Is It Possible to Change the Cycle of Poverty in Brazil?

When a committed group of people gathers around a meaningful cause, their passion and hard work can improve the lives of thousands. I served as a general practitioner for 20 years at the Hospital da Lagoa, a public hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During this time, I encountered many difficult patient situations that showed me our work at the hospital had limits.

I remember a two year old who was admitted to the hospital for an amputation of his hand due to necrosis, which is when most of the cells die due to an injury or infection. One of my duties was to help the child and his mother understand that the medical procedure was absolutely necessary for his survival.

To my surprise, the mother said, "Dr. Vera, I understand that my son has to have his hand amputated, but when he is released from the hospital, we will go back to begging in the streets, because I have nothing. I used to work and live in a family's house, but because of all the work days I missed due to my son's illness; I lost my job and my home."

Powerless to ameliorate her dire circumstances, I started to think about the limitations, and the opportunities, of our work as doctors.

The key to really addressing the obstacles faced by these children and their mothers is targeting their dismal living conditions and acknowledging that the root cause of the disease is their extreme poverty. I learned that it was necessary to go beyond hospital walls and create an organization that addressed the family's biopsychosocial health. My intention was to supplement contemporary health care to offer a greater chance of success for the work done in the hospital.

It was with this vision that we founded the Associação Saúde Criança ("Child Health Association"), in 1991.

In the beginning we had close to nothing. We started from scratch in a stable at Parque Lage, a park in Rio de Janeiro, with only 10 volunteers and a few employees. We were a small group with no experience in social organization or sustainable development, but we had a resolute will to break the cycle in which the children and their families were trapped.

By listening to the people that we serve and with the help of more than 500 volunteers, numerous employees and 5000 hours of pro bono work done by international consulting firm McKinsey; we have created a methodology called the Plano Ação Familiar, or the "Family Action Plan.''

On average it takes two years for a family to achieve self-sufficiency. We work with the whole family in a comprehensive and integrated way in five critical areas: health, vocational training, housing, education and citizenship. Most of the families are comprised of young single mothers, each with three or four children. Poverty is a multidimensional problem, and our model for families to emerge from extreme poverty is successful because of our holistic and comprehensive approach. All of the families' information and progress toward their goals is regularly assessed and recorded in our database. In our program, family income increased by an average of 35% and number of days in the hospital decreased by more then 60%.

Now you can help women and children through our work. Your donation will go twice as far in a one-to-one matching donation campaign that Johnson & Johnson is supporting through Catapult.org. Catapult and Johnson & Johnson share our passion for helping women and girls in need and by contributing even the smallest amount, we can help these women learn the skills to improve their lives.

In the words of Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize: "The Associação Saúde Criança is a powerful method for inclusion of the poor." Since the creation of Associação Saúde Criança, we have transformed the lives of more than 43,000 people. The women whom we work with no longer face the difficulty of having to choose between buying medicines and feeding their families.

Catapult is where you can get involved in empowering women and girls. Launched in October 2012, Catapult is the first online funding site dedicated specifically to advancing gender equality, and already features 70 projects in more than 30 countries.

Catapult and Johnson & Johnson have teamed up to double your impact this giving season. Johnson & Johnson is supporting a matching gifts donation to their partners on Catapult-up to $50,000.