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Guatemala Endures Food Emergency - 2002-12-23


In the Central American country of Guatemala, there is special concern for the estimated 60-thousand children under the age of five who are seriously malnourished. VOA-TV’s Margaret Kennedy traveled to Guatemala to meet one woman who is trying to “feed the hungry”.

This is the face of hunger in Guatemala. Her name is Tania. She is 2-years-old. Sister Francia is a Catholic nun, a member of a community known as Friends of Christ the Worker. She daily cares for Tania and 30 other children because their families cannot afford to feed them. Sister Francia works at the Sanixtan Nutritional Center in Jalpatagua, Guatemala.

The food is simple and hearty, and so is Sister Francia’s touch.

She introduces us to Marisol, a 5-year-old. Marisol is one of the children with permanent developmental damage from malnutrition.

Poverty and hardship have long been part of everyday life in the highlands of Guatemala. But in the past few years, the situation has become even worse in a series of calamities, triggered by a hurricane, then a devastating drought. In these large families very young children are often the last to eat.

Officials acknowledge up to 70 percent of Guatemala’s eleven million people suffer from malnutrition. Most are the indigenous Maya, who have been disadvantaged since the days of Spanish colonialism.

Brian Rudert, who is with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Guatemala City, explains how the calamity has grown.

BRIAN RUDERT
“There was a very serious drought last summer that affected the corn crop. And, then the drop in the international coffee prices, which basically cut the labor demand for picking coffee in about half. So families, that their survival strategy was getting one corn crop a year and then picking coffee the rest of the year, got hit with a double whammy. And, it just sent them over the edge.”

The crisis grew steadily and unseen until local journalists discovered dozens of children dying in one rural area. The government investigated, then declared a food emergency. International aid agencies began supporting special feeding programs to contain the crisis.

Here at Sanixtan, support comes from international groups, religious groups and private donors. Volunteers sometimes stay for a few months at a time. Sister Francia keeps scrapbooks of the hundreds of children treated here.

SISTER FRANCIA
“This can only be done for love, for a great love that can only be inspired by God.”

Sister Francia runs an outreach program to search out sick and starving children. The feeding program at Sanixtan lasts three to six months and then the child can go home. Tati is two. She is healthy enough to go home. Sister Francia and the chaplain at Sanixtan go to Tati’s house to talk to her mother. They find only Tati’s brother, and what they see is discouraging. Sister Francia takes Tati with her again.

SISTER FRANCIA
“There are days when I wonder what am I doing here! It’s when one gets those crises, it is in those moments when I think that I am totally crazy.

I was in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. I was wondering what I was doing there, that I was crazy. And then, all of a sudden, one of the little girls came singing,‘This is the way to praise God.’ I got goose bumps. It was incredible. The girl gave me an answer that could only come from God. “

U.S. Agency for International Development - http://www.usaid.gov/ Links/Profile of Guatemala - http://www.usaid.gov/regions/lac/gt/

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