Totonicapan, lovingly shortened to Toto, is a state in Guatemala with one of the highest levels of chronic child malnutrition. Our expectations visiting this rural and indigenous area were based on the natural assumption that poverty equals malnutrition. However, as we began driving through Paxtoca (a town of roughly 6,000 people in the southwest of Toto) we noticed paved roads, colorfully painted houses and an extremely clean health center. Another surprise—our visit happened to coincide with the first event to give out the World Food Program’s new complimentary food Mi Comidita (My Little Food), a nutritious porridge for children between six months and two years.
As we approached the health center, there was a frenzy of nearly 100 women and children from Paxtoca on the grounds. Babies were perfectly snug in colorful textiles tied around their mothers’ backs and young toddlers waddled around the grounds. The health promoter was about to begin her cooking demonstration with Mi Comidita. She explained how to prepare the porridge in a healthy and hygienic manner. To check their understanding, the promoter called out questions about preparation waiting for the mothers to respond in unison.
Mothers in Paxtoca with children between six months and two years receive Mi Comidita each month as part of a concerted effort to combat chronic child malnutrition. Complementary food is one of the 10 interventions of La Ventana de los Mil Días. Through chatting with someone from World Food Program (WFP) during the event, we learned that unfortunately, giving Mi Comidita away is not enough. “What happens in the kitchen is a mystery.” Poor food choices aren’t only because of low income. Our WFP contact assured us that there is money in Paxtoca, especially because of remittances from immigrants in the US. So, if a family is receiving free complementary food AND has the means to buy nutritious foods from two of the major markets nearby, what is keeping the children in Paxtoca malnourished?
After two weeks of interviews and meetings discussing chronic malnutrition in Guatemala, some themes are beginning to resonate with us. Sadly our time here is just about over and it’ll be up to us to make sense of everything we’ve seen, heard and observed while down here. Next up--drawing some useful conclusions and recommendations to support the multi-sectoral effort at ending chronic child malnutrition in Guatemala.
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Photos courtesy of Explorers in Guatemala.