Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 03/03/2011

Sobering facts

2 marzo 2011 miercoles

Today I  hung on tight in the back of a pickup as I bounced along 6km of a dirt road to an aldea (town) called Buena Vista. Purpose of the meeting there was to disseminate information and seek identified needs from community members regarding food security issues. Since I was invited along last minute, my role was minor…that of photographer, however, it allowed me to observe how the meeting was conducted with some ideas for strengthening the message.  Attendance was expected at 20, but only half as many came from 3 communities. My counterpart, Maria, coordinator of the women’s office, led off the meeting, following by stats and info from a nurse and a food security commisioner.

Although I knew that Guatemalan children suffer from malnutrition …the bare facts were sobering.  The malnutrition rate here  is 49.8% of children under age of 5, and 45.6% for ages 6-9 yrs. Sadly my department of Totonicapan is the worst in the country, with those corresponding numbers at 82.2% under age 5, and 69.4% for ages 6-9yrs. The nurse joked that Mayans think that they are just naturally short people ( “chaparitos” she said) but she added that the short stature is just from malnutrition. Guatemala leads in Central America with the highest percentage of malnourished children….not a proud statistic.

Map of foods purchased and cultivated crops

As community members drew pictures of their daily lives and food consumption, the picture of limited food became more clear…lack of water, good soil, and education has led to growing just a few crops: corn, beans, and potatoes…hardly the foods richest in vitamins. For more food variety, villagers need to walk 2 hrs or can take a 1x/day bus to Pologua on Mondays for market day. The question is whether families do seek out other foods, and what their budgets and tastes  allow. Sometimes in families, the girls are fed the least with more focus on the boys. I suggested that asking schoolchildren keep a food diary for a week would provide a snapshot of their food consumption. Vicki, the nurse, shared with the group that there had been 7 cases of chronic malnutrition in families within their town, but now the children were on the road to recovery. She shared that sadly 2 children had died recently in Totonicapan, the department capital, as the result of malnutrition.

My typical market purchases

Sounding so familiar to U.S. problems, Vicki chastised parents for buying soda pop instead of healthy food for kids…yes, we have an obesity epidemic in America which I won’t minimize, but the Guatemalan child might be burdened with stunted growth when junk foods are substituted for healthy ones. Our reduced cost and free school breakfast and lunch program has made a considerable difference in the lives of poor American children, but no such program exists here.  During the meeting a little boy of 8yrs old began crying, saying that his tooth hurt. Vicki asked his mother why not take him to the health center in San Bartolo…full well knowing that this trek would be a pickup truck or bus ride for 30 minutes (or 2hr walk) and then

Sore tooth, but dentist far away

another bus ride for 45 minutes just to arrive there. Both cost and time would be major considerations for this mother. Yes, most of us in the U.S. are fortunate to arrive at a doctor’s office within 30 minutes  in the comfort of our vehicle; that is not the case here in Guatemala. Fortunately the little boy’s tears stopped flowing, but my heart went out to his family’s situation and so many just like him. Every day I wonder how I can contribute to solutions to these substantial problems…I am still on the path of learning the system and the best use of my talents and time here.



  1. Janet,

    Thanks for the sobering facts. I’m enjoying and learning from what you write. Thinking of you often during my days, especially when I dance.

    Thanks for the short IM visit the other day.

    Be well, and keep the reports coming. ;-]]



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