Marcela Zubieta, Fundación Nuestros Hijos (FNH)

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Source: Ashoka

CASE STUDY: Battling Cancer by Building Community

Organizational Vision

Fundación Nuestros Hijos (FNH) provides integral support to disadvantaged children with cancer in order to increase their life expectancy, improve quality of life, and decrease the psychosocial impact of the illness on both the children and their families. In Chile, roughly 80% of children suffering from cancer are treated in the public health system, but public medical facilities for the poor often lack the costly technology required for effective diagnosis and treatment. In fact, diagnoses often come too late, if at all, due to lack of proper testing equipment. The Ministry of Health does provide free chemotherapy for cancer patients, but recovery and quality of life depend on a number of other factors.

Founded by Ashoka Fellow Marcela Zubieta, FNH complements and improves existing services for cancer patients through a variety of social and medical programs, as well as other education, research initiatives and social reintegration. FNH has built several in-hospital treatment and waiting rooms devoted exclusively to children with cancer, complete with games, videos and other activities that can also ease anxiety and suffering. FNH provides medicines typically unavailable in the public health system, as well as intravenous catheters and specialized equipment too expensive for public hospitals. To combat the malnutrition that often speeds cancer's effects, FNH has set up a meals program for impoverished families with children suffering from cancer. FNH makes professional psychological counseling available to children and their families, as well as dental and optometry services. With the support of local business and foundations, FNH also built a comfortable home for rural children traveling to Santiago for treatment. 

In 2016 FNH will open a brand new Pediatric Oncology Rehab Center, the first in Chile and expected to be one of the most complete in Latin America, to attend the physical and physiological requirements, in order to complement their social reintegration.   

Finally, FNH engages the media in education fundraising campaigns to raise awareness and inform the general public about the disease and how to get involved, particularly as cancer is quickly becoming the leading cause of child mortality in Chile. To date, FNH has served over 900 economically disadvantaged children and their families.

Citizen Base Strategy

The survival of children with cancer has reached a promising 75% in Chile. This achievement, allowed FNH to watch the physical and cognitive consequences resulting from the disease and the treatments involved, such as: motor, cognitive, communicative and sensory impairments, among others that affect the quality of life of children and their families.

It is shown that this kind of rehabilitation children with cancer improves the chances of school, work and social adaptation to adult life. If this rehabilitation begin since the diagnosis and integrated to hospital treatment, the results are even better.

For this reason, FNH has been collaborating whit the Chilean State and creating a private support to build the first Rehab Center specialized in Pediatric Oncology in Latin America.   

Entertaining fundraising events to draw support

Fundación Nuestros Hijos puts on two to three large fundraising events per year. These include a wide range of fun and engaging activities such as Maraton de Santiago, one of the most important running races in Chile; fashion shows, raffles, golf tournaments, auctions, and big family-style dinners. Fundraising events draw in support in the form of financial assistance as well as allow the community to become more familiar with the organization and its goals. Entertaining and engaging events also demonstrate the organization’s commitment to joy as an important part of the healing process. 

FNH also emphasizes the importance of striking a balance between fundraising and providing services. According to Doctora Zubieta, it is important to have a fundraising department with trained and experienced staff members, separated from the delivery of services. Equally as essential is that those involved in fundraising are also involved in the work of the organization, in order to effectively communicate the mission and remain connected to the social cause.

Encourage individual donations of any size

Individual donations are a major part of Fundación Nuestros Hijos’ financial support, providing nearly 30% of the organization’s total budget. FNH raises funds primarily through its Department of Mass Resources, a part of the organization responsible for contacting the organization’s 6,000 partners. This fundraising department also sets up and maintains piggy banks in different commercial establishments so that clients can make voluntary donations. It also conducts fundraising campaigns in local high schools, educating students on the organization’s work and then distributing an envelope to each student in order for them to make a contribution.

How It’s Working

  • Government support accounts for only 15% of FNH’s total budget
  • FNH currently works with two hospitals providing oncological treatment for children in Santiago and one in Valdivia, covering the southern area of the country.
  • 12% of FNH’s funds come from corporate support
  • FNH has served over 900 economically disadvantaged children and their families to date.
  • FNH has upwards of 6,000 partners, giving them a solid network for resource generation and support.

Lessons Learned

  • Find creative solutions to meet constituent needs. In 1997, FNH started a school program to allow children undergoing treatment to continue their education. In-house teachers provide personalized help, and an agreement with the Ministry of Education ensures that children can take their exams outside of school, thus avoiding falling behind academically.
  • Organize volunteers into teams for increased cooperation. A team of 35 volunteers, all women, carries out a number of social programs for FNH, such as taking meals to families of sick children, visiting children in the hospital, organizing birthday celebrations, and coordinating the "Impossible Dream" program for those with terminal cancer.
  • Collaborate with other NGOs working in the same area. In May of 2006 FNH joined with two other Chilean NGOs, Fundación Trascender and CreArte, to promote the personal development of cancer patients through art. Ninety children participated in the initiative, in which, according to the organizations, artistic expression was used to promote self-esteem and become a tool of healing.


Marcela Zubieta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.