Guatemalans’ Quest for a Better Future: Free from Malnutrition

Women in Quiché who are now teaching their own communities about the atol and nutrition

Items are categorized into food groups – part of the learning process to fight malnutrition.

Donia Tomasa prepares an ancient Mayan beverage, atol.

Children with enlarged abdomens, thinning hair and sad eyes—signs of malnutrition—are seen in Guatemala’s countryside.  Chronic malnutrition, the country’s “silent enemy” affects half of the children under five. Malnutrition has an impact on children’s intellectual capacity, thus mortgaging their future. 

In 2012, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives contributed CAD$60,000 to Guatemalan efforts to reduce chronic malnutrition by 10% before 2015.  CFLI supported three groups working with rural indigenous communities to attack the root causes of this scourge.

In the northern department of Baja Verapaz, poverty affects half of the population. Bad agricultural practices and poor nutrition habits stand in the way of economic growth, despite the fertility of the land.  

Bringing Hope to the Achi

Canada targeted the Achi population, which has an average age of 17, to build the skills that would help them diversify production, improve nutrition and reconstruct their economy.  Specifically, the CFLI supported the New Hope Foundation Training Center in Rabinal.

162 high school students learned about food diversification through the Center’s new technical education program. Students started a laying-hen business and are learning about tilapia fish production, better production techniques including the use of mini-irrigation systems, soil conservation, and improved nutrition and hygiene practices. 

When these young leaders return to their communities, they will teach their neighbours what they have learned.

“This will help me and my family produce more, but I also hope to help my community achieve prosperity.  We are seven in my family.  I am excited because I know that with everything I have learned, my family and I will be able to have a better life,” said Lilian Balbito, age 16.

“I wanted to come here and study with the New Hope Foundation because I want to learn more about vegetables and different kinds of natural fertilizers.  With this, I will be able to help my family grow our own vegetables, and we will be able to distribute them to the community,” said Juan Guilberto, age 17.

Building New Relationships in Quiché              

Quiché presents a different reality.  This is a 90% indigenous department where families and communities are closely knit, and where Spanish is only spoken by a few.  Change coming from outside is regarded with mistrust.  Taking this into account, CFLI partnered with the Barbara Ford Peace Center, a NGO working with Quiché families. 

Young indigenous leaders learned about how to improve their nutrition practices. Through research on ancient Mayan products with high nutritional content, the Quiché are now benefiting from an ancient beverage of mixed grains, atoll.  It is easy to prepare and inexpensive.

This information quickly spread among the families of the area.  Young community leaders quickly organized gatherings to find out about this drink and to talk about ways to improve nutrition with local products. 

Doña Tomasa, age 32, is the mother of four children, ages six, nine, ten and twelve. She said with a smile, “My husband was always tired, and it was hard for him to get up and go to work.  Then, I thought I would try giving him the atol.  He has been taking it for two months and now he feels better.  He even helps me at home.”

Hugues Rousseau, Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala, said, “Canada is proud to contribute to Guatemala's efforts to reduce chronic malnutrition and to ensure the prosperity of future generations in the country. The links of friendship and solidarity between Canada and Guatemala continue to grow and ensuring food security is a key element in that relationship.”