I. Nutrition Rooted in Feminism
1902: Beriberi claims the lives of thousands of Filipino children
Coming out of the Philippine-American War, hunger and disease spurred the rapid spread of beriberi among mothers. 800 out of every 1,000 newborns died before reaching 3 months old, and the Philippines reached the highest rate of infant mortality in the world before it was discovered that the tainted milk of infected mothers was causing these deaths. A group of feminists noted this alarming condition and decided to do something about it.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Trinidad Rizal, sister of our national hero joined the farsighted leader Concepcion Felix, and other educated women, to form Asociación Feminista Filipina in 1905, a trailblazing organization dedicated to the welfare of women and minors, with a special focus on infant mortality.
This led to the founding of Gota de Leche 1906, which saw the establishment of a milk station and dairy, a socialized distribution system of pasteurized cow’s milk, and the formulation of maternal nutrition and education programs as its first activities. It set up of a system of service delivery in communities, a template followed nationwide by puericulture centers and government social service facilities in the coming decades.
1907: La Protección de la Infancia, Inc. is formed
Finally, in 1907, La Protección de la Infancia, Inc., the country’s first independent charity organization was formed, gathering business and civic leaders, and medical doctors among its founding members. The founders’ ability to save the lives of hundreds of babies was so impressive that, during its inauguration, the highest government officials of the country described the founders of Gota de Leche as “nothing less than heroes.”
II. Milk in the Time of War
1935: Gota de Leche becomes a recipient of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office
Philippine and American officials rewarded Gota de Leche with annual funding through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes and the Community Chest. This support enabled Gota de Leche to establish the Manila Children’s Hospital and expand its services to disease prevention and treatment, benefiting thousands of poor children after the war.
1942-1945: Protecting infants during World War II
Not even World War II stopped Gota de Leche from serving children and mothers. Unnamed citizens donated services, utilities, land, furniture, dairy animals, and even fresh milk from their own backyards so that the feeding and nutritional services continued, uninterrupted.
1945: Philippine Congress allocates funds to Gota de Leche
In recognition of its work, the Philippine Congress and the City of Manila allocated government funds regularly to Gota de Leche, while Manila’s most prominent families and companies donated services and resources to keep it going.
III. Post-war Puericulture
1950: Manila Children’s Hospital is established
Gota de Leche’s then-President, Natividad Almeda-Lopez, established the first pediatric hospital in the country, with free medical services for up to five thousand children each year in its first 10 years.
1953: Doctors of Gota de Leche discover H-Fever
The first to discover hemorrhagic fever were Manila Children’s Hospital doctors Florencio Quintos and Lino Ed. Lim among their young patients. Because of this medical breakthrough, WHO sponsored the First Asian Medical Congress in Singapore in 1958.
1974: Manila Children’s and Lying-in Hospital is built
When it opened Manila Children’s and Lying-in Hospital in 1974, Gota de Leche began helping mothers by providing obstetric and gynecological as well as family planning services, and continued to do so for 25 more years.
IV. Still Spreading the Milk of Human Kindness
Gota de Leche continues to provide Nutrition Assistance to indigent children through distribution of milk, food and supplements to qualified 3-to-7 year-olds. This helps families manage the health of their malnourished children so that they may be able to reach and sustain normal growth. Paediatricians regularly monitor the growth and address the immediate medical needs of its beneficiaries.
Other services are rendered in cooperation with Gota de Leche’s institutional partners, and may range from offering free dental services or imparting information on common ailments, to simply playing educational games with the children.
2003: The Gota building is declared a National Heritage Site
The remarkable historical legacy of Gota de Leche is symbolized by the Gota de Leche Building, a declared national heritage site. Conservation efforts of Gota de Leche’s duty-bearers resulted in the citation by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards in 2003. This was further supported with grants from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.
Gota de Leche supports nursing mothers of malnourished younger children through the Breast Milk and Brown Rice program, ensuring access to complementary food rations for both mother and child. Volunteers come and provide information on diet and keeping healthy to their parents.
Currently: Gota de Leche sets up relief efforts for survivors of Typhoon Yolanda
In these trying times, Gota de Leche has continued to take up the responsibility to help mothers and children in the Yolanda devastated areas in Central Philippines. It has also opened its doors, literally, to those displaced by the typhoon.