In May 2021, Fundación MAPFRE announced that it was increasing its aid package to Latin America by 10 million euros, to 45 million euros, to combat poverty and social exclusion. Such a substantial figure speaks of great aspirations together with small stories of struggle and success. Here are a few of them from the 18 countries in which they have taken place.
TEXT: ÁNGEL MARTOS
The 2020-2021 biennium has been extraordinary for everyone. Including for Fundación MAPFRE, which responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with an initial budget of 35 million euros, to which it then added a further 10 million euros to help the most disadvantaged groups: some 168,000 people in 18 countries, mainly in Latin America. “No pandemic is going to make us abandon our commitment to social progress”, stressed Antonio Huertas, President of Fundación MAPFRE, regarding the magnitude of the response carried out over that two-year period.
The projects have been implemented thanks to the help of 5,000 volunteers and in collaboration with 167 social entities, such as the food bank network Red de Banco de Alimentos de México, Fundación Once para América Latina (FOAL) and the Fundación Banco do Brasil, among others. The initiatives have been aimed at reducing malnutrition and social exclusion, as well as promoting employability, education and entrepreneurship. They have also been focused on providing healthcare materials. As Huertas points out, “When solidarity is set in motion, there is no stopping it.”
This article describes some specific ways in which Fundación MAPFRE’s presence is making a real difference for thousands of people throughout Latin America. Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Uruguay are some of the countries involved, but there have also been activities in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. Some to ensure basic levels of nutrients for infants and children up to 10 years of age. Others have been aimed at contributing to the economic recovery of the most vulnerable families, especially those headed by women. And to support continued education for the groups hardest hit by the pandemic.
There are 1000 critical days in the life of a newborn at risk of malnutrition. From conception to two years of age, infant malnutrition increases mortality caused by diseases and is responsible for 45% of cases, according to the World Health Organization. If it occurs in the early stages of life, “The alterations lead to a permanent and irreversible deterioration of the child’s intellectual development”, confirms Gabriela Sabio, medical director of Fundación Conin in Argentina. “In the medium term, it will result in slower growth, impaired psychomotor development and reduced learning capacity. And in the long term, there will be fewer years of schooling, lower intellectual performance, less human capital development and less capacity for economic growth (perpetuation of poverty).” It is for these compelling reasons that this organization, which prides itself on having been able to rescue 17,000 children from this circumstance in its 110 centers throughout the southern country, was founded in 1993. “Presumably, the health crisis, with its social and economic consequences, has aggravated the issues around access to health, as well as to food and physical activity for our children”, says Sabio. To combat this pandemic-related shift, Fundación MAPFRE and Fundación Conin created a food box to support 1274 children up to 10 years of age, diagnosed with malnutrition, from 77 Conin centers in Argentina, for a period of 3 months. This is the first time that the two organizations have collaborated. “The experience of working together was wonderful, given the human qualities of the people involved and the opportunity to bring a fundamental and valuable resource such as medication and toys to the most forgotten and remote parts of the country”, emphasizes Gabriela Sabio.
“Life in a favela is not easy because we know we will leave home every day, but we are not sure if we will return”, due to the armed violence in the streets. This is the testimony of Michelle, mother of four children and one of the 6,000 beneficiaries of the #PraFrente education, employability and internet access program, promoted by Fundación MAPFRE in partnership with the Instituto Gerando Falcões. These slum towns and the most depressed rural populations are the surroundings of these women who dream of creating microenterprises related to food, beauty or handicrafts. The goal? To achieve good financial stability in order to gain independence and support their families. “My society and family told me I would be nobody”, Michelle recalls, but today, after having gone through #PraFrente, “I prove them wrong with my space and my work.”
In this country, Fundación MAPFRE has also been working with Fundación Banco do Brasil, in the Brasileiros for Brazil program. The idea is to connect small rural producers, who find it difficult to market their produce due to the repercussions of the pandemic, with socially vulnerable families. “They provide food baskets made up of basic items, such as rice, beans, salt, oil, sugar, coffee, and some other basics, as well as organic food produced in a sustainable manner”, according to the organization from Rio de Janeiro. Since its launch in October 2021, the action has already benefited 15,600 smallholder families located in all regions of the country (more than 62,000 people) and distributed more than 5,500 tons of food to some 982,000 people.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have had to learn the meaning of many words and acronyms. ICU, intensive care unit, is one of these, and in each wave it has served as a dramatic indicator of the human and health disaster. In a country like Honduras, where the main public center, Hospital Escuela, serves 600,000 people yet the ICU has only 7 beds, for many patients this represented “a death sentence, as it prevented adequate emergency care”, explains Óscar Cárcamo, one of the people in charge of the institution. For this reason, Fundación MAPFRE’s action in this country focused on the construction of an intensive care ward with 12 beds, which already serves about 150 COVID-19 patients each month. The facility is known as the “Fundación MAPFRE Room”, and after the pandemic it will remain active for patients with other ailments.
