In the Guatemala highlands, this is what I see.
I see Quechua mothers donning beautiful hand-embroidered blouses, bearing swaddled babies on their backs, and holding the hands of small children as they bring their families to visit the makeshift dental clinics we set up in schools in remote indigenous communities.
I see malnutrition. I see full hearts and skinny limbs. I see large appetites and little fingers. I see big smiles and cracked skin. Behind the smiles, I see swollen and bleeding gums, the first oral symptoms of malnutrition before teeth inevitably begin to decay.
I see evidence of stunting. I see small bodies that have failed to develop fully without enough of the basic nutrients they need to function and grow. I see families who make up the fifty-three percent of Guatemala’s population who live in poverty.
I see mothers who give their children all that they have. And I see that, sometimes, it is not enough. Sometimes, it is simply what’s available. I see tiny hands wrapped around baby bottles filled with coke – a tragically accessible and affordable option to soothe the hunger pangs of tiny bellies.
I see a Mother’s love. It is in the eyes, the touch, the voices of the mothers who gather. It is in the calming words as nervous children are consoled. It is in the scolding tones as siblings get rowdy impatiently waiting in line. I see it in the wiping of tears as teeth are extracted and in the soothing songs as swaddled babies sleep. I see it everywhere.
In the Guatemala highlands, I see that it is by lack of resources, access, and education, and certainly not by lack of love, that sees fifty percent of children under five years old suffering from chronic undernutrition, the fourth highest rate in the world.
With insufficient access to affordable and nutritious food, lack of pre- and post-natal care and education, poor feeding practices, and without access to health services, the cycle of malnutrition is just that, a cycle. I see it.
Change for Children’s new Maternal and Child Health project in Guatemala will address urgent needs by providing medical attention and vitamin and food supplements for the severely undernourished. It will increase access to food through assistance with family gardens, and improve the overall health of pregnant women and children under five by providing nutrition education to pregnant mothers and improving health services for women, newborns, and children. I see an opportunity to help mothers help themselves and their children be healthy. I see an end to preventable deaths.
This mother’s day, as you are preparing a meal for your children or treating your own mom to brunch, consider a donation to this project in honour of your Mom. To recognize all that she does, has done, is doing, and to acknowledge the resources available here at home to help ensure healthy mothers, newborns, and children. And to pass it on.
A very different cycle is in sight. I see healthy growth and brain development. I see full hearts and strong immune systems. I see improved educational performance and children who become healthy parents. I see big smiles and a generation of mothers rearing not only happy, but also healthy, children.
I see opportunity for mothers to give their children something more than what they had. I see that we can help.