Another day in Guatemala. As I’m writing this, I can hear the gentle (read: rare) sounds of rain falling on my roof. I was on Facebook earlier today and saw a status from someone at home and it talked about reflecting on the past and seeing how it has affected your present. So, I took a moment to read my journal from the last month, which although it isn’t a lot of time, a lot has changed in the way I see this job and my ability to be a capacity builder.
Before I came to site, I envisioned that I was going to be running the gamut: I would be doing charlas (health talks), I would be teaching Zumba classes, I would be helping bring about behavior change with my coworkers. Some of this I am doing: I’ve been giving a lot of health talks on different topics such as HIV, hand washing and good hygiene, and family planning. I’ve gotten to help weigh and measure babies as well as witness a natural birth. It has been incredible to be here and to experience these things.
But now that it is real, that I’m really here and working and living in this community it has started to hit me. Reality is really real for some people. Yes, that sounds like a very hippie way of saying it, but its true. This is something that has really come to head recently since I’ve been doing home visits.
Home visits is where I go with the health educators or nutritionists to monitor if babies who are malnourished (usually moderate, but in some cases, severe) are gaining weight or not. Our trainings never really adequately prepared us for the things that we will be seeing, but even if they did, it still doesn’t take away from the shock of seeing people living in inhumane conditions. I say inhumane conditions because I really feel that no child should go hungry. No parent should have to worry if their child will make it past the age of 2 years old.
I’ve gone to about 6 different house visits, and it hasn’t gotten easier seeing the realities of poverty in a rural context. Most of the poverty that I have seen in the United States has been in an urban context. Out of the 6 homes that I’ve gone to, one home has been the most difficult. The family is comprised of 9 people, 7 kids and a mom and a dad. They live off a road that has literally fallen into a ditch and is in a mud swamp (when it rains, there is mud everywhere). The family makes Q1000 a month, which is about $130 USD a month. They have cats that are underfed and you can see their ribs when they move.
I’ve been to this home now two times, because their son Antonio is at high risk of developing severe malnutrition. Antonio just turned 1, and he weighs 10 pounds. Antonio’s older brother, Juan Orlando is 13 but looks as if he could be 8 because he is severely stunted. I was playing with the kids when I noticed a dry corn on the cob, and I asked Juan Orlando why is it so dry. He said if they didn’t pick the corn off the cob, then their mom couldn’t make tortillas, and if they didn’t eat tortillas they would die. And then he laughed.
To say it is disturbing to see a child joke about his demise before he has even had a chance to start living is an understatement. So I made a game out of shucking the corn to distract the other kids from understanding what he just said. Sometimes, I feel like the best way I can serve is to be a distraction; to be positive and joyful, because joy is a privilege. The stress of living in poverty is real (read this article, very good and powerful: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/k-ford-k/changing-face-of-poverty_b_5102754.html ). Mothers that I speak to look like they’re in their late 40s but are only in mid 20s or 30s. Their faces are wrinkled and reflect tiredness. Fathers too, bear the same faces, plus they work 10+ hour days in the farm trying to provide for the family. Joy is something people don’t get to always experience here, and its something I try to bring during the house visits. Playing with the kids or trying to put a smile on someone’s face to me makes a difference, albeit a small one.
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We have been monitoring Antonio’s weight and he hasn’t gained any since our last visit. We gave him Mi Comidita, which is a powder that has proteins and vitamins in it. Mi Comidita is for infants 6 months – 2 years old. After that, kids who are malnourished can consume incaparina, which has similar properties to it. Once its brewed, it gains the consistency of pudding and you can add fruits to it to make it taste better.
The nutritionist, the presidents of MAGA (Agriculture) and SESAN (Food Security) and myself had to have an intervention meeting with Antonio’s parents to show that they will work with us to raise Antonio’s weight. I can feel that they are frustrated and that they are trying their best to help their child. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a parent sometimes. We went back to the house yesterday, and Antonio still weighs only 10 pounds. When I held him, I could feel his spine in my arms and when I hold his hands, his bones are like little snowflakes, so soft and fragile. The nutritionist had to tell his mom that if he doesn’t gain weight by next week, he will have to hospitalized. If he doesn’t gain enough weight by the age of 2, where the effects of malnutrition physically can be reversed, then its a dismal end. I am praying for him, and I hope that anyone reading this keeps Antonio and his family in your prayers.
This is the reality of my job, and this is the reality of many of the communities in which I work in. These are the realities of health, nutrition, and life in developing nations. I hate that term, but its the only way to categorize the specific type of poverty that I work and live in. Antonio’s story is probably one of hundreds that I’ve yet to hear. Sometimes, I feel guilty for being sad because my sadness doesn’t take away from his life expectancy or his ability to grow to a healthy size and condition. I’ve realized here that fairness is also highly subjective, and that life is not equal for all babies. I knew this before coming here, but it really been cemented in my work life here. I worry that over time, I will become numb to these realities, but I don’t want to be. I love my job, I love the work that we are doing in the health center, and I feel honored to be here and serving. But it has been hard.
Even when we went to the national hospital and saw babies on ventilators, the size of half a loaf of bread struggling to breathe. I still see a lot of hope here. And this is what ultimately has inspired me to keep on keeping on. After that first visit, I was doubting my abilities to serve here, to keep on keeping on. Something that two of my close friends Alicia and Daisy shared the same words of wisdom with me. They said, you could give up and go home, but the problem will still persist. Why not stay and help? Those words really invigorated me and I wanted to give them a shout out for being awesome volunteers and people.
Although this post was very dark and serious, I have been having a really great time here. I have become a vegetarian more or less because I don’t have access to a refrigerator. It’s been pretty easy not eating meat or chicken regularly, which was surprising. I love my coworkers, and we are getting closer each day. I’m falling in love with my community and getting to know all the quirky characters that live here. I discovered there is a smoothie shop in my town, so I got a nice strawberry banana smoothie for $1.05 USD after a long’s day of work. So even with the more difficult elements of my life, I am still pleased to say that I’m happy and satisfied with where I’m at right now and how much I have grown in the last 4 months of being in this country.