Project #5092

School Meals Improve Learning for Mayan Children

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
A student in Tzanchaj II enjoying her breakfast
A student in Tzanchaj II enjoying her breakfast

If you’re a typical student in the highlands of Guatemala, it’s normal to walk to school hungry in the mornings. Given what most parents make as day laborers on coffee farms, the money for three full meals a day just isn’t there. For this reason, Pueblo a Pueblo’s School Nutrition project shifted this year to serve breakfast instead of lunch at three out of the five schools where we provide school meals; meaning that over 800 students will get breakfast every day they are in school.

The impact has been immediate. Students are happier and teachers have noticed an improvement in student concentration and attendance!

Our breakfast program follows the same format as the school lunch program and in addition to the basic ingredients purchased through your donations, organic school gardens provide supplementary fruits and vegetables that are incorporated into the meals.

The schools contribute their share by providing firewood for the stoves as well as the kitchenware needed to prepare the large quantities of food. When possible, the school provides a modest wage for a cook. Otherwise the school collaborates with local mothers who volunteer to prepare the meals as early as 5am to make sure breakfast is ready by 10am. Their dedication is impressive!

We look forward to serving breakfast in all five schools that we work with in 2015. We also plan to provide more hands-on training for school cooks and to improve the nutritional content of school meals. Stay tuned for more updates as events unfold!

A mother at Tanchaj II takes a break after cooking
A mother at Tanchaj II takes a break after cooking
Students work up an appetite in the garden
Students work up an appetite in the garden
The beginnings of the garden
The beginnings of the garden

This month our School Health and Nutrition Program launched its newest organic school garden at an elementary school in San Andres, a community just outside of San Lucas.

Among the wide range of activities carried out over the past two weeks to prepare the project’s foundation, our staff has held a training for teachers on how to develop and maintain school gardens; introductory classes for students on the basics of agriculture; and the first round of planting to ensure that the garden begins producing healthy, locally available fruits and vegetables as soon as possible.

“It’s exciting for the school community because word about the benefits of our project has traveled across San Lucas, where we have now implemented four different organic school gardens over the past two years,” says Ana Cabrera, the project manager and most recent addition to our in-field staff. “And it’s exciting for us, because we’re seeing tangible results in our current partner communities driving interest and engagement in others.”

With this new adventure just beginning, it’s strange to imagine that this broad plot of land will soon transform into a thriving, productive school garden. But if our past experiences in San Lucas schools are any indication, we have no doubt that the San Andres community will soon rise to the challenge and take full advantage of the benefits the organic school garden project has to offer. 

A rainwater collection well at the garden
A rainwater collection well at the garden's base
Garden class in one of our other partner schools
Garden class in one of our other partner schools

School children benefit enormously from the careful selection and preparation of nutritious foods. Full stomachs and healthy bodies allow them to build relationships with their peers; develop socially; and concentrate and succeed in the classroom.

That’s why Pueblo a Pueblo has been working since 2013 to start an organic school garden at the Pacoc Elementary School, located just on the outskirts of the San