Encountering Poverty at Ground Level

The boy’s arms were covered with pieces of paper depicting food. He had just taken them down from a giant poster of a clay jar, divided into food groups. These students from La Salle private school were presenting about proper nutrition to the group of over 30 women, many with young children by their sides. This group came to learn about how to prevent dengue and eat properly, especially during pregnancy. They played games to learn to identify food groups and learn their order. Afterwards, they received bags full of necessities, such as toothpaste.

This afternoon, we observed and tried to understand the students speaking in rapid Spanish as we realized the gaps in education the students were trying to fill. Most men in Guatemala don’t attend school past the sixth grade, and women usually don’t go past third. These women may have never learned about nutrition, but now they were being taught by high school students.

Earlier that day, we visited the main building of Corazón de los Niños, a center for a cooperative which provided low-cost medical, dental, psychological, and lab services to the poorest families in the community in addition to discounted food and clothing and tutoring for students. It also contained a low-cost pharmacy stocked with cold medicine and pain relievers. At any other pharmacy, those medications could cost far more than many families could afford. We hear about these sorts of public health initiatives often in the United States, but seeing it in action really made me realize the huge impact they can have in an area.

Although these programs are essential health of the poorest in the community, I wondered how much poverty limited their impact. The cooperative could only provide families with preserved food, and the families may not be able to afford the fresh foods that they were told they should eat. They were instructed to wash fruit before eating it, but some families have water supplies so undrinkable that we’re going to install water filters tomorrow.

The poverty that the cooperative is trying to combat is astounding, but so are their efforts. The scale of the program was huge, and there were centers in several towns. Although I know my impact will be small, I hope it may be important to the 5000 needy children surrounding Antigua.

Emma Holcomb is a participant in the CE by API Group Service Trip to Guatemala

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