The Amealco doll is a popular Otomí icon in Mexico. Dozens of craftswomen from this ethnic group support their families by making and selling them. This is the case of Lucía Nicolás, mother of a disabled child, who until 2021 could only produce 30 dolls. Today, thanks to the donation of a sewing machine, Lucia can make up to 150 dolls in the same time. “She sells them at better prices because of their finish and has even been able to receive orders via social media”, explains Gabriel Rivera, director of the NGO Altitud, which specializes in integral microcredits. In collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, 100 of these machines have been distributed to support 100 indigenous women in the State of Monterrey. The action reflects the popular Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; give him a rod and teach him to fish, and he will eat for the rest of his life.” For even greater impact, this action has been accompanied by training courses in textile skills and entrepreneurship. In Mexico there are 11 million households in which the head of the family is a woman and approximately 50% live in poverty due to the lack of job opportunities that allow them to both generate income and care for their families. “The textile sector has very poor conditions and is one of the industries with the lowest income for those who make the garments, so we believe that we can generate a more equitable and fairer textile industry for everyone”, explains Rivera.
The other milestone of Fundación MAPFRE’s action in Mexico was the donation made to the country’s food bank, the largest in its history. “With this investment we were able to support up to 27,000 Mexican families, benefiting more than 108,000 people” for the two-month period, explains Manuel Mendoza, national manager of Social Investment for the BAMX network. The organization regularly serves more than 2 million people throughout Mexico, thanks to its immense task of “rescuing” and distributing food that would otherwise be lost, in addition to donations from individuals and companies. “In Mexico, more than 24 million tons of food are wasted every year, and at BAMX we manage to rescue less than 1% of this. That is why we need economic support from all sectors, especially the private sector”, says Mendoza. Fundación MAPFRE’s significant donation has meant not only improving the nutritional health of thousands of people, but also “motivation and inspiration for our entire team, both because of the uncertain and unstable times brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and also because of the trust they placed in our organization.”
Seeing the before and after is one of the attractions of television programs dedicated to home renovations. But we get even greater satisfaction when we talk about the rehabilitation of a school kitchen in the Panamanian town of Hato Chami, where most people live on less than a dollar a day. “The old school kitchen was a very basic structure, consisting of wooden bars, a zinc roof, and a home-made open fireplace/stove…”, recalls Bastian Barnbeck, director of Fundación Waved, which carried out this project in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE. The new kitchen has the capacity to feed 1117 students and more than 60 teachers from the Ngäbe Bugle region, one of the five indigenous areas within Panama. Waved promotes the comprehensive education of students, using surfing as a tool for personal development.
Josefina was a 10-year-old cancer sufferer. During her long hospital treatment, being able to continue her schooling was a great help as it gave her a goal, and she knew that it made sense to keep taking care of herself. “She benefited by concentrating on her studies and not thinking about her illness all the time, as well as maintaining her bonds with friends and teachers”, recalls her mother, Florencia Krall. “She herself used to say, ‘I don’t want to paint, do crafts, or watch clowns any more, I want to study and do math exercises.'” Today she is no longer with us, but her experience as a hospitalized student inspired her parents to create the Fundación Humaniza Josefina. Their program Sanamos Aprendiendo (We Heal by Learning) has taken on even greater importance in times of pandemic and isolation, with the need for virtual platforms that allow online access to studies. “It is tailor-made for each child. The multidisciplinary team from the foundation forges a link with the child’s school”, explains Krall. Thanks to the support of Fundación MAPFRE, 50 children from the public Pereira Rossell pediatric hospital have had access to this program. “Today we are able to provide the service in this hospital thanks to the financial support of sponsoring companies, but it is very difficult to extend it to other hospitals due to the costs involved.”
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay
The need to join forces in response to the pandemic has also led to the first collaboration between Fundación MAPFRE and Fundación ONCE para la Solidaridad con las Personas Ciegas de América Latina (FOAL; ONCE Foundation for Solidarity with the Blind in Latin America). A project with an endowment of 100,000 euros that includes a three-month training program, internships in companies for another three months and job adaptation for the 86 people with disabilities selected from these 11 countries. “We believe that work is the best way to integrate a person into society and assure them their full rights”, says Daniel Restrepo, director of Social Action at Fundación MAPFRE, who also highlights how “People with disabilities have been among the groups that have suffered the most from the pandemic and restrictions.”