms.
In each hospital visit, CPUV volunteers also make rounds in the children wards, taking the opportunity to distribute staples like baby food, diapers and diaper ointment to the parents and children. They also take the chance to talk to them and see what else they might need. The children generally eat the food immediately.
In the foster homes, apart from the formula, the also give basic food items, clothes, toys and school supplies.
And in the municipal schools in El Hatillo, they provide a meal for every child in both the morning and afternoon shifts, with the help of three restaurants and groups of volunteers. They keep providing meals during the summer vacations as well.
Comparte por una Vida takes donations in-kind in any of their collection points, which can be found on their website. You can also donate cash through their Gofundme page, buy from their wish list on Amazon, and those in Venezuela can donate in bolivars via bank transfer or credit card.