Colombia is renowned for an abundance of natural resources ranging from its precious emeralds to one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. But for many sick or injured Colombians, the country's most precious resource remains an ample supply of safe, life-sustaining blood.
Unfortunately, blood supplies in Colombia often fall short of demand. It's estimated that for every thousand Colombians, there are only 16 units of blood available in its various types. Those donations come from about one percent of the population. To meet the national demand, some three to five percent of the population is needed to be regular donors.
Latter-day Saints across the country are stepping up and, in many cases, offering a vein to help. A Church-sponsored, nationwide initiative dubbed "Hemocentro Infantil" (or, roughly translated, the "Children's Bloodbank") is allowing Colombia to augment its scant blood supply even as it educates children and people of all ages on the importance of becoming lifelong blood donors.
The ongoing initiative is being conducted in more than 30 cities and offers more than 50 locations where volunteers can regularly donate blood.
In Colombia, it's common for hospitals and other medical providers to turn first to the relatives of those who are in need of blood. But relatives may not always be ideal donors. Some might feel pressured to donate and compromise the safety of the blood supplies. A better alternative is to have a reliable core of regular, voluntary donors living in regions across the country.
Observant Latter-day Saints make for ideal blood donors because they eschew illicit drugs and other risky behaviors and generally try to live a healthy lifestyle. The Church-sponsored blood drives are also designed to make it convenient and easy to donate blood in almost all corners of Colombia.
Along the way, Church members have made new friends. Folks of all backgrounds are grateful for the Church's efforts to help others in need of this precious resource. The Church has also established an ongoing relationship with Colombia's National Institute of Health, along with several blood banks and hospitals in cities throughout the nation.
Organizers said "Hemocentro Infantil" can continue for decades to come. Education, they add, will ensure its sustainability.
In conjunction with the blood donation drives, local members staff "The Children's Blood Center" — a playful mock donation center that teaches children the importance, ease and safety of giving blood. The mock donations are generally set up next to the actual donation centers. Young members dress up as doctors and teach children about donating blood. The youngsters can then sit in a donor chair, extend an arm and "give" a unit of blood.
It's hoped that the mock drives will overcome any future fears or hesitation about giving blood when the children are old enough to donate.