City Moms Blog Network has partnered with Food for the Hungry to initiate change in communities around the world facing extreme poverty. In May 2016, Food for the Hungry sponsored an educational trip to Guatemala for three members of the City Moms Blog Team.
It’s a hot morning in the western hills of Guatemala, an area known as Huehuetenengo. A haze sits over the mountains as the morning heat begins to fill the air. Beautiful, tall trees dot the mountainside soaking up the nutrients in the earth, leaving the ground dusty and rocky. Maria wakes, dresses, and kisses her three-month-old baby girl goodbye, knowing she’s leaving her only child for six months so that she can work in the coffee fields. Maria will miss her baby girl’s firsts: her first smile, first babbles. Her body, still recovering from delivery, will dry of milk in the coming weeks as she works as a field laborer in the hot sun day after day, miles and miles away from her baby. Maria lives in a community with extreme poverty. It’s all she’s ever known. It’s all her family has ever known for generations before her.
Living in one of Guatemala’s most extreme poverty-stricken areas, the Guatemalan people in the communities of Huehuetenengo know a life that’s simple, void of any of the luxuries that are so normal to us. Their homes are but two- or three-room huts among the mountainsides; electricity is scarce; and families often sleep six people on wood slats covered by sheets that serve as a bed at night. By morning, sheets are hung from a rope tied to the ceiling, allowing the bed to serve as both a table and sitting area during the day. Meals are prepared over a wood fire stove in a central room that functions as a multipurpose kitchen and living area. Families eat rice and beans, bread, and fried foods. In this area where fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce, candy, soda, and packaged junk food, all cheap and easy to access, are part of everyday meals from an early age. Some children are even known to drink cola from a bottle since water is contaminated.
Given these conditions, 50% of children in Guatemala and 80% of children in rural communities in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition. In Huehuetenengo, by the age of eight, malnourished children will be the size of a healthy four-year-old. Not only will they be underdeveloped physically, but one of the overwhelming effects of chronic malnutrition is brain development. It’s easy to understand how communities are left in a cycle of poverty, unable to dig themselves out of these conditions.
Maria’s husband, an abusive alcoholic, left just after the baby was born. In Guatemala, gender is an issue. Guatemala is the most sexist country in Latin America. As single mother with no money and nowhere to turn, Maria returned to the home of her mother in the community of Luminoche. It is here in Luminoche that her baby will spend the next six months with her abuela while Maria works to support herself and her family in the coffee fields hours away.
But for Maria’s baby girl, this is perhaps the best scenario of them all, as Luminoche is a community serviced by Food for the Hungry. As the weeks go by, Maria’s mother begins taking the baby to the weighing stations set up and serviced by Food for the Hungry volunteers. The baby girl is flagged as a child that is dropping in weight and at risk of malnourishment. The baby receives food supplements, her abuela receives support and education on the best ways to care for the baby, and the abuela, Candalria, is brought up in her community as a candidate for a key hole garden to feed herself, her children, and her growing grandbaby. Through the support and programs of Food for the Hungry, the future of Maria’s baby is taking a turn. She is given a path out of chronic malnutrition that’s ailed her mother, her grandmother, and many before them.
In May, I had the honor, along with two other representatives of City Moms Blog Network, to visit three communities in Huehuetenengo to learn about Food for the Hungry (FH) and its mission to end all forms of human poverty. Maria just was one of the many Guatemalan mothers whom we met while there. As an organization, FH goes into countries suffering from extreme poverty and asks the question, “Where are the most difficult places to work?” And then those are the areas they service. FH works in communities in countries like Lebanon, Syria, and South Sudan—and in Guatemala, in communities like the ones we visited: Lopez, Luminoche, and Ical.
I was inspired and impressed when I saw the work of FH firsthand. While there, we learned how FH works, and how their funding of child sponsorship helps not only the individual child, but also their community as a whole.
When FH begins to partner with a community, the community has to invite FH in. The community must be in full support of FH partnering with them for change. An agreement is struck between FH and the community, which requires the community members to be involved as volunteers and workers with the help and support of Food for the Hungry. They include the men, women, and youth of the community in the leadership development, in the transformational change, and empowering the community members to be part of bettering their families, friends, and neighbors. FH’s goal isn’t to go into a community to save them. Their goal is to go into the community to learn together and share transformation together. From there, a 10-year agreement is made with a clear exit plan so that the community can exist and thrive on their own.
Specifically in the Huehuetenengo communities we visited, FH’s programs involve bringing on mom volunteers to learn about the importance of prenatal care, breastfeeding, and infant development. They meet with expectant moms, weigh, measure, and track growth of infants, and provide support and education throughout their communities. These volunteers are women who, given their gender, previously didn’t have an important role in their community. Now they are educating their sisters, cousins, friends, and neighbors on life-changing support for the next generation. Food for the Hungry works with community leaders to evaluate the history of their community and find areas of strength that they can build on. They recognize patterns in weather, seasons, history, and more to help the communities see life as a larger picture and strategically plan for their communities. Food for the Hungry partners with families to build key hole gardens, small gardens that allow families to grow fresh produce both to use for themselves and as a way to bring in additional income for their families. Food for the Hungry teaches women how to start savings groups, allowing them the opportunity to pool their resources to lend each other micro loans. And most importantly is FH’s model of Child Focused Community Transformation, where they believe that if you change the mindset of the children in the early steps of life, you change the future of the community for its future.
We saw the work of Food for the Hungry. In Lopez, we saw a key hole garden built from scratch and shared an afternoon with the family that would reap the benefits of the garden, a garden they built alongside the staff from FH. We could see the excitement in the eyes of each family member old and young. We heard the promise that this small family garden brought them. We played with the children who would benefit from the nutrients the garden would provide. In Luminoche, a community that Food for the Hungry has been in for several years, not only did we meet Maria and her family, but we also heard from community leaders and the savings group, and saw the children who were thriving from the benefits of a community partnership with Food for the Hungry. And in Ical, a community that Food for the Hungry is just beginning to partner with, we saw hope—hope for a better future for their children, for the change that they knew Food for the Hungry would bring, for the generations to come.
As I returned back to the comforts of my own home—the electricity, the fresh vegetables so easily accessible, the healthcare that we don’t think twice about—I knew I left a piece of my heart with the beautiful people of Huehuetenengo. Now I return with the ability to help spread that hope for Ical. City Moms Blog Network has taken on the challenge of supporting the community of Ical through child sponsorship. There are more than 300 children in Ical who need sponsors. By sponsoring a child, not only do you directly impact the life of that child but you change the future of their family and their community. For as little as $33 per month, you can be part of the hope for Ical. To learn more about sponsoring a child, please visit www.fh.org/moms
Won’t you join us in sponsoring a child in the community of Ical, Guatemala?
Make a Global Impact and Sponsor a Child
For about $1 a day, you can bring hope and change to a sponsor child’s life and the community he/she lives in, through food, education, clear water and medical treatment.