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Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala
Sandy teaches in the organic school garden
Sandy teaches in the organic school garden

When we teach nutrition, it’s not always in the kitchen. Last week, Sandy visited Patzilin Abaj Primary School to lead a nutrition workshop for teachers—in the school’s organic garden!

“Healthy cooking is just one facet of nutrition,” says Sandy. “We also need to know where our food comes from in order to understand how to prepare and eat healthy food.” The Patzilin Abaj school garden—established by local teens through Pueblo a Pueblo’s Youth Leadership project—is a valuable teaching tool that gives students hands-on experience with the process of growing organic vegetables from seed to harvest.

Sandy also hopes to encourage teachers to use the garden as an outdoor classroom. “Being outdoors gets students excited to learn,” she says, “so teachers have a lot to gain from incorporating the garden into their lesson plans no matter what subject they teach.”

During the workshop, Sandy led a game to model a fun way teachers can engage students in nutrition education. She assigned each teacher an element of the food system to wear on their forehead and challenged them to guess their “identity” by asking their fellow teachers questions. Some, like tomatoes and spinach, were easier to guess. But others forced the teachers to think outside the box. “Yes,” said Sandy as she laughed along with the others, “water and soil are important parts of our food system, too!” She also modeled an activity based on the "olla familiar": the Guatemalan equivalent of the food pyramid.

This kind of nutrition education addresses all three of Pueblo a Pueblo’s focus areas—health, education, and food security—which are deeply intertwined in the lives of our project partners. We seek not only to spread the word about eating healthy food but also to teach families how to grow that food in their own backyard. Thank you for believing in the power of education to build healthier communities! Your support fuels our success.

Teachers participate in a game
Teachers participate in a game
"Parts of our food system" game
"Parts of our food system" game
The "olla familiar" activity
The "olla familiar" activity

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Sandy prepares for her next round of workshops
Sandy prepares for her next round of workshops

When Sandy leads nutrition trainings in schools, she often focuses on childhood nutrition: what kids need to eat to grow up healthy and strong. But she is also invested in helping students’ parents and grandparents stay healthy. That’s why the second workshop she developed for the summer 2019 project cycle focuses on nutrition tips for adults of all ages. Sandy will lead this lesson for participating students and their mothers, who will bring their new knowledge home to share with adult loved ones.

“The human body is vulnerable in different ways at different times in our lives,” Sandy explains. “We can protect our bodies and keep healthy by eating nutritious foods.” Sandy’s next workshop will provide nutrition recommendations for adults of three distinct age groups: 20-40 years old, 40-50 years old, and older than 50.

When it comes to adults under 40, Sandy says, there is something of a divide in today’s Santiago Atitlán. Some younger adults continue to do the daily physical labor that their families have done for centuries, like cutting firewood and harvesting crops. However, today’s younger adults are doing more and more sedentary work.

Sandy wants to impart that for those who do hard physical labor, it is important to provide the body with consistent energy and hydration. She recommends eating five times throughout the day and snacking on fruits—their high water content is a great way to stay hydrated! For those who spend a lot of the day sitting down, she recommends getting some exercise a few times a week and avoiding highly processed foods. “Exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym,” she says, “but even walking is good for your body, and it’s important that your children learn this healthy habit, too.”

What about middle-aged adults? When we reach our 40s, Sandy says, we need to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes that provide consistent energy and promote good digestive health. Middle-aged adults also need plenty of calcium to strengthen their bones and should keep on exercising and drinking plenty of water.

Older adults should steer clear of fried and processed foods to avoid large amounts of fat and cholesterol, which can cause heart problems, Sandy says. They should also continue to—you guessed it!—continue to exercise and hydrate often.

The bottom line? Sandy wants to teach the importance of learning and sustaining healthy habits from childhood through adulthood. “All of us need exercise, water, and a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and few processed foods,” she says. “There are important things to remember at each phase of life, but the most important lessons stay the same.”

This month, Sandy will lead this workshop in each of our five partner schools, where her nutrition lesson will be followed by a hands-on cooking class. The dish she plans to make with participants? Lentil burgers! The dish is both high in fiber and a big hit with eaters of all ages.

