Helping Kids Thrive: A Story from Guatemala

Many of us are accustomed to taking out loans for big expenses:
A home.
A car.
College tuition.

But imagine having to take out a loan for your child’s school supplies.

That’s the economic reality for many people around the world.

Juana is a four year old in Guatemala. She’s too young for school, but her three older siblings all attend.

What’s even more significant is that the parents are going into debt in order to educate their two daughters, in a culture in which many families don’t allow their girls to go to school. It’s seen as an unnecessary expense in a culture in which girls are raised to get married and keep the home. Juana’s parents want their girls to have opportunity and self-sufficiency.

Juana’s village is a picture of contrasts. It’s a beautiful site near a lake in the middle of a dormant volcano. The ancient Maya settlements make it a popular tourist destination. Luxury hotels and fancy amenities clash with local living conditions; the indigenous communities around the lake struggle to maintain their quality of life in a region with few public services and poor infrastructure.

The economy in the village is centered around coffee and fishing, with the women creating beaded jewelry for the tourism industry. It’s a meager and unstable economic situation for the residents there. Juana’s father is 30 and never attended school. He works as a day laborer; depending on the month, he works picking coffee, avocados, or local fruit on land owned by wealthier families. During months when work is scarce, he supplements his income doing handicrafts or odd jobs for his neighbors. Juana’s mother has a first-grade education but had to drop out to help her family around the house.

Juana’s parents do their best to put food on the table for their growing children, but meals are usually lacking in variety and nutrients. The most common meal is black beans, tortillas and wild greens that they find growing in the coffee plantation. “My children are used to this life,” Juana’s mother says, “but I feel bad when they want to eat a second helping of food and I have no more to give them.”

Because the family has so little extra income, the children are used to wearing the same clothes throughout the week. The children use cheap plastic sandals bought at the market, which break quickly. Juana is underweight and gets sick often with diarrhea, stomachaches and vomiting. Still, Juana is a calm and easy-going child, and she likes to play with stuffed animals and dolls. She can entertain herself in the shade of the coffee trees near her house.

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Juana deserves a chance to thrive. It’s what her parents want for her, and what we want for her as well.

Feed the Children has been supporting children through child sponsorship in the village since October of 2012. These children receive a backpack with school supplies every year, which many families would not be able to afford otherwise. These are the supplies that used to put the family into debt each year—it used to take months to pay off the loan. Now the kids have what they need, and the parents can set aside money for other necessities.

Feed the Children also supports a feeding program in the community, in which every registered child comes to eat lunch at mid-day. Not only is the food more filling and nutritious than what Juana would eat at home, it allows families to save a little money and use more of their income to provide healthier meals at breakfast and dinner. “My children are always excited to go to the feeding program for lunch,” Juana’s mother says. “The food is more complete there and healthier. They are happy to be part of this program.”

Sponsored children also receive two pairs of TOMS shoes every year, which represents a large savings for the parents as they don’t have to replace their children’s shoes as often, and means that the children’s feet are protected every day.

Finally, Feed the Children in partnership with Vitamin Angels has begun to support the community with deworming pills, Vitamin A supplementation and multivitamins every six months. Children like Juana often drink contaminated water and lack good hygiene practices like hand washing with soap. As a result they can suffer endemic parasitic infections, which don’t allow their bodies to absorb important nutrients. The medication provided by Vitamin Angels helps break this cycle and helps reduce malnutrition and stunting.

Juana’s community still needs a lot of support. Family or community gardens could be a source of extra income as well as provide needed nutrients to the limited diet; and targeted village loan programs could help families start other production projects to grow their income as well. The community urgently needs water and sanitation infrastructure improvements to reduce the incidence of water-borne diarrheal illness; and hygiene education to support healthy habits.

However, the support that Feed the Children has provided so far has been a strong start and has shown the families here what they can achieve if they work together. The work continues.

Thank you to everyone who makes our work possible. To learn more about our work in Guatemala, click here.

News Roundup: Special Africa Edition

For today’s roundup we are highlighting stories from our work in Africa. Read on and be inspired!

Tanzania

The dawn of 2016 brought with it good tidings for children of Masanganya Primary School in Kisarawe district: it marked the end of a four-year period of going without meals while in school. The school used to benefit from mid-morning porridge, but this was halted due to challenges that made food preparation impractical.

Early this year, Feed the Children renovated the school’s kitchen, replenished the cooking utensils and provided foodstuffs to aid in preparing mid-morning porridge for more than 400 kids in the elementary school.

Both pupils and teachers are happy with the developments. “We are very delighted that this program has resumed,” said the deputy head teacher, Deus Kimpalamba. “You can see that the children are happy to have porridge during the break. Some of them come from home without breakfast, and having to spend the whole day hungry is very hard.” The mid-morning porridge is fortified with vitamins and minerals, so it improves the nutritional status of the children in addition to reducing their hunger and keeping them in school.

Photo above: A pupil at Masanganya Primary School enjoying a cup of fortified porridge.

Uganda

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Feed the Children staff show a woman how best to hold a child when breastfeeding.

 

More than 100 mothers in Northern Uganda’s Amuru District were trained last month in infant and young child feeding. The one-day training took place at the Pabbo Health Centre in Gulu and was facilitated by Feed the Children staff and an officer in charge of the health center. The training helped breastfeeding and expectant mothers learn about infant nutrition. It focused on maternal nutrition during pre-conception and pregnancy, the importance of breastfeeding, position and attachment during breastfeeding, and an overview of HIV/AIDS and infant feeding.

The training was participatory and included demonstrations. The mothers appreciated the skills gained at the training. “I am very lucky to be here today,” said one mother. “Thank you so much Feed the Children for all the help you have offered to our community. I have benefitted a lot from this.”

