Health
 Guatemala
Project #5092

Fight Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Vetted
Meals served at Nueva Vida School
Meals served at Nueva Vida School

Pueblo a Pueblo’s School Health and Nutrition program has been going strong. Thanks to the meals we help provide to our beneficiary schools, students have the nutrients they need to stay energized throughout the school day.  During July and August, a total of 17,136 meals were served to 432 students at Pacoc, Nueva Vida and Nueva Providencia elementary schools.  That’s a lot of full tummies and minds ready to learn!  The meals are supplemented by the produce the students harvest from their organic school gardens.

Alongside meals, we have been hosting school nutrition trainings for mothers and their children. From a total of 12 trainings, 69 mothers and 66 students attended and learned about the olla familiar (the Guatemalan food pyramid equivalent), food groups and serving sizes. These trainings also include a cooking component -- featuring a special ingredient -- Swiss chard!

Chard is a vegetable full of important vitamins and minerals, and it is grown in the organic school gardens at our beneficiary schools. However, once the chard is harvested, families often don’t know how to cook it. According to Ana Cabrera, the School Health and Nutrition project Manager, "It’s not enough to know how to grow the vegetables -- you have to know how to eat them."

So during the trainings, mothers and students have been learning how to make Swiss chard wraps. Using the Chard as a base, they fill the inside with ham, chicken, or cheese, and then lightly pan fry the wraps. Our beneficiary families now have a new recipe they can make for dinner while getting a healthy serving of vitamin K, magnesium and potassium! You might like to try them too, we think they’re delicious.

Mothers learning about the olla familiar
Mothers learning about the olla familiar
Mothers cooking during the training
Mothers cooking during the training
The renovated kitchen at La Cumbre School
The renovated kitchen at La Cumbre School

Our School Nutrition project has been very busy the first half of this year. Hot school meals were put on hold for six months while we took on a huge project in our partner schools: kitchen renovations.

In many of the schools, kitchen conditions were so poor that it was difficult to prepare students meals. At La Cumbre School, for example, there was no proper sink for washing hands, vegetables, or cooking pots. Kitchens lacked equipment like pots and pans, and the pots they did have had holes in them. There were no counters or storage space, so materials were stored on the floor, and the cooks (school mothers) were forced to prepare food on very old tables that were difficult to keep clean. At Nueva Vida School, the kitchen measured only 6 by 7 feet -- in a school serving over 270 students!  

Even though the students had access to healthy food, there was no way to guarantee that the food could be prepared effectively and hygienically. After conducting an evaluation of the kitchens at each of our partner schools, we decided to partner with school leadership to undertake renovations at four schools.

Since the beginning of 2016, we have worked with leadership at Nueva Vida, San Andres, Pacoc, and Nueva Providencia Schools. At  La Cumbre, we supported the installation of a new absorption well, new counters and shelving, and a new sink. At Nueva Vida, the kitchen was expanded, and a new roof was built to prevent leaks into the kitchen. And all of the schools now have new pots and pans and other necessary kitchen utensils.

Along with kitchen renovations, Pueblo a Pueblo educators have been working with the mothers who prepare the school meals. Mothers have learned to cook more nutritious meals using a variety of new ingredients, like spinach.

We began providing meals again this week, now that the kitchen improvements are finished, and we are very happy with the results--so are the mothers who will be using them!

Preparing food in the new kitchen at La Cumbre
Preparing food in the new kitchen at La Cumbre
Cooking a nutritious meal for our students
Cooking a nutritious meal for our students
Pacoc School
Pacoc School's renovated kitchen
Youth participating in a training at our office
Youth participating in a training at our office

Our School Nutrition and Organic School Gardens projects have had an exciting few months since the school year began in January. Garden classes for students began in February, teachers have received their first of three trainings this year, and over 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables have been planted.

In the coming months, Pueblo a Pueblo will begin working with four new schools to develop and implement our School Nutrition Project, and we will start kitchen improvements in several schools. But more on that to come!

To improve the efficiency of the methods being used in our partner school organic gardens, we have been testing four new techniques in our demonstration garden in Panabaj. Project Manager Ana Cabrera explained, “Our goal is to help communities deal with key issues they are facing: limited water availability, lack of land and space, and poor soil quality.”

The techniques we are testing include:

  • Square foot gardening: Plant veggies as close as possible, diving your bed into 1 x1 foot squares with one type of veggie in each, instead of using long garden beds. You get more produce in less space, with less construction, less soil, and less work (weeding) and water use.
  • Keyhole gardening: A circular bed with a hole in the middle filled with kitchen scraps that become compost/fertilizer for the garden bed. You water in the center of the garden, and as you water the soil it becomes fertilized. You use less water as it slowly travels to the outside areas of the garden bed.
  • Tower gardens: Maximizes production in a small space, because you grow vertically and not horizontally.

