In search for a better nutrition
Carlos, 9, and Juan, 5, smile while staring at people going back and forth in Las Marias temporary shelter located in Patulul, Suchitepequez, where they live together with their parents since last May. The doctors have said that their health is not normal and their faces reflect lack of nutrients, condition affecting another 154 infants with low weight from the same region.
Marisela Quin Ordoñez, mother of both children tells that they lived in the community of Las Marias, but tropical storm Agatha overflowed the rivers in the area, destroying people’s homes and crops. "We were left with nothing, now my husband will have to struggle to get us ahead. Huts were built for us to live in this place and they give us barely enough food to distribute it among the entire family” she says.
She adds that dozens of families in the same situation as hers are concerned because they completely depended on their corn crops, but mud and rocks swept them away.
Reports from the Ministry of Agriculture, Cattle and Food indicate that 38,313 hectares of crops valued in 40.7 million dollars were lost due to Agatha storm. Most affected crops were corn, plantains, watermelon, coffee, tomatoes, papaya and lemon. This portfolio denotes irrigation infrastructure losses of $4.5 million.
“We lost our homes and we have nothing to harvest because the whole corn plantation was destroyed. We are extremely poor and I am very worried because my children began to starve”, said Marisela.
“Before the storm, the kids ate bread or tortillas with a piece of beef or chicken soup, but now they are getting used to eat a tortilla dipped in a cup of coffee, because the bag of food they give us is not enough”, she adds.
For over two months, the Ordoñez’ have been living together with other families in temporary households built in Las Marias settlement, where they share collective basic services, such as toilets, kitchen, dining room and bedroom, and consume the food the Government provides them to reduce children malnutrition.
Ministry of Health authorities informed that 156 children in Las Marias were detected with low weight and respiratory problems, out of which two had severe malnutrition problems.
According to Dr. Giovanni Nelson, guidance has been given to parents on how to feed their children with the food provided by the Government in terms of meal times, in order to have a good nutrition. However, he indicates they have found some resistance from mothers to feed children with those products, perhaps due to ignorance.
To overcome this, the Ministry of Health’s Food Security and Nutrition Program (PROSAN), with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP) has developed an immediate response plan to strengthen the nutrition of children under five affected by Agatha storm and found in shelters, such as Las Marias.
According to UNICEF, the project aims to prevent nutritional status deterioration of children under five, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. It has fostered the creation of groups of mothers to raise awareness on the benefits of breastfeeding, complementary feeding and new nutritious recipes, among others.
Patulul Municipality carried out a census to identify malnutrition cases in the shelter. To date, 53 children have been detected with malnutrition. They hope to ease this problem with the support of UNICEF through providing counseling to mothers on how to adequately feed their children and not waste the food they receive.
Marisela says that after receiving training from the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, she has understood the importance of providing her children with the needed nutrients to gain weight and eat better.
She adds: “At the shelter, they placed a recipe poster which helps us as guidance to prepare foods. We have also received pamphlets on infant feeding and a vitamin called Sprinkles”.
“I think this is a way we can overcome the bad times we are living now and give our children a better diet so they are not malnourished”, ends Marisela.