On a recent visit to Guatemala, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake was inspired by efforts to address chronic malnutrition and stunting.
TOTONICAPAN, Guatemala, 21 March 2013 – Amid the soaring mountains and natural beauty of Guatemala's western highlands, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said he feels inspired by recent efforts to improve the country's problem of chronic malnutrition and stunting among young children.
"Without good nutrition, you can never have healthy children and healthy communities," said Mr. Lake on a visit to a community care centre for children at risk of malnutrition. "Half of Guatemalan children are stunted, and probably 70 per cent in communities like this. And that is a huge opportunity. Because it is not expensive to help communities help themselves and end this."
A kitchen for children
His first stop at the centre was the kitchen, where half a dozen women dressed in colorful traditional outfits were busy chopping vegetables they had grown in nearby fields. They were preparing a massive salad, and quickly offered Mr. Lake a plate. After the first bite, he smiled and thanked the women.
"I feel stronger already!" he said, to much applause.
Before leaving the centre, Mr. Lake spoke with a group of reporters about his impressions of efforts to improve nutrition in Guatemala, where the latest government survey found nearly half of children under 5 years old suffer from chronic malnutrition.
"To be here in a community, to see them now not just selling their vegetables, but eating their vegetables here – growing different kinds of vegetables, and then cooking them up into wonderful salads like this, where they actually made me like cilantro for the first time in my life – it's a sign of being on the right track, I think," he said. "I sit behind a desk in New York, and I read about things. But to come here and see all of the progress that you are making, we are all the more honored to be able to support you in some small way."
A school with messages of nutrition
At Mr. Lake's next stop, a primary school, nine girls in matching Mayan outfits performed a dance highlighting the importance of good nutrition. They were followed by a number of children giving speeches, singing songs and performing dramas about eating good food. Afterward, Mr. Lake explained UNICEF's work in Totonicapán.
"We are supporting community health workers who are not only providing things like medicine, but most of all helping teach community workers to teach children to eat vegetables and to wash their hands – to do all the things that will make them well nourished, and then to provide micronutrients, supplements, so that children have the nutrition that they need," he said.
One of the young girls in the audience was given the microphone. She asked Mr. Lake about his job and whether he likes it.
"I go to work every day and work very hard," he told her and the other children who had gathered at the school. "And the reason I do that is because of all of you. Because every morning I think about children and their futures – and that is why it is the best job I could possibly have in the world."