Then in October 2000, when she was 42 years old, her life changed in one week. One day she found herself in the maternity ward of the largest hospital in Cartagena as a volunteer. In her arm was a terribly sick 12-year-old boy. The boy soon died in her arms. To her shock she learnt later that the death was completely preventable.
“His mother needed $30 that I had in my pocket. I will never forget that,” she said. “It was a preventable death.”
In just a few days another more personal shock awaited Catalina. Her 16-month-old son fell from the balcony of her home and died. She was overwhelmed by grief.
“It was agony,” said Escobar. “I didn’t want any mother to feel the same pain, so … I took action.”
She sold her business and became a full time volunteer. She started a foundation in the name of her son. Using her entrepreneurial skills she has been able to forge a three-way partnership between her foundation, public hospitals, and the private sector. She started her work first in the dilapidated neo-natal unit of a public hospital serving the poorest neighborhoods. Within the first 5 years she was able to bring down infant mortality by 67%.
But soon she realized that the children would go back to the slums and the cycle of poverty would continue. She then started working with teen mothers, providing them with education and skills to break out of the cycle of poverty. Since she started she has helped save thousands of children and is now working with over 2000 teen mothers providing them education and counseling. Her work has not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized as an Ashoka Fellow. This allows her work to be documented so that others can replicate it. In 2012 CNN recognized her as a CNN Hero and her foundation will get a $50,000 award. If you want to get involved you can start with her foundation’s website.
Related and credits:
Catalina Escobar: CNN Hero.
You-tube video released by CNN on Catalina Escobar