Most of us are given a healthy start to life. We are taken care of by our mother from the moment she sees the “pink line.” My daughter was given every advantage to a healthy start to life. I ate a well balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables and dairy, and I religiously took my prenatal vitamins. Because of this she thrived inside of me for nine wonderful months. Unfortunately, she lived for only a short time – thirty minutes at most.
Intellectually I understand that she died from a genetic disease and that there was nothing that I could have done differently to change things. On a recent humanitarian trip to Guatemala to learn about Save the Children’s (SC) food security program, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the staggering statistics of children dying needlessly from a preventable condition - malnutrition. I couldn’t help but think of the cruel pain and suffering that these children’s parents went through. I was able to make sense, as difficult as it was, of my daughter’s death, but how does a parent make sense of a death from the lack of the most basic right of every child - proper nutrition? Sadly, countless parents around the world are needlessly losing their children to malnutrition
Malnutrition isn’t necessarily caused by the lack of food but rather by the lack of vital nutrients found in healthy food. Sustaining a poor diet and poor eating habits can lead to chronic malnutrition and mortality. It’s a vicious cycle that usually starts during pregnancy, and often with a malnourished mother. Tragically, malnutrition – a preventable condition is still an underlying cause of 45% of child deaths. SC is committed to giving children in the United States and around the world what every child deserves – a healthy start.
Driving along the windy mountainous roads of the Quiche highlands en route to see a goat milk program, a part of the food security program, we passed men, women and children as they slowly walked along the same precarious mountain route that our SUV comfortably carried us. The remoteness of the Mayan villages confirms the need for a food security program as did the cramped crops planted along the steep hillsides. The idea of me travelling to Guatemala to see a goat milk program became the brunt of many silly “kid” jokes among my children: “What do you call a goat with a beard?... A Goatee!”, or even worse “What do you call the best ‘butter’ on the farm?...A goat!” All kidding aside (I’ve got my own repertoire of goat jokes) I can tell you that the goat program is no joke. SC is working hard to break the vicious cycle of malnutrition in Guatemala by promoting healthy eating habits through the goat milk program.
In order to crack the cycle of malnutrition, improving the nutritional status of mothers and children under five is imperative. Through the goat milk program, I met with poor families in remote villages who were taught basic behavioral changes in nutrition, health care, and husbandry. Juanita, a community volunteer dressed in a bright purple sweater and a long hand-woven red skirt, proudly let us into her home, our first stop of three goat modules. Her three healthy children and the sheen of her doe’s hair is proof of her success. Trained to care for her goat by providing a clean and safe living environment, adequate exercise, and a strict diet of grasses, Juanita is taking steps to help her community fight off the devastation of malnutrition. She explained to us how she was taught to use her goat for multiple benefits. Beyond the obvious: milk, meat, and manure for fertilizer, she collects goat’s urine for pesticide. By attaching a plastic tarp under the goat’s stall, the urine and manure are collected and sifted through a common kitchen colander into a bucket. The droppings are placed into compost and the urine is transferred into used gallon soda bottles. Her diligence is rewarded by hardy crops and her children’s daily glass of fresh goat milk giving them the essential nutrients and vitamins that they otherwise would not have.
On our way to meet Senor Cash, a volunteer raising twelve goats, we are warmly greeted by a group of smiling children that I soon realized are our unofficial “tour guides.” They lead us through an Alice in Wonderland like maze of glowing green crops; thanks to urine pesticide and manure fertilizer. As we reached his home, a small crowd of whispering women and children had gathered - Senor Cash has earned “rock star” status is his sleepy Mayan village. Instead of selling his milk surplus for much needed income, he provides local families with young children a cup of creamy goat milk per day, per child. This cup of milk is the difference between a thriving child and a dying child. And, our “tour guides” – they’re just some of his very happy beneficiaries (groupies!).
Our final stop on the “milk train” is a newly opened goat raising center that SC, along with the support from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), opened as an integral part of the goat milk program. Thousands of children and their families will benefit from the center by learning the same goat raising techniques that Juanita and Senor Cash use. These skills will enable them to provide their children with the key nutrients to grow and to create an income from their milk surplus.
Touring the pristine facility I am drawn to a newborn goat separated from his mother. Cradling him gently in my arms, my heart aches as he searches my neck for his mother’s nipples taking me back seventeen years earlier to the swell of my breast begging for relief from my baby. My emotions travel full circle as the sting of my grief feels fresh and my affection for the women and children that I had only just met overwhelms me. Strangely, I am overcome by a sense of healing and of purpose; helping other children in a way that I wasn’t able to help my daughter.
As I click “process order” for my weekly online milk and produce delivery I’m reminded of my good fortune and cannot help but think of Juanita and Senor Cash. Rather than accepting their fate they have made the courageous commitment to bring change to their community. I’m grateful to have met them and thankful for the lessons that they unknowingly have given me. On the outside we are different: we look different, dress different – I am as foreign to them as they are to me. But on the inside we are the same. We love our children and want the same for them – a healthy start to life.
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