Brazil Institute Mourns the Death of Dr. Zilda Arns

Jan 13, 2010

It is with sorrow that the Brazil Institute and the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars learned this morning about the tragic death of Dr. Zilda Arns Neumann in the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on Tuesday. The sad news was confirmed by her brother, Paulo Evaristo Arns, the former cardinal of São Paulo, and by the Brazilian government. Dr. Arns was 75. "She died in the cause she has always believed," said Cardinal Arns in a statement. According to news reports, 14 Brazilian soldiers of the U.N. mission in Haiti are also among the dead.

"Doutora Zilda, as she was affectionately known in Brazil, became a giant in the field of children's public health by developing an innovative, practical and inexpensive method of basic care service for infants anchored on a deep sense of human solidarity," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute. "She did the work of the angels. Her legacy will endure, not least in the lives of the countless people the Pastoral cared for in the past quarter century."

A Brazilian pediatrician and Catholic humanitarian, Dr. Arns was the founder of Pastoral of the Child (Pastoral da Criança), one of Brazil's most admired non-governmental organizations that provides public health services to poor families. For her work, which has been replicated in more than a dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, the Wilson Center honored Dr. Arns with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service - one of the national and international prizes she proudly exhibited at the Pastoral headquarters in Curitiba, Southern Brazil.

In her acceptance speech at the Woodrow Wilson Awards dinner, held in São Paulo on Oct.23, 2007, Dr. Arns explained the basis of her work: "Children are seeds of peace or violence for the future, depending on how they are treated and encouraged. Thus, their full development is largely related to the education of their families and the communities in which they live. They need to grow up feeling love and respect for all. The community networks of organized solidarity in defense of poor children, to expand the families' knowledge on health, nutrition, education and children's rights, are valuable tools for building a more just and fraternal world, at the service of life and hope."

Retired since 2008 as national director of the Pastoral, Dr. Arns continued to preside an Intersectorial Commission of Indigenous Health in Brazil and had started a new initiative focusing on the health and well being of the elderly. She remained engaged, however, in the work to promote and provide basic healthcare for infants, as her last mission to Haiti attests.

The youngest daughter of a family of German immigrants, Dr. Arns was born in a small community in the state of Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil. The town of Forquilinha was so small that everyone knew each other. It was in her childhood that she had the inspiration for her future: "My mom studied homemade medicine in German books. She saw people and knew who needed to go to the hospital and who could be treated at home," she said at the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005.

In Dr. Arns's days there was always work to be done. She coordinated a true factory of solidarity information. The ‘Pastoral' of the Child, created in 1983, is present in 40,853 communities, spread throughout more than 4.000 Brazilian cities. Working about 240,000 volunteers, it monitors 95,000 pregnant women and over 1.6 million children.

Dr. Arns was in Haiti as part of a series of visit to the region. Her brother said she was killed by debris while she was speaking to a church congregation in Haiti. A widower, she had five children. Her funeral will take place in Curitiba, where her family lives.

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