We are also expanding our youth leadership programs in the gardens. Groups of youth volunteers have already formed in three communities (Nueva Vida, Guineales, and Xojolya), and we are hoping to establish two new youth groups in nearby communities.

Involving young people in the maintenance of school and community gardens is hugely important for garden success because “we provide the youth with new knowledge and skill sets so they can expand their options [for the future]. Also, it provides the garden with extra support and increases the involvement of the wider community, not just the teachers and kids,” explained Ana.

From new school partnerships and kitchen improvement, to new gardening techniques and youth involvement -- we are excited about the new school year. We can’t wait to share more successes with you in the coming months!

One of our youth leadership groups in their garden
One of our youth leadership groups in their garden
Students in a garden class in San Andres
Students in a garden class in San Andres
Students with some of their harvest in Nueva Vida
Students with some of their harvest in Nueva Vida
Students enjoying camp!
Students enjoying camp!

October marked the end of the school year here in Guatemala--but that doesn’t mean that the learning stopped! Throughout November, Pueblo a Pueblo hosted a “Vacations in the Garden” course for 3rd through 5th grade students at four of our partner schools in order to keep students engaged and learning during their break from school.

Each day, the students participated in fun, educational activities that focused on different themes related to gardening. They learned about soil, plant types, seeds, biodiversity, the water cycle, and more--while also learning the importance of personal responsibility and teamwork!

In one activity, the children were asked to search for forms of life in their gardens other than plants. By digging a little deeper, they found insects in the soils, butterflies and bees pollinating the plants, and much more! After discovering and understanding the important role of each living thing in the small ecosystems in their own gardens, students were able to experience biodiversity with their own eyes.

The students were also able to conduct experiments on soil types and soil erosion. On one day, they used clear, cut water bottles to see which soils in the gardens absorbed water more quickly and more slowly, allowing them to learn which soils were best for growing different plants.

In order to understand soil erosion, teams of students made volcancitos, or little volcanos, out of dirt. They then covered one with plants and leaves (to represent trees and plant life) and left one without any vegetation, and sprinkled water on both volcancitos. The teams observed that the volcancito without the “trees” on it experienced more runoff and erosion—and were able to see the negative effects of deforestation right in front of them!

The children also learned how to use the food from their school gardens to prepare delicious and nutritious recipes for themselves and their classmates. Some of the recipes included “porcupine” meatballs (made with rice), the traditional Central Guatemalan dish called “iguashte” (a type of vegetable salad with soy protein instead of expensive meat), and spinach. They very much enjoyed learning how to use the foods they have grown—not to mention eating them!

The Vacation in the Gardens Course kept project staff busy throughout the month of November, and ended up being a huge success. Soon, the school year will be starting up again. We look forward to new school year!

Exploring in the gardens
Exploring in the gardens
Seeing the effects of erosion
Seeing the effects of erosion
Ready for cooking class
Ready for cooking class
Learning to make nutritious food
Learning to make nutritious food
Students waiting in line to be measured!
Students waiting in line to be measured!

The end of the school year is upon us here in Santiago Atitlan! As the year comes to a close, Pueblo a Pueblo staff have been very busy collecting data for the School Health and Nutrition Program. This data collection involved traveling to our partner schools to measure the height and weight of students participating in our School Nutrition Project. The children thoroughly enjoyed being part of the evaluation process, and meeting more of Pueblo a Pueblo’s field staff!

These students, most of whom would not otherwise have access to healthy meals, each receive one delicious and nutritious breakfast every day at school. Having these healthy meals right when they arrive reduces the immediate hunger these children would normally feel, allowing them to better concentrate and participate in class throughout the day and be more successful students in the long-term!

The School Health and Nutrition Program has also been hosting cooking classes to teach children how to properly prepare the produce they are growing in their gardens, focusing on the preparation of vegetables. Most recently, the sixth grade class at San Andres School learned how to cook spinach for themselves – and they loved it! Local mothers have also been learning how to cook more nutritious meals for their kids. At La Cumbre School, ten mothers also took part in creative cooking classes. They learned how to properly prepare spinach from the gardens with spices and herbs such as amaranth and chard. Having the mothers also partake in this learning experience increases the likelihood that their families will have healthier eating habits at home!

In November, our program will host a vacation course at each school garden. The students will learn more gardening basics and plant cultivation, along with basic cooking skills to prepare simple recipes from the various produce in their gardens. It will be a very fun and educational experience for everyone, and we are very much looking forward to it!

One of our students getting measured!
One of our students getting measured!
Students participate in a cooking class
Students participate in a cooking class
Mothers learning to prepare nutritious meals
Mothers learning to prepare nutritious meals
 

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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.puebloapueblo.org
Project Leader:
Andrew Wilson
Executive Director
Neenah, WI United States

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