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At a glance: Guatemala

Women’s group fights malnutrition with knowledge in San Pablo La Laguna

UNICEF Image: Guatemala, malnutrition
© UNICEF Guatemala/2007/Arteaga
Several of the women who work for the organization Creciendo Bien in San Pablo La Laguna.

By Blue Chevigny

SOLOLÁ, Guatemala, 18 September 2007 –  In the small villages that dot the shores of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, there are few sources of income. The mostly indigenous population suffers from high levels of poverty, with women and children often stricken with poor health and chronic malnutrition as a result.

In the lakeside village of San Pablo La Laguna in Sololá, a women’s advancement organization called Creciendo Bien (Growing Well) holds monthly workshops teaching women to improve their own lives and communities. This UNICEF partner instructs women on a variety of topics, but focuses mostly on health and nutrition.

Mothers and community leaders
Creciendo Bien has trained a group of women as volunteers called ‘Mother Leaders’ to educate their community about nutrition. In turn, each leader trains a group of 25 women who have signed up for the programme.

“The trainings help us with real life,” says the youngest of the Mother Leaders, 21-year-old Chonita.

Leaders like Chonita visit families in the community and weigh their babies to ensure they are developing at a healthy rate. If there are problems with nutrition in a family, they try to remedy them.

“The Creciendo Bien programme was created to educate women on how to prepare food,” says the coordinator for all of Creciendo Bien’s Mother Leaders, Dora Maria Yojcom. “For example: beans. It’s a simple food here in Guatemala and it’s nutritious for the child.  In this way, we begin to educate people to change malnutrition into nutrition.”

UNICEF Image: Guatemala, malnutrition
© UNICEF Guatemala/2007/ Arteaga
Creciendo Bien worker Jennifer Maria Romero who coordinates women trainers in eight villages of Sololá.

Facing many challenges

UNICEF Representative in Guatemala Manuel Manrique notes that the problem of malnutrition is one that extends far beyond San Pablo La Laguna.

“There are a significant number of children that are in danger of not developing all their potential because they are chronically malnourished,” says Mr. Manrique.

Creciendo Bien and similar organizations face many challenges. In San Pablo La Laguna, many women spend their days weaving tiny bags that are sold for about ten cents each. Women often don’t have time or the resources to attend trainings.

In addition, many women are malnourished themselves, which makes it harder for them to successfully breastfeed their babies.

“Chronic malnutrition reproduces itself. Women have children with lower birth weights and suffer all the consequences,” Mr. Manrique says.

Improving nutrition, changing lives

Slowly but surely, Creciendo Bien is making progress.

“Before this programme came to this village, there were many cases of malnutrition.  Now with the programme, we are improving the lives of children through the one-on-one trainings that we give women,” says Creciendo Bien worker Jennifer Maria Romero.

But for many women in the Creciendo Bien programme, focusing on their own health is very difficult.

“We have encountered women who had very low self-esteem, maybe because of various problems in their homes,” says Ms. Romero “We talk with them about the importance of loving yourself.”
The confidence that women in San Pablo La Laguna are gaining gives them the strength to change their lives for the better. It gives them hope for a better future for generations to come.

“We believe that women are capable of changing their own lives, the lives of their children, and of their families,” says Ms. Romero.




18 September 2007:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on one community group’s efforts to end chronic malnutrition in the village of San Pablo La Laguna.
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