Another mother spoke of her joy and asked that such trainings be expanded to reach more mothers. The training is part of Feed the Children’s Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) programs that aim to sensitize expectant and new mothers on proper nutrition and feeding of children.

Kenya

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Yikiatine Primary School Headteacher (left) walks with two scientists from ICRAF through the garden in her school during the visit.

Feed the Children and World Agroforestry (ICRAF) representatives made their first joint field visit early this month in order to follow up on a gardening project introduced to Yikiatine and Makutano primary schools in the Mwala district.

The ‘Fruiting Africa project’ is funded by ICRAF and implemented by Feed the Children. It seeks to increase wealth and health of poor farming communities through enhanced cultivation, processing, marketing and consumption of a diversity of fruits and vegetables.

Scientists from ICRAF who joined in the trip were pleased by the progress of the gardens. Dr. Katja Kehlenbeck, one of the scientists with ICRAF, expressed her delight in the development of the gardens. “We are very happy to see this. We have seen some of your projects in Kajiado do well, and we are happy with this progress.”

The visit follows a training conducted in October to sensitize members of the Schools’ Management Committees (SMCs) on the different nutritional value of various indigenous vegetables and fruits. The training also covered proper land preparation and crop management for kitchen gardens as well as environmental conservation as a key to sustainability.

The schools in turn established the kitchen gardens and grew various fruits and vegetables including mangoes, onions, spinach, kale, bananas, guavas, lemons, paw-paw and custards, among other plants. “We got to learn that these fruits that we call wild are actually healthy, and we love them a lot,” said Makutano DEB Primary School’s head teacher, Eunice Mutua. The teacher said that some vegetables are used to supplement the diets in the schools.

Malawi

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Children from Chapinduka carry placards in celebration of the attainment of the milestone.

It was a historic moment for Feed the Children and the Malawi government two months ago when Traditional Authority Chapinduka (a region of the country) was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). Since 2010, the government of Malawi has used funding from the Global Sanitation Fund to implement hygiene and sanitation interventions across the country with the purpose of making Malawi an ODF zone.

Five years down the line, two traditional Authorities in the country had been declared ODF free, and Chapinduka became the third (but the first in the Northern part of Malawi) thanks to Feed the Children’s intervention. It took Feed the Children one and a half years to achieve this milestone.

Gathering to witness the significant occasion were officials from the government of Malawi, Plan Malawi, Feed the Children staff, government officials from Rumphi district council and community members from Chapinduka. Chiefs from across Rumphi were also invited to witness the occasion and learn from their fellow chief how he made it with his subjects.

Traditional Authority Chapinduka is mountainous and only accessible by foot or boat. It has a population of slightly over 5,000 people. At the start of the project, 81% of the households had toilets and today, 98% of the households do.

Happy World Water Day!

Happy World Water Day!

To celebrate this important day, we want to introduce you to Lashiwe. She lives in Malawi in a small community we serve. The majority of the population live in mud- and grass-thatched houses, with a few in brick and grass-thatched houses. There’s no electricity, so residents depend on batteries and solar sources of power.

Before Feed the Children began working in the community, proper hygiene and sanitation practices weren’t part of day-to-day life: washing hands after toilet use, throwing garbage in a designated pit, covering the toilet after use to prevent flies, and covering drinking water to prevent contamination. The people simply didn’t know to do these things.

Yet their kids would get sick regularly, and parents didn’t know why. Lashiwe’s mother, Maria, would wonder why her children seemed to suffer from such chronic intestinal distress.

The UN World Water Day was instituted for children just like Lashiwe—to raise awareness of the importance of fresh water and to encourage people to work for clean water around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 783 million people live without access to safe drinking water, and some 2.5 billion people—almost a third of the world’s population— lack sanitation facilities.

We work hard each day for children like Lashiwe. One of the four pillars of our international work is Health & Water. Clean water and proper sanitation are vital to thriving communities.

It doesn’t matter how healthy a child’s diet is, if all they drink is dirty water.

In fiscal year 2014, Feed the Children’s water projects benefited more than 63,400 children and families, providing them with clean-water systems such as wells, water lines, and rainwater-catchment systems. We built school toilets that benefited more than 4,600 pupils; and provided direct clinical care to more than 19,300 individuals through its dedicated staff and volunteers.

Through care group sessions organized through Feed the Children, Lashiwe’s mother Maria received vital training in hygiene and sanitation. She learned to make hand washing facilities for her house and how to clean her home most effectively to reduce disease. She learned the importance of having a garbage pit for her house, and how to cover the toilet with a drop hole cover.

Today, Lashiwe and her friends are healthier and happier, with disease outbreaks greatly reduced. “We are grateful to Feed the Children for introducing water, hygiene and sanitation interventions in our community,” Maria says. “My family will never be the same again.”

And what does Lashiwe say? “I like washing my hands using this system!” And what child doesn’t love to splash around in good clean water?

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How will you celebrate World Water Day? One simple way is to be aware of how much water we use in the United States, and how different that is from many places around the world. The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. On average, approximately 70 percent of that water is used indoors, with the bathroom being the largest consumer (a toilet alone can use 27 percent!).

Water’s one of those things that’s easy to take for granted. Most of us turn on the faucet without a second thought, and our daily shower is just another chore, not a moment for gratitude. But even something as simple as washing our hands can be a moment to pause and be aware of the abundance so many of us enjoy.

Feed the Children makes it easy to put your awareness into action to help children just like Lashiwe. Read more about our Heath & Water projects, and shop our gift catalog for gifts that will bring the gift of life-giving water to children, families, and communities around the globe.