A Volunteer's Perspective: Bolivia Malnutrition Screening



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Unnamed Bolivian mother and child, mother in traditional Bolivian aguayo and cholita garb

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Kate Strickling with screening participant at weighing station

BLOG POST BY KATE STRICKLING, MPH student at BYU

Volunteer for Liahona Children’s Foundation in Bolivia, May 2 – June 3, 2016

Bolivia is a developing country located in the heart of South America. It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with an estimated 59% of its inhabitants living in poverty-stricken conditions. Bolivia is a country rich in history and culture, but also a country where many people are struggling to meet basic daily needs.

The presence of the Liahona Children's Foundation in Bolivia was established in June 2014 in the city of Santa Cruz, and has recently expanded to the large city of Cochabamba. As a group of BYU students with an interest in public health and international development, we have been fortunate to aid in the establishment of LCF in this city with the goal of distributing dietary supplements and health education to malnourished children in the area.

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BYU volunteers, missionaries, local volunteers, and screening participants after a successful screening

Our work here has included helping local coordinators streamline the process of screening children for malnutrition, creating culturally appropriate health education lessons for families of both malnourished and healthy children, and training coordinators to effectively teach those lessons. While concepts like hand washing and safe food preparation are second nature to us as Americans, navigating cultural differences has proved to be much more difficult than we anticipated. We have found that many concepts like these that are simple to us are foreign ideas to those who have lived their whole lives in the Bolivian countryside.

Working with local stakes, wards, and schools, we have been able to experience the culture of Bolivia with every area we have traveled to. The influence of the indigenous people can be seen in everyday life through women carrying children on their backs in traditional aguayos to men chewing coca leaves in the streets. We have met incredible families and learned of the challenges they face daily. Many mothers that we met at screenings had traveled hours from the countryside with their small children to make sure that they are doing everything that they can for their children.

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Volunteer doctor, Nadir, consulting with a family after a screening

Whether they were 16 year-old mothers or mothers with 5 children, all of them shared the same concern for the health and well-being of their children and were willing to make sacrifices for the simple task of weighing and measuring their children. Local doctors, nurses, and nutritionists donated hours of their time each weekend and traveled with us to help screen and educate children and their families. Without the sacrifices of the volunteers, professionals, and the families who traveled to the screenings, as organized by the local LCF coordinator Flor Tapia, we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we did. We are now in the process of packing and organizing supplements that will be delivered to the homes of qualifying children along with culturally appropriate lessons to help educate parents on simple ways that they can keep their families healthier and prevent the threat of malnutrition in the future.

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BYU volunteers, sister missionaries, and local volunteers