“Helping mothers keep their children alive”

With the aim of reaching the home of every Wayuú child, a group of community promoters was established by UNICEF together with CEPIN. The group go house to house in their communities to ensure the nutritional status of boys and girls.

Alejandra Pocaterra, UNICEF Venezuela Communications Consultant
Entrada de una casa ubicada en el sector Etnia Guajira 2, Maracaibo, estado Zulia.
UNICEF Venezuela/2020/Pocaterra
03 March 2021

Etnia Guajira is an indigenous community located on the outskirts of Maracaibo, Venezuela, almost nine hours from Caracas.  For more than 25 years ethnic Wayuú families have lived in the community, getting closer to the city in order to improve their living conditions.  They built their houses with what is available nearby, many built of tin walls and dirt floors. 

In the Wayuú culture, it is common to see children in the arms of other children, as it is siblings that care for and raise one another while Mom and Dad are out looking for ways to sustain the home and family. 

Jeannette Makenga, a member of the missionaries of Jesus Christ, arrived in Maracaibo 24 years ago and decided to focus on addressing the severe problems of malnutrition affecting children in the community. 

Fifteen years ago she decided to establish CEPIN1, today a UNICEF partner, with the objective of changing the malnutrition reality that wayuú children face, and as a result granting them the possibility of accessing basic education. 

With the aim of going above and beyond and reaching the home of every wayúu child, a group of community promoters was established together with UNICEF and CEPIN.  Issues addressed in their include safe water, hygiene, and sanitation, nutrition, protection, and education.  These promoters are women that in their specific communities go house-to-house ensuring the nutritional status of each child, as well as asking about their school enrollment, and promoting each and every one of their rights.  Many of these children were not registered at birth and have yet to be granted formal identification, others are not in school, and the majority of them come from homes where cases of acute or severe malnutrition are present.

Maribel Fernández, Promotora de UNICEF, caminando por la comunidad Etnia Guajira 2.
UNICEF Venezuela/2020/Pocaterra
Maribel Fernández, UNICEF Women Promoters, walking through the Etnia Guajira 2 community.

Maribel Fernández is one of these promotors.  Every day she goes door to door through her community, Etnia Guajira 2.  One day while she was making her rounds she knocked on the door of a house just a few meters from her own and met Anita González, a 4-year-old girl who weighed a mere 6 kilos.  Maribel noticed Anita was unable to speak or sit up, much less walk, and decided to take her to CEPIN where she received medical attention, as well as a sobering diagnosis.  Anita was in a very delicate situation.

Anita, de 4 años, jugando en el patio de su casa, en el estado Zulia.
UNICEF Venezuela/2020/Pocaterra
Anita, 4, playing in the courtyard of her house, in Zulia state.

“Anita´s story impacted me greatly because she lived in my own community, but before entering the UNICEF programme I didn´t even know her.  She is a child abandoned by a teen mother and lives with her extended family, but they do not have the means to sustain her.  It was very difficult to gain access to her home, as her family said she was so thin because of a bad spell cast on her,” explained Maribel. 

Thanks to nutritional supplements and multivitamins, as well as Maribel´s daily, follow-up visit, Anita gained 800 grams in one month.  The next month she gained a little more.  Today Anita is beginning to take her first steps.  Three months have passed and Maribel continues to go by her house, as well as the homes of many others in her community, every day. 

“Being able to help mothers keep their children alive makes me feel very proud,” expressed Maribel. 


Alejandra Pocaterra, UNICEF Venezuela Communications Consultant