One Month Before Screening
Nestled in the foothills and mountains southwest of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, lies San Felipe and a number of smaller villages that make up the San Felipe stake. The stake was adopted by a ward in East Millcreek, near Salt Lake City, Utah – 2700 miles to the northwest. The Liahona Children’s Foundation (LCF) has a coordinator for that area of Guatemala, who is responsible for the process we are going to track over the next 12 months. Barely five feet tall with a remarkable energy and focus, and a face that makes you smile when you see her, Gloria has been with LCF for many years now, and is very excited to open up a new area a couple of hours from where she lives.
During the month before the initial screening, Gloria is busy contacting the church leaders in San Felipe and the surrounding villages. A returned missionary associated with LCF sent Gloria a message to be sure to include Santa Rita, a poor village accessed by a mountainous one-lane dirt road, and a dirt path after the road ends. Gloria collects the information as to where the members live and communicates with church leaders and missionaries to get the word out to come for screenings to see if their children need nutritional assistance. The members are invited to bring their friends with them, as LCF hopes to feed an equal number of children that are not part of the church.
Gloria’s communications are successful and the screenings are scheduled for November 27th and 29th. Gloria’s experience assures the screenings will be successful. LCF finds these wonderful coordinators through recommendations of stake leaders as to who would be able, capable, and dedicated to help these children and families. These extraordinary women are helping children around the world.
The day arrives! Mothers, grandmothers, older siblings, and a few male relatives bring 113 children under five-years-old to be screened. They are told that they will receive good news or good news today. The good news is that either their child is healthy and does not need additional nutritional support, or that their child will be getting the nutritional support they need to become healthy – either way it is indeed wonderful news.
The families travel through the extraordinary beauty of Guatemala. Soaring mountains, smoking volcanoes, blue skies draped over vibrant green jungle growth everywhere, and an unrelenting heat and humidity create a landscape that is one of the most beautiful anywhere in the world. Guatemala rises from sea level on the Pacific to towering peaks over 13,000 feet, then back to sea level on the Gulf of Mexico beaches – all within a 200-mile distance coast to coast. Only 15 percent of Guatemala is level, the rest on hillsides or steep mountainous terrain. Guatemalans farm on land that would be prime ski terrain in the United States.
Adorned in the wonderful colors of clothing that Guatemalans wear, the women often
Before leaving, the families are informed of the status of their children. Some are told their children are healthy and progressing well. Of the 113 children that are screened in the San Felipe Stake, 75 children are found to be malnourished – two thirds, worse than the 50% rate of malnourishment across Guatemala. Those with healthy children are given additional instruction about nutrition and make their way home. Those with malnourished children are informed that they will receive nutritional supplements each month and will return for additional screenings each six months to chart the progress of their children.
There is joy in this room! Children’s lives are going to change for the better. Children will have a chance to avoid the life-long effects of malnutrition. Children who do not get enough nutrition the first five years of life will be stunted physically and mentally. Their brains and bodies will not develop fully, a situation that cannot be reversed and will follow them throughout life. The chance to get full nutrition means as adults they will have a better chance to break the chain of poverty that their family has likely dealt with for generations.
Imagine 100 children from around the world lined up, typical of an elementary school photo day. In this case, however, rather than lining up from shortest to tallest, we would have them line up by their intelligence given to them by their birth. Now imagine that 10% of these children are malnourished. Those 10% will be asked to move 33 spots down in line, because their natural intelligence will not fully develop and 33 children will move ahead of them as their brains fully develop with adequate nutrition. This is a permanent result that cannot be reversed after childhood. That is why this was a wonderful day for all 113 children who came to the church in San Felipe this week.