Brazil: Opening a New Country Program


Amazon

Amazon River, Manaus, Brazil

By Tammy Reavis

In July and August 2015 my husband and I, as US Supervisors for Brazil, had the opportunity to begin screenings there. We screened ten stakes across four cities in the north: Manaus, Belem, Fortaleza, and Natal.

The most time consuming part of the process was making phone calls and sending emails to contacts and stake presidents throughout the four cities. It is hard to find the correct contact information for someone that lives thousands of miles away in a different country, especially when they do not speak your native tongue. The Liahona Children’s Foundation had no presence in Brazil, so we also had to try to explain what the Foundation does. In the end, we scheduled ten Stakes. We provided flyers for the screenings to the Stake Presidents and welfare specialists, and left it up to them to spread the word among the people in their areas.

ManausScreening

Manuas Rio Negro screening

It was fascinating to see how much the interest varied from Stake to Stake. Some Stakes were better at spreading the word than others. In some Stakes we had 60 children show up. In one of the poorest Stakes we screened we only had twelve children attend. It was frustrating when only a few attended the screenings in areas where we knew there was a lot of need, but not surprising since so few had heard of the Foundation.

We screened children between 6 months up to 5 years old. Parents, bishops, and stake presidents were constantly asking why we screen only that specific age range when there were certainly older children that were malnourished. So for the benefit of the reader, I will anticipate your question and give you an explanation. First of all, 90% of brain development happens in the first five years of life. World Health Organization (WHO) research indicates that nutritional supplementation for a young malnourished child improves cognitive outcomes (IQ), which translates into an increase of adult earning potential by 10%. Other benefits are decreased incidence of the intestinal and respiratory infections of childhood, and the children are able to grow normally. We have all heard the proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. The Foundation helps provide both the fish and the future for malnourished children by increasing brain development and especially by providing family health education. Those are the tools that will stop the cycle of malnutrition from repeating in the next generation.

InfantOnScale

Fortaleza Oeste – infant being weighed

Most of the children we screened in Northern Brazil were very easily in the healthy range according to WHO standards. In fact, of the children we screened, only 17% were malnourished. That’s not a definitive number, since we had very few children show up in many of the stakes. However, if that number holds with larger screenings, then that is the lowest rate of malnutrition in any country that the Liahona Children’s Foundation has screened to date. That does not mean that there is no need. We met and screened many children that need help.

In the Belém Pará Stake, there were two happy, adorable little brothers. The older brother appeared to be a thin 4-year-old and I supposed that the younger brother was about 3. Their mother filled out their forms and brought them over to be weighed and measured.  They wore ill-fitting, dirty clothes with worn flip-flops that were too small. We asked all the children that were screened to dress down to their underwear at the scale because we wanted the most accurate weight reading possible. When these two boys began to pull off their shorts we realized they were so poor that they did not own underwear. They kept their shorts on and we measured the oldest boy first. As he was being weighed I looked at his form and saw he was seven years old. My heart broke when I realized he was too old for the program. However, his younger brother turns five in October and easily qualified to receive supplements.

BelemBrothers

Belém Pará – brothers

That was not an unusual experience. It happened over and over again. A child that appeared to be a slender, but perfectly normal three-year-old would end up being four, five or even six-years-old. It was satisfying to know that these children would now be able to get the nutrition their bodies were in need of.

My husband and I are normal, busy people with jobs and young children. We thought we would wait until we were older to volunteer for humanitarian trips, but the opportunity presented itself and we did not want to pass it up. My husband served a mission to Brazil and speaks Portuguese. My skill lies in organizing. So together we were able to pull this off.  

It is a hard thing to sacrifice time off, find places for children to go, or to save up for plane tickets. It can be difficult to find an extra 5 to 10 hours every month to make sure that the program is operating well in the country by communicating with the Country Coordinator. It is worthwhile, though.

As a mother in this land of plenty, I cannot imagine being unable to provide my children with food. It makes me burst into tears when I think of the many children worldwide that are terminally hungry, and the hopelessness that their mothers must feel. Do not wait to serve our brothers and sisters until it is convenient because that time may never come.

NatalBishopsWife

Natal Potengi Chapel – Bishop’s wife and daughter