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.
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.