We’re a few days into part two of our research/adventure: “the field.” Leaving the formal office settings of Guatemala City behind, we’ve been breathing in fresh air and getting to see how the rest of Guatemalans live. This past weekend was supposed to be time off, lounging around Lake Atitlan and reflecting on the previous week. But when we were offered a visit to one of the poorer rural communities surrounding the lake, we couldn’t resist. An opportunity to see if all the great things we’ve heard about La Ventana de los Mil Dias in Guatemala City are actually reaching malnourished communities or not.
Tzununá is one of 12 communities surrounding the lake. Its name means hummingbird in the Mayan language Kaqchiquel. To get there, we hopped on a water taxi and crossed the lake to meet Noemi (not her real name), a young woman who works in the community’s newly constructed nutrition center. After a delightful 20 minute ride taking in the volcanic landscape, we hopped off the boat and immediately noticed this was not the touristy town like the one we had been staying in.
A short walk brought us to the bottom of Tzununá. Immediately we saw a Puesto de Salud, the government community health post. These puestos are supposed to be an important part of La Ventana de los Mil Dias as they deliver many interventions to pregnant women and mothers such as vitamins and micronutrients. However, as Noemi guided us around her community, she complained that the puesto rarely has these items on-hand and that the staff spends their time sitting around instead of weighing and measuring kids.
Walking through Tzununá we asked about the eating habits of its community members. Noemi described a varied and healthy diet that most people could access. Nevertheless, we observed an abundance of junk food and soft drinks. It was jarring to see a young indigenous mother and toddler in typical dress with a bag of chips and a two-liter bottle of soda in hand. Chronic malnutrition is a problem in Tzununá and since last year, one Guatemalan foundation has been pouring money into the community including constructing the nutrition center where Noemi works. At the center, Noemi prepares food for community members using clean water and micronutrient powder. These are important actions that demonstrate things may be starting to change in Tzununá. However, Noemi also shared that many mothers in the community do not believe their children are suffering from chronic malnutrition.
Hidden hunger continues to afflict rural areas of Guatemala after two years of La Ventana de los Mil Dias which leaves us wondering about the efficacy of government efforts to communicate about chronic child malnutrition.
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Photos and video from Explorers in Guatemala.