Guatemala has the largest population in Central America with13.8 million people and one of the highest poverty rates in Latin America. Poverty is particularly widespread in the rural areas and among indigenous communities. The rates of infant mortality and malnutrition are among the highest in the region.
HRI is focusing much of our organizational efforts in the East Central Pacific Corridor, also known as the “dry corridor.” The communities of El Irayol, Nueva Candelaria, La 46, Agua Zarca and Los Chilitos are all located in this area and continue to suffer the severe effects of inadequate access to water and limited crop production due to irregular rainfall and drought.
HRI Programs in Guatemala:
1. School Feeding Program
Keeping our core objective at the heart of programs, HRI’s school feeding program is based on the premise that if we can feed children at school, their parents will be motivated to send them to school every day and the children will have the capacity to focus on learning, not being hungry. Simply put, hungry children cannot learn! In our school feeding programs children receive 2 meals a day – a light breakfast, usually a local oatmeal-based cereal drink called “atole” and a nutritious hot lunch consisting of rice, beans, pasta, tortillas, corn, oil and condiments. Members of the community come to school each day to prepare the meals and food is procured locally so that there is strong local and community involvement.
The school feeding programs address chronic malnutrition amongst school-aged children and also serve as an entry point for HRI within the communities, working to gain community trust and involvement, and fostering relationships which are vital to the long term goals of HRI’s initiatives.
The school feeding program is being implemented in six villages in Guatemala in 2013 including San Antonio Xenacoj, El Irayol, Los Chilitos, Nueva Candelaria, Agua Zarca and La 46. Over 1,000 children are benefiting from this program every school day.
2. Pre-K School Feeding Program
During the implementation of HRI’s school feeding program in Guatemalan schools, it became very clear that many children from six months to 5 years of age are experiencing serious malnutrition during vital growth years. Chronic malnutrition so early in a child’s life can lead to stunted growth and chronic illness and also impedes a child’s cognitive development.
The need to address this life threatening situation lead to a new initiative – a Pre-K Supplemental Feeding Program targeting this age group. HRI, in coordination with Fundacion Azucar (a Guatemalan organization), identifies children suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition and provides nutritional support for these children for a period of three months or until they reach their target weight. The program is implemented through take home rations and is monitored closely by HRI staff. During the program, the mothers receive training on children’s dietary needs, how to improve nutrition in the household with limited resources and are taught interesting ways to cook highly nutritious meals.
Finally, by providing nutritious food to the youngest children, HRI has expanded our outreach to an extremely vulnerable population as we continue to identify new strategies to fight malnutrition and hunger.
The Pre-K Supplemental Feeding program was successfully piloted in Nueva Candelaria in 2012 and we hope to expand this program in 2013.
3. 4 Her
Women’s empowerment is a critical tool in the fight against poverty in the developing world. In small rural communities, few girls stay in school beyond grade 6 and many start having children at very young ages, some as young as 15. For these girls, hopes and dreams are rare. Empowering adolescent girls and women gives them the capacity to strive to achieve greater self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.
The 4 Her program focuses on 4 main areas: health, education, equality and hope. We can empower women through the provision of information and training in areas such as reproductive health, personal hygiene, nutrition, child rearing, without disrespecting or negating local customs and traditions. The program strives to give women hope for the future by building their self-esteem and helping them to recognize their crucial role in the lives of those around them, encouraging them to educate all of their children – boys and girls alike- and giving them a sense of their importance and value as women, mothers and members of their families and communities.
The 4 Her program will be implemented in several villages in 2013.
4. Sustainable Stoves
Open wood fired cooking stoves continue to be the norm for most rural households in Latin America. This is especially true in impoverished villages and communities where few can afford modern cooking stoves and alternative fuel such as propane. Because these basic stoves lack one important detail – chimneys – chronic respiratory illness is a leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in Guatemala.
In an effort to alleviate chronic respiratory illness in women and children, decrease the financial burden on the household as well as to curb deforestation, pollution and subsequent watershed destruction, HRI is implementing an energy efficient stove project. Through this project, we are partnering with communities and families to build energy efficient stoves inside the homes. These stoves are designed to be used like traditional stoves but use 1/3 less firewood, maintain heat more efficiently, are raised off the ground to prevent accidents and injury and include a chimney to carry smoke out of the home.
Sustainable cooking stoves serve traditional roles while incorporating basic sustainable practices. They are designed for local communities specifically so that women can easily transition into using them, they use the same fuel source (firewood) and are simple to construct and maintain.
The sustainable stove project successfully launched in the 3rd quarter of 2012 and we have already received funding for 30 stoves in 2013.
5. Micro-Credit Loans
Globally, microcredit (micro-lending) has become an extremely effective tool to support economic development and generate safe sources of income in regions that suffer from extreme poverty. Microcredit is also an excellent way to teach people with little to no formal education about fiscal responsibility and business.
The loans are used to underwrite diverse small businesses and as the loans plus interest are repaid the funds go back into the program so that another individual or group can benefit from a loan. In this way, we are able to expand the reach of the program.
Microcredit makes it possible for people that want to help themselves to do so; it has the flexibility of allowing the borrower to either expand a very small business or create a business where only an idea or skill exists. For HRI, microcredit gives us the capability to assist families to provide for themselves and to help women truly understand their value not only within their households and families but also within their communities.
In 2013, HRI will use our microcredit initiative to start a mobile pharmacy project in several villages, bringing necessary medicines and supplies to communities with little or no access to these vital goods.
6. Income generating program: Egg production
Creating programs that generate income is a vital tool to combat poverty. Similar to our microcredit initiative, the implementation of income generating projects empowers women in the community and allows individuals to help themselves and their families without having to rely on outside support. The first project is an egg production initiative funded by Oral Roberts University. The construction of the hen coops began in March 2012 and by June 2012 a group of 5 women began selling a portion of the eggs while others are donated to supplement the HRI school feeding program in the community.
This project began to generate new income for five of the most vulnerable households in the small indigenous village of San Antonio Xenacoj. Through this project, HRI is already seeing (1) improved nutritional intake in the targeted households and the school, (2) increased income generation in these households, and (3) women taking the initiative and leading their families out of abject poverty.
Our goal is to implement at least one additional income generating, egg production project in Guatemala in 2013.
7. Vegetable Gardens
HRI believes that an important way to improve children’s health and wellbeing is to ensure ongoing access to critical vitamins and minerals needed for growth and development.
HRI plans to implement vegetable gardens in schools beginning in March 2013. HRI will provide seeds, tools and training to families living in the “dry corridor” to enable individual households and communities/schools to grow gardens so that they have a regular and diverse source of food high in vitamins and minerals.