Trifecta – a type of bet, especially on horse races, in which the bettor must select the first three finishers in exact order.
I’ve never been to a horse race in my life. But based on the few times that I’ve ever tried my hand at gambling, I would undoubtedly lose my money if I ever went. In horse-racing, hitting the Trifecta means you win big. It’s hard enough to predict the success of ONE horse. But to predict the success – in order – of THREE horses results in a BIG payoff!
At Hunger Relief International, we are betting that providing access to a combination of basic services will similarly have a big payoff for the families living in extreme poverty in the southern rural region of Guatemala. We call this combination the Trifecta, and it can literally change the lives of entire families in this region, in Haiti, and for that matter, around the world.
Our Trifecta is made up of a water filter, a latrine, and a safe cookstove. In twenty-first-century America, safe drinking water, a place to go to the bathroom, and the easy ability to cook food without inhaling a bunch of smoke, are such a natural part of everyday life that it is easy to miss the miracles that these daily conveniences really are. The rural villages of southern Guatemala, however, are a far cry from twenty-first-century America. So before we dive into the miracles of the Trifecta, it is important to understand the level at which these communities are operating. So I want to set the scene a bit, to help us with some perspective…
Las Brisas is a remote village in the southern rural region of Guatemala. It is one of 66 similar villages that surround the city of Cuilapa, about 40 miles southeast of Guatemala City. You won’t find Las Brisas, or any of the villages in this area, on a map, but it is there, several miles from the highway on a bumpy mountain road. The turnoff from the highway is about 15 minutes from Cuilapa, but that’s just where the adventure of reaching Las Brisas begins because, from the highway, it’s a 30-minute drive up this mountain road. The road is about 1 1/2 lanes in width. There’s not a lot of traffic, because while many people own old pickup trucks and motorbikes to get up and down the mountain, many others do not. But things can get a little tricky when you meet another vehicle on the road because there is not a lot of wiggle room on either side.
The road down into Las Brisas is one that most people I know would not attempt without a 4-wheel drive Jeep and some really good car insurance. It is a steep, jarring descent into the village from the mountain road. Along the side of the road, glimpses of houses can be seen. They are representative of the houses of other villages I’ve worked in from this area: corrugated tin roof, sheets for doors, scrap wood or metal cobbled together for walls, dirt floors. The nicer houses are made from cinder blocks. Smoke from cook fires comes from just about every house, filling the insides of many of them. We walk through the milpa (cornfields) and through rows and rows of lemon trees to move from house to house. We wait behind about 20 cattle – skinny, with their ribs, shoulders, and hips jutting out at odd angles from their bodies – as they make their way down the road to the riverbed to take a morning drink. It’s not the kind of traffic jam I am used to in Austin, TX.
On my first day in Las Brisas, we are here to talk to the community about a new school feeding program we are initiating with the help of a church in Texas. We’re excited because our program is going to offer a game-changing opportunity to the school-aged children in the community. We call it…Breakfast.
Breakfast? Really? Yes, breakfast. Really…
Historically, our school feeding programs have provided a lunch/late breakfast meal to the school-aged children every day during the school year. Prepared by a rotating group of volunteer moms from the villages, the kids would usually break anytime between 9:30-11:00 am to eat their meal, after having started the school day sometime between 7:00-8:00 am. It’s a filling, healthy meal with protein and carbohydrates. But as you can imagine, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate, or even stay awake, during the first few hours of instruction when your belly is telling you to put something in it.
In 2019, the Guatemalan government decided to provide 5 QTQ (5 quetzales, or about 67 US cents) per day to feed each school student. Guatemala consistently has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, and this law is an attempt to begin rectifying that. The government feeding program puts the responsibility of making it happen on the parents’ shoulders, so each community has an OPF (Organizacion Para Familias) that is in charge of buying and preparing the food. This is great news because we WANT communities to take responsibility for running their own programs. It’s also great news because it allows HRI to now direct our resources to help the children get something to eat BEFORE class instruction begins each day.
Think about how you feel when it’s close, but not quite time for lunch during your work or school day. You have 30 minutes or an hour before you can eat, and you have things to do, but it gets increasingly difficult to concentrate on your work. You might even get a little grumpy – hangry, we like to call it. How productive is that hour for you? I can tell you that for me, that hour can sometimes be a complete waste of time. Now, imagine that you are 7. How in the world are you really going to concentrate on what you are being taught, when all you can really think about is, “When can I eat?”
Being able to provide a boiled egg (considered one of the most nutritious breakfasts for children) a piece of fresh fruit, or even a nutritious drink for each little belly before the daily instruction starts is going to significantly increase the effectiveness of morning instruction time in these schools. I would imagine it will also cut down on the number of children who are late to school, in the same way, that we have seen feeding programs in general cut down on the number of absences. The more children who are at school on time, and eating breakfast, the more quality instruction time they are receiving each day. The more quality instruction time, the greater their chances of finishing primaria (elementary school) and continuing on to basico (middle school, which is optional and requires them to go into town or possibly another, larger village for class). The longer they are in school, the more opportunities are available to them.
The school feeding program in Las Brisas (and other villages in Guatemala and Haiti) is a foundational part of HRI’s endeavor to increase the overall health outcomes of families – particularly children under 12. But access to food is no good if a child’s body cannot retain the nutritional content of the food. And that is why access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and healthy methods of prepping the food are key components that go hand-in-hand with the school feeding programs. The Trifecta addresses these core problems and sets these families up for the payoff!
In Parts 2-4 of this series, we will discuss each component of the Trifecta, and its importance, in greater detail.
If you would like to be a part of bringing a Trifecta to a family in Guatemala ($500), or breakfast for one month in one of our villages ($400), consider launching a Facebook fundraiser. Simply choose Hunger Relief International as your non-profit recipient, and start sharing!