Your donation equips our Guatemalan project partners—young and old—with the tools they need to live healthier. Thank you for believing in the power of education to improve lives. Your support fuels our success!

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Preparing a healthy meal under Sandy
Preparing a healthy meal under Sandy's instruction

The 2019 cycle of the School Nutrition project is in full swing here on Lake Atitlán! Sandy spent March planning and leading the first round of healthy cooking workshops in each of our five partner schools. The most recent training took place on March 19th at Chacayá Primary School.

The day of the training, Sandy rode from Santiago Atitlán to the community of Chacayá in the back of a pickup truck, a common form of public transportation in rural Guatemala. She paid the driver a little extra to take her right to the school, which sits on top of a very steep hill with a beautiful view of Lake Atitlán’s volcanos and the lagoon below. The extra boost was much needed—Sandy had some pretty hefty luggage with her, including a big sack containing no fewer than eight heads of cabbage!

Sandy set up her things in the school kitchen. When all of the participating mothers—each with one of their children in tow—had arrived, Sandy began the day’s activities. She started with a game to test participants’ knowledge. She handed out cards with a V for verdadero (“true”) on one side and an F for falso (“false”) on the other. “True or false: foods like chips and cookies help your children maintain a healthy weight?” she asked. "True or false: the two best ways to stay healthy are to eat healthy foods and exercise?" The students and their mothers giggled as the correct answers were announced. They listened as Sandy explained the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and the relationship between diet and body weight.

Sandy then announced the main dish of the day: stuffed cabbage! She divided the group into teams and gave instructions: wash and boil the cabbage, mix the meat-and-rice filling, and chop the elements of the day’s side dish: a broccoli and carrot salad. She sprinkled a mix of salt, pepper, clove, and dried garlic over the cabbage filling—and sprinkled some more over the broccoli as it cooked in a large pan. “The only way a lot of people in this community know how to prepare broccoli is in scrambled eggs—and cabbage is usually just boiled plain" she explained later. "I wanted to introduce these families to new ways of preparing these nutritious vegetables." She added, "I use the garlic seasoning because it's an easy way to make vegetables taste delicious! A lot of families aren't used to cooking with garlic, but they like it once they've tried it."

Sandy then showed the students and their mothers how to fold the cabbage leaves around the filling. Together, they filled up two huge pots with the stuffed leaves. While the dish cooked, everyone cleaned up and enjoyed a little down time together. At last, Sandy announced that the stuffed cabbage was done cooking, and the mothers filled up plastic containers with the final product to take home to their families for dinner!

The next months will bring new foods and new recipes into the kitchen at Chacayá Primary School—recipes that participating mothers can then make in their own kitchens at home. Sandy’s work introduces families to easy and affordable ways to incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables into their diets—invaluable knowledge when it comes to the healthy development of children! Your support helps mothers put healthy food on their families' dinner tables here in rural Guatemala. Thank you for believing in the power of education and the importance of nutrition!

Mothers participate in the opening activity
Mothers participate in the opening activity
Sandy shows students how to stuff cabbage
Sandy shows students how to stuff cabbage
Packing up food to take home for dinner!
Packing up food to take home for dinner!
Participating students try out the dishes
Participating students try out the dishes

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Participants at a healthy cooking workshop
Participants at a healthy cooking workshop

Thanks to donors like you, Pueblo a Pueblo has provided thousands of meals to students in primary schools across the Lake Atitlán region since the launch of its School Nutrition project in 2008. For the past ten years, we have worked to support schools with the economic resources they need to provide nourishing meals to students each day. Our efforts began as a direct response to a lack of funding for school lunches in local public schools, which translated into hunger, malnutrition, and poor academic performance among students. For many years, providing meals directly has been one of the best ways for us to make an impact in the lives of students throughout our partner communities.

In 2018, however, the Guatemalan government increased its support of school lunch programs, and our partner schools began to receive consistent school meal subsidies. Rather than duplicate a service now being provided by the government, we have taken this opportunity to pursue a more sustainable project model exclusively focused on improving students’ nutritional intake at home in the long-term. This updated model consists of educational activities in two areas already central to Pueblo a Pueblo’s programming: home agriculture and healthy cooking.

Our new Educational Organic Garden will be used to conduct workshops that introduce local students and their teachers to gardening techniques they can use to grow nutritious organic vegetables at home. Rather than being located at any one school, the new garden will allow many school groups access to the same educational space. This garden will also act as an incubator for new home agriculture techniques, encouraging a culture of collaboration and innovation among local home gardeners.

Our model of school-based nutrition trainings, developed by our team during the past two years, provides parents and students with the knowledge they need to turn home-grown vegetables into nutritious meals for their families. Project staff also impart the importance of a healthy diet and lead participatory demonstrations of recipes that incorporate nutritious foods in ways that are new for participants but easily replicated at home. Staff also teach food safety practices to help participants protect their families from food-borne illness.

Together, these two educational projects equip families to use the environmental resources present in their communities to improve their nutritional outcomes and overall wellness. Now that students in our partner communities receive a nutritious school lunch, we can focus on making sure they eat well all day long—and into the future! Thank you for supporting Pueblo a Pueblo as we fight malnutrition here in rural Guatemala.

A local mother at a healthy cooking workshop
A local mother at a healthy cooking workshop
Packing seeds for the educational garden
Packing seeds for the educational garden
A student in the educational garden
A student in the educational garden

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Sandy leads a training at Tzanchaj Primary School
Sandy leads a training at Tzanchaj Primary School

“No matter how well we eat, no matter how much healthy food we cook, if we don’t practice good hygiene in the kitchen we can still get sick from what we eat.” Sandy Mendoza is Pueblo a Pueblo’s nutrition educator, and she recently wrapped up this year’s grand tour: fifteen trainings in five schools over the course of three months. She led trainings for 161 mothers and children, who cooked eight different recipes over the course of the summer. The theme of the last set of trainings was kitchen hygiene, a topic Sandy finds both vitally important and also overlooked within nutrition education.

One of those trainings took place at Tzanchaj Primary School, which sits a short distance from the center of Santiago Atitlán, with a group of mothers whose children attend the school. After unloading bags bursting with fresh produce and other ingredients, Sandy began the training with a short presentation about kitchen hygiene. She showed them images representing what not to do while preparing food and suggested what they should do instead. Rather than sneezing into your hands, she explained, it’s better to sneeze into your elbow so that you don’t spread germs when you use your hands to cook. She recommended that the women tie back their hair well so that it cannot fall into the food, and that they remove jewelry from their hands and wrists before cooking. She also pointed out that tasting spoons should not be placed back into the pot to stir food; rather, it is safer to place a bit of food into one’s hand in order to taste it, or wash the spoon first.

Above all, Sandy says, she wants to encourage training participants to be more organized in the kitchen—to wash dishes right away rather than letting them pile up, to keep surfaces clean, and to avoid putting dirty utensils into the food they prepare. “Most of us do some of these things at home,” she says, referring to the bad habits she tries to correct among participants. “But then we say, ‘That food made me sick.’ We have to think of why that might be, and choose to practice good hygiene instead!”

On the menu during the August trainings was pasta with chicken, broccoli, and garlic and a lentil salad with chopped spinach. “Kids will say they don’t like garlic, they might say it makes them sick,” Sandy told the women, “but once they taste it and get used to it, they’ll love it.” The women chatted as they cleaned and chopped vegetables and mixed the dishes together. Once the food was done, they each filled up containers of pasta and salad to take home to their families for dinner.

Sandy’s grand 2018 tour may have come to a close, but she’ll be back—she will soon begin planning for next year’s trainings, including designing brand new menus which will introduce participants to brand new ingredients. In the meantime, chicken-broccoli pasta may very well be on the menu in the homes of Tzanchaj Primary School's students...

Mothers look on during Sandy
Mothers look on during Sandy's introduction
Participants chat as they prepare vegetables
Participants chat as they prepare vegetables

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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Pueblo_a_Pueblo
Project Leader:
Ana Cabrera
Neenah, WI United States
$27,753 raised of $40,000 goal
 
632 donations
$12,247 to go
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