As I'm starting to plan my next getaway adventure abroad, I'm reminded of my last. David and I wandered Guatemala for a little under one month in January. The more eyes that see these photos, the more people know something I didn't before my trip: Guatemala has the highest rate of childhood malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere, more so than Haiti.
One of our many stops took us way off the gringo path to Eastern Guatemala, an arid, impoverished region. By a stroke of fate after hiking from one town to another, a man drove up to us asking where we were headed and offered to take us by a malnutrition clinic up a winding dirt road. Within minutes of hopping out of his truck and thanking him, I was face to face with Elda, a 2-year-old whose weight and ability betrayed her age. She looked and acted like a 6 month old. An underdeveloped 6 month old, instead of an underdeveloped 2-year-old.
She weighed less than 20 pounds after more than 60 days of being fed almost every hour.
Dejad en paz a los niños y no les estorbeis de venir a Mi. [Matthew 19:13-14]
Unlike most toddlers her age, Elda does not talk. She cannot stand or sit up. She suffers from chronic malnutrition and has lived in the clinic, away from her mother and family, for two months. She is fed formula, vitamins, meals throughout the day.Her legs are missing the pudge and dimples on healthy children her age, but, beyond the obvious external differences, Elda's brain missed the important nutrients and nutrition it needed to develop normally. She is one of many.
According to UNICEF, an estimated 53% of children who die under the age of five in Guatemala die as a result of complications due to malnutrition.Before a child is born, the odds are against her. Her mother never ate the right foods to feed her fetus. Her mother is most likely short (like many of the Mayans in Guatemala) due to suffering from malnourishment, as well. With failed crops and coffee exports, families live off tortillas and beans.
Guatemala has the highest rates of malnourished children in Central and South America.
In fact, it has the highest rate in the Western hemisphere.
It is estimated that more than half of Guatemalan children under five suffer from malnutrition. In 2001, the clinic we visited in rural Jocotán reported 25 starvation deaths.If you're interested in helping this clinic, now is the time as June is the peak of the hungry season, which is year-round. They have more hungry children than bowls to feed them. My contact there is:
Jocotan, Chiquimula, Guatemala