Augusto Villalón is one of the country’s most esteemed architects. With his credentials in conservation and cultural work, it comes as no surprise that Augusto – or Toti, as friends and colleagues call him – is one of the orchestrators of Gota de Leche’s return to modern prominence. As president of the foundation, he continues the good work laid by past leaders, especially his predecessor Lourdes Sarabia. The result of his leadership, much like his architectural work, is the restoration of an old beacon into a thriving entity.
As the architect of Gota’s revival, his first role within the organization was literally that of an architect. In 2002, then-president Lourdes Sarabia commissioned Augusto to restore the building. Although the structure maintained a sense of quiet dignity within the bustling university belt, almost a century’s worth of wear (and one world war) had taken a toll on it. “It was a wreck,” he remembers. “Except for little parts of the offices.”
Restoration required some less-glamorous, but necessary, tasks such as checking for structural deterioration, termite infestation and clearing debris. The building now stands triumphant, but a restorer’s work is rarely complete. He adds: “And now, ten years (after the restoration) later, the building needs another major draft that would necessitate drawing out funds for. It’s one of those things that cannot be delayed.”
The first round of restoration work established his stronger ties with the organization, and was eventually offered the presidential position. “I believed in what the group was doing,” he says. And what did he have to learn along the way?
“Everything!” he says with a hearty laugh.
It turns out, Augusto’s ties with Gota de Leche stretch farther than his recent work. His grandfather is the esteemed physician, Jose Fabella. Dr. Fabella was one of the first board members of La Protección de la Infancia, the group that founded Gota de Leche. The importance of Dr. Fabella’s participation in the country’s burgeoning feminist movement was lost on the young Toti. “In my grandfather’s house there was a big desk and a photo of the La Protección board, but I didn’t know then what the picture was of,” he recalls.
You could say that Dr. Fabella’s health and social welfare work ingrained a sense of civic duty in the family. “My parents had their own service commitments. My mother also worked on getting our community together,” Augusto says. These acts were done without fanfare. “My parents had their own service commitments and they would just do them as a matter of course,” he continues.
These acts of simple generosity set him on a path that would lead to the same institution that his grandfather led many decades past.
Augusto works with a highly dedicated board and staff, with each member fulfilling a specific role. “Anna (Leah Sarabia, director) provides the spiritual and emotional drive,” he says. “Our staff does very well. I would observe them during feedings, and they were friends with the mothers. Because of this rapport, mothers cooperated more readily.” These relations enable Gota de Leche to keep closer tabs on its beneficiaries, and provide sustained assistance.
This sustenance comes at a cost, of course. “We had to increase the endowment and streamline the operations to enable Gota to continue providing personalized attention and assistance to mothers and their children,” Toti explains.
Evolution as an act of restoration
At its heart, restoration is an act of securing. The work doesn’t end with simple rebuilding; a restorer needs to secure sustainability for the building’s present and future. If this is true for buildings, it is also true for hundred year-old organizations. Under his leadership, Gota de Leche is set to evolve. “This board realizes that the status quo isn’t going to achieve much for the future, so we have to do something,” Augusto says.
“That’s the challenge,” he continues. “I’d love to be able to maintain our programs. To do so, we need to grow. We need to evolve. We also need to use all available methods to improve Gota de Leche and bring it up to date.” This desire, this drive, is enough to restore one’s faith in the milk of human kindness.