“When you bury your own son you start being a part of those women’s souls.” – Catalina Escobar
One of my favorite year-end lists is the CNN Hero project that highlights many people doing extraordinary things that I may not have otherwise known about. This was certainly the case for Catalina Escobar of Cartagena, Colombia.
Escobar was volunteering her time at a local hospital in the town of Cartagena when a 12-day-old boy died in her arms. This was heartbreaking enough, but when she discovered his passing could have been prevented with a mere $30 she had in her pocket it was a situation she found untenable.
Less than one week later, Escobar suffered her own personal tragedy as her precious 14-month-old son, Juan Philipe, lost his life in a horrific accident as he fell from the balcony at her home. Her grief led her to action as she decided that she was going to do something about the prolific loss of infant life in her town. The successful businesswoman sold her international trading company and dedicated her life to impoverished children and their majoritably teenaged mothers.
The facility that she volunteered at lost an average of one infant a day due to being underfunded and overcrowded. Escobar also recognized that upwards of 70% of the mothers the facility was working with were between the ages of 14-16. Most of these young mothers lived in growing slums outside of Catalina. Many were also the victims of sexual abuse and caught in a seemingly unending cycle of poverty.
At first, Escobar focused on lowering the infant mortality rate at the hospital where she’d volunteered. It was more than double the national average. She built a state-of-the-art neo-natal unit, brought in experts to train the clinic’s staff and established a program to cover the medical costs for babies born to impoverished mothers. Five years later, the rate of infant deaths at the hospital had dropped 67%.
Here is the Heroes tribute video for Catalina:
Escobar established the Juan Philipe Gomez Escobar Foundation, named after her late son, and over the last decade it’s credited with having saved over 2,000 babies and has grown to provide training, counseling and education for thousands of teenage mothers. As you might imagine, Catalina is pleased with her accomplishments but burns passionately to do more.
“I’m so passionate about it because we are seeing progress. … We are changing the lives of these girls. I wake up every single morning thinking, ‘What else can I do to help them?’ “
One of her recent projects is an early education center where young mothers can bring their children she’s helped save so that they can have the much-needed time to better their lives.