Brazilian, Dr. Zilda Arns Neumann, pediatrician and founder of Children’s Pastoral and Pastoral Care of the Elderly, was among those killed in the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Founder and director of one of Brazils most important NGOs, Zilda Arns' work focused on the monitoring of infants, children, and pregnant women. Her work resulted in a sharp decrease in infant mortality, both in Brazil and around the world. It was on just such a mission that she would end her life helping others in Haiti yesterday. Born in 1934 in Santa Catarina, Brazil, Dr. Zilda Arns was the mother of five chidren (four of whom survive her), and eight grandchildren. She was the sister of Dom Pauolo Evaristo Arns and Chrysostom.
Dedicated to helping children and women who struggle with extreme poverty and difficulties that go along with that, Zilda Arns coordinated over 155, 000 volunteers in Brazil with the Pastoral of the Child organization. When asked once if she thought she had a struggle breaking through barriers in the labor market because of her gender, she described never wanting gender to make a difference. She noted however, that she was passed over for higher and more important positions early in her career while working in Curitiba. She remarked, “Perhaps men have some limitations to find the capacity of women.”
Nominated for a Nobel Peace prize last year, Zilda Arns together with her brother, Monsignor Pauolo, united the strength of the Church with the resources and backing of UNICEF to found the Pastoral of the Children in 1982. Originally, the first volunteers to help were teachers. After seeing the work of the organization, other professionals joined and provided necessary skills, expertise, and links to the community. When asked why most volunteers were women, she had the following to say:
“I think the main reason is the fact that women are more daring. When she believes in a cause, is not thinking "will this even work?". She plays the head, bears the risks and believes that will work. Now the man is on the fence and, if things go wrong, it ends up going well. Scientifically, the woman has a more developed intelligence diffuse. She sees a wider horizon. In the Pastoral, where we find examples of men in the community who question the validity of his wife was working as a volunteer when it should be working, they said, to get more money for the family. But the response of these women is: "You do not see that today I am a doctor, I learn many wonderful things and I am respected in the community?". The husband often only see the money, but the woman sees more to be gained.” (from Entrevistas, an article by Diego Dreyer).
The Pastoral’s work is responsible for helping lower the infant mortality rate from 35% to 13% in Brazil according to UNICEF’s records. Dr. Arns said, “When you start something that meets a need, the prospect of success is greater. And it also has no boundaries.” In light of that, Dr. Arns took the Pastoral for Children to a number of places where the needs are great. She organized the Pastoral in Angola in 1987 with 17 volunteers. It has since grown to include 800 community leaders serving more than 4 million children and pregnant women. Focusing their work on meeting the needs of the community, in Angola the Pastoral for Children their work is doing a lot to give people a sense of power and accomplishment after 25 years of civil war. The work there includes garbage collection and waste management and sorting for recycling. The Pastoral also works to improve literacy, which is an important aspect of the Pastoral’s program, Peace Begins at Home. Teaching community leaders to listen to the real needs of the people and to work together, Dr. Arns has seen the religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim communities work together for the good of the children and families. Her work also involves working with families to alleviate violence in the homes and encourage better communication.
The Children’s Pastoral is growing in East Timor, the Phillipines, Mozambique, Paraguay, Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and now we know, Haiti. As I write this article to call attention to the loss of this great woman, I am not yet aware of what work she was doing in Haiti. It is clear however, that the needs are now greater than ever in Haiti for the work of the Children’s Pastoral. Dr Zilda Arns had a dream that she put into action, and she said that her hope for the future. Noting that the Children’s Pastoral has been organized around a decentralized, community/family based model, Dr. Arns had been working toward improving the work and results of the Children’s Pastoral. In her own words, these are some of the goals she had laid out for the future of the Pastoral. She was set to help launch a new step towards meeting these goals in March:
I think we still need to improve. For example, there could be more students working with the Pastoral somehow literate or helping on the day of weight. Law Students could assist in small claims, and the Architecture and Urbanism, to help reorder the slums, visiting communities and seeing what needs to be done. Social responsibility must be well planned so that students enjoy and to become real life lessons. Last year, the UN Summit for Children and Adolescents, suggested that schools give emphasis to both the mathematics and the lessons of citizenship and volunteering for, from small, students receive training more humane and responsible.
For the benefit of our local Brazilian population:
mas acredito que ainda precisamos melhorar. Por exemplo: poderia haver mais estudantes trabalhando com uma pastoral de alguma forma, Alfabetizando ou ajudando no Dia do Peso. Estudantes de Direito Poderiam auxiliar em pequenas causas, e os de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, ajudar um Reordenar como favelas, visitando as comunidades e vendo o que precisa ser feito. A responsabilidade social tem de ser bem planejada para que os alunos gostem e para que se tornem verdadeiras lições de vida. No ano passado, a ONU, na Cúpula para a Infância e Adolescência, sugeriu que as escolas dessem ênfase tanto à Matemática quanto às lições de cidadania e voluntariado para que, desde pequeno, o estudante receba uma formação mais humana e responsável.
Dr. Zilda Arns is just one of many whose lives were taken during the devastating earthquake in Haiti during this January, 2010. Many stories remain to be told, and much needs to be done to help the people, men, women, and children of Haiti. With Dr. Zilda Arns’ loss, we need to join with others to continue helping one another and recognizing the ongoing needs brought on by human and natural disasters. We need to help pick one another up and provide the comfort, healing, and support that is so vitally needed.