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The Isaias Dassum Health Fund is vital to Ecuador’s medical system

Twenty-two years ago, on June 12, 1998, the Ecuadorean-born philanthropists and brothers Roberto and William Isaias Dassum opened their family trust’s first medical center south of Guasmo in their tropical South American homeland. A second clinic was inaugurated in Milagro three months later, and a third in Babahoyo in October of that year. Those three remote medical centers were capped by a specialist center which opened in 2003.

Building on that initial good health success story of caring for society’s most needy, today the Isaias Dassum Health Fund operates 22 well-equipped and modern health centers and dispensaries across Ecuador. Each is staffed by a doctor and nurse. Together they provide health care for more than 100,000 poor Ecuadoreans annually in Quito the capital, the port cities of Machala and Guayacquil, the former Spanish colonial town of Cuenca, and elsewhere.

Roberto Isaias
Roberto Isaias

“No one can say that they have it all if they have not succeeded by helping others,” says Roberto Isaias Dassum in explaining the Isaias Dassum Health Fund’s key involvement in Ecuador’s health system today.

“Many years ago, our family started a social project in Ecuador – the place where we were born, where we educated ourselves and formed a family. We believed and knew that we needed to work so that our dreams could come true and be successful. But none of that would be important if we did not help change our surroundings and help others in need. Only by doing these things could we move forward.

“We know that our actions of the Isaias Dassum Health Fund motivate others and that together we can achieve change. We believe that helping the community in diverse developing areas brings lasting and sustainable change. That is why we have supported our communities in education, health, training for employment, and in rescuing numerous cultural manifestations in Ecuador. That challenge is what keeps us committed.”

The benefactors’ remarkable story dates back to 1912. That year Emilio Isaias, a dirt-poor immigrant from Lebanon, then a backwards corner of the ailing Ottoman Empire, made his way from Beirut to Quito. Beginning as a textile salesman, Don Emilio and his children slowly created one of Ecuador’s largest privately-owned business consortiums. After establishing a textile factory, the family branched out to become a major importer of construction material. They then opened a sugar mill, and never looked back.

Emilio sent his sons and grandchildren Estafano, William and Roberto Isaias Dassum to study in the United States both to learn English and to gain an international perspective on business management.

While the family prospered over the generations thanks to its entrepreneurial zeal, it never lost sight of the family values that pushed it to always help the less fortunate. Thus in 1967 Don Emilo’s son Pedro Isaias Barquet purchased a small Ecuadorean bank, called La Filantropica, in order to provide micro loans to the fisherman and farmers of Guayacquil who had no access to credit. Together with his brother Nahim Isaias Barquet, they established Fundacion La Filantropica to assist low-income Ecuadoreans in getting job training and promote artisanal work.

Notwithstanding the Isaias Dassum Health Fund’s notable work and sterling reputation, in 1985 Nahim Isaias Barquet was kidnapped and held for ransom by revolutionaries who demanded money to finance their cells across Latin America. He was killed in a botched police operation that was meant to free him. Nahim’s death only strengthened his brothers’ resolve to work to improve the quality of life for all Ecuadoreans.

Today the Isaias Dassum Health Fund is active in several areas related to its core medical mission. For example, the foundation’s Voiced for Children program helps children are in abusive situations. A second program helps Ecuadoreans displaced by flooding or earthquakes, providing tents, clean water and emergency meals. No less important, the Isaias Dassum Health Fund sponsors a national program for surgeons to reconstruct malformations in children born with a cleft lip. Between 2002 and 2008, the project carried out 553 surgeries at a cost of U.S.$392,000.

Almost double that amount was spent on the Isaias Dassum Health Fund’s 3,840,000 snacks delivered to malnourished children. Unfortunately for the people of Ecuador, the government outlawed this vital food aid program.

Apart from the national chain of health care clinics across the country, the foundation is also proud to operate the Nahim Isaias Museum in Quito. The cultural center exhibits more than 2,500 paintings and sculptures of local Quiteno art and pre-Columbian relics.

What of the future?

  • Acquisition of basic and last generation medical equipment
  • Have high performance professionals
  • Specialists in family education and integral health.

Roberto Isaias and his brothers have recently turned to the American Peace Corps Foundation to gain more expertise in operating self-sustainable projects. According to foundation’s website, it has had to consider:

  • Ability to serve large numbers of people.
  • Areas for different specialized services.

For more information, please see:

Read more about other Isaias family members

Luis Isaias

Estefania Isaias

Luis Isaias, entrepreneur and keen sport fisherman