Journey to Guatemala: Understanding Chronic Malnutrition


We left Guatemala yesterday.

Even though we’ve returned to our usual routines of grocery shopping, laundry catch-up, swimming lessons and lots of cuddling time with the girls, there are so many things I won’t be able to ignore about my time in Guatemala and specifically the time spent in the village of Segois with Olga and her community.

The one issue that nags most persistently at my heart is the crisis of chronic malnutrition.

It is not an exaggeration to call the problem a crisis.  Not only is one out of every two children in Guatemala currently suffering from chronic malnutrition, but even when a child with chronic malnutrition is fed and restored to a healthy weight, if he or she was not treated prior to five years of age, the condition will severely detrimentally impact them for the rest of their adult lives.  The brain development that occurs during the first five years of a child’s life is key.  When a growing brain is not adequately nourished in those early years, it will never be able to grow to its fully intended capacity.

The same holds true for physical stature.  The diminutive height and weight of the Guatemalan children was overwhelming to me.  I would ask a child who looked like he or she was six or seven how old he or she was and would be shocked to find out that he or she was in actuality eleven or twelve years old.  I had to keep reminding myself that our own sponsor child, Olga, is eight, the same age as Gigi.  when in reality, she was physically smaller than our Lulu, age five.


To give you an even more graphic representation, this photograph shows a line indicating the minimum height deemed “acceptable” for a nine year-old child.  None of these Guatemalan children even come close.


Before I came on this trip, I honestly believed that the problem of chronic malnutrition was an issue of children simply having too little food.  Coming from a country with soaring obesity, and specifically childhood obesity rates, from having too much food, this seemed perfectly logical to me.  But through my time here, through speaking with the people of Cegois and most significantly, through my talks with the Food for the Hungry staff, including the director at Guatemala’s central office and  our personal guide, Amalia, once a sponsor child herself, I have come to a very important conclusion:

Chronic malnutrition is not a result of lack of access to food, it’s a result of lack of understanding that as parents, we are entrusted by God with the tasks of feeding and caring for the treasures He has given us–our children.


In no way am I implying that Guatemalan parents do not love their children.  On the contrary, I observed nothing but love in the eyes and the hearts of the mothers I interacted with.  However, the seemingly basic understanding we have in our own country about the responsibility to regularly feed and practice hygiene with and for our children is something that has never been taught to these mothers.  But it is not too late.

While I am a “do-e”r by nature, a fixer, a-”let-me-get-my-hands-on-this-problem-and-get-dirty-er” by nature, I had to humble myself enough to realize that this isn’t about me being able to go into the communities and hand out food and water, or even to send money to provide those needs.

The answer to preventing chronic malnutrition, and most likely the answer to many of the problems faced by suffering people in this world, is in relationship.

And as much as I might want to believe that I am trustworthy, friendly and capable enough to help teach these parents of their responsibilities, the truth is, I’m not.  I don’t have the access, I don’t have the trust and I don’t have the ability to go back to these communities every couple of weeks and ensure that the practices and principles that are being taught are being used.

But Food for the Hungry does.



The mutual trust, affection and respect I saw between the community and the FH staff (including Flory and Domingo, both pictured above) is not something I could come close to replicating in even a longer mission trip and admittedly perhaps ever.  But this does not mean I am helpless in helping the Guatemalan people that I have come to love.

I still have the ability to sponsor a child (or several), which ensures that Food for the Hungry will continue to be able to do their work on the ground.  I still have the ability to pray for these children, which I will do every day. I still have the ability to develop an even deeper relationship with my sponsor children and others, so that they may know God’s love, their own worth, and the value of all human life, including their own children someday.


I can feed their hearts in any way I can, which I assure you, I will do any chance I get.


All photos taken by Jessica Taylor for FH.

To sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry, please visit here.    A small monthly contribution can make a huge difference in aiding the impoverished and the hungry. Your sponsorship is changing and effecting lives in Guatemala.

Journey to Guatemala: Knowing Olga


Imagine you are eight years old.  You live in a small village in Guatemala, in a small house, which perhaps would be better described as a hut.  It’s at the top of a very steep, very rocky hill that you travel up and down several times a day to get to. You live there with your six brothers and sisters, your oldest brother is twenty-four and your youngest is two.


Imagine your home has two rooms, one where you all sleep, in three beds made from pallets, and a few thin blankets. There is an adjoining room that holds the fire pit in which your mother and your sisters cook and wash all your clothing.  It is a blessing to have a separate room for the fire, as many of your friends do not, but the smoke is still so thick that it fills the entire house, your lungs, clothing and eyes.

Imagine a woman came to your home one day and asked if you could be “sponsored.”  You are not sure what this means.  You only know that the woman works for an organization that has been working in your village–an organization that saved your baby sister Rosa’s life.  Food for the Hungry came in when she was suffering from chronic malnutrition and pneumonia and got her to a hospital quickly.  Your parents are so, so grateful.


Imagine they say “Yes, please, please, let her be sponsored.”  Your parents tell you that by saying yes, your village will get more help.  More houses will get stoves and families spared from the smoke.  There will be better water.  Better schools.  Lives, like Rosa’s, will be saved.

Imagine, a short time later, that the woman returns to your house and tells you you will have visitors.  They are your sponsors and they want to meet you.  Your family immediately starts making preparations.  They begin planning and saving.  They will make the special soup that you only eat on Christmas, and the ingredients cost a lot of money for your family.

Imagine the day comes.  Your mother lays out pine needles all over the floor.  Your sisters spend hours making corn tortillas, more tortillas than you’ve ever seen.  You get so very excited.  You run down the hill to school that morning, almost tripping in the mud as your little legs carry you quickly to your classroom.  It is hard to concentrate in class knowing that you will meet these special visitors today, and only you and one other girl in your class will get to leave school early and take them to your homes.


Imagine you hear children in the next classroom cheering and yelling.  They are chanting, “Amigos!  Amigos!  Amigos!”  Your excitement suddenly turns to fear.  You don’t know these people at all.  They don’t look like you.  They have come a long way just to see you.  All eyes will be on you.

And then they appear at your door.





They don’t speak your language, but their tone is soft and kind.


Though you only have learned a few numbers and simple words in Spanish, you recognize that the tall lady with the long hair is trying to communicate with you in Spanish and in smiles.  She asks if she can wipe your nose with a soft, white tissue she pulls from her bag.  You say yes and you both exchange a knowing glance that says, “I trust you.”


The rest of your day is filled with talking, your parents and your sponsors, with a translator.  They talk for what seems like a really long time, and you hear the words “prayer” and “thank you” a lot.  Your favorite part of the visit comes when the tall lady with the long hair pulls some gifts from her bag.  She has crayons and markers, and a big pad of paper, but your favorite thing she brought is a giant bottle of something she calls “bubbles.”  She pulls out a wand and you and your cousins chase the tiny, shiny rainbow-glazed globes down the trail, one after another after another.  It is one of the most fun days of your life and you never want your new friends to leave.


But eventually they have to leave.  There are hugs and pictures and the tall lady with the long hair cries a bit.  She tells you she will pray for you and that she loves you and God loves you too.  She promises to send letters and pictures as soon as she gets home.

Imagine you head down to the village to see them off in a ceremony, and when it ends, they climb into a van.  The tall lady with the long hair opens her window and waves and smiles and yells goodbye.  You are sad and happy at the same time, but your heart feels very, very full.  You will never forget this day.


At least not any day that you can imagine.


To sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry, please visit here.    A small monthly contribution can make a huge difference in aiding the impoverished and the hungry. Your sponsorship is changing and effecting lives in Guatemala.