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Nestled on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena is a fairy tale city with cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes, and gorgeous colonial architecture. Tourists come here to wander around the historic old town and bask on white sand beaches. But underneath the city’s colorful exterior is a darker story waiting to be told: that of teenage mothers like Vanessa, who desperately needed help. The life of her severely malnourished baby, Angel, was hanging by a thread.
World of Children Honoree Catalina Escobar started the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation (JuanFe) in 2001 after her own one-year-old son passed away. She became determined to disrupt the status quo in Cartagena, where about 30 percent of new mothers were teenagers, and the infant mortality rate was double the national average.
“Given these statistics, our mission was set with two clear commitments: to significantly reduce preventable infant mortality and to address what was undoubtedly contributing to high infant mortality, specifically teen pregnancy,” wrote Catalina on the Huffington Post.
Soon after starting JuanFe, Catalina established a state-of-the-art intensive care unit to tackle the Foundation’s first goal: reduce preventable infant mortality rates. It worked. Seven years later, the city’s infant mortality rate had dropped by 81 percent.
Angel is one of the babies who benefited from JuanFe’s program. As soon as he arrived, he was enrolled in an intensive nutrition program. For the first three months, he was fed with a rich, nutritious milk called S-6 and received a daily multivitamin. After about a year, JuanFe’s team started feeding Angel cereal and Promil Gold milk, which is recommended for six-month-olds who require a large amount of energy and nutrients. As Angel grew, JuanFe continued to keep a close eye on his diet and brought him in for regular check ups. Thanks to JuanFe, Angel is now a healthy four-year-old boy.
The second part of Catalina’s mission – to reduce teen pregnancy – was much more difficult to address. After several years of trial and error, Catalina realized that she couldn’t change the cultural and economic problems facing these young girls; instead, she needed to provide a holistic launchpad that empowered them to rise above these barriers and break the cycle of poverty.
“At JuanFe, these girls are given respect, dignity, opportunities and enriching tools of empowerment,” Catalina wrote.
Today, JuanFe offers long-term, comprehensive health care, nutrition, education, and emotional and psychological support for teenage mothers, like Vanessa, so they can learn the skills and confidence they need to lead productive careers and provide for their families.
Be a hero for a child today. For just $100, you can provide nutritious formula and a strong, healthy foundation for 13 babies born to teenage mothers in Colombia. Learn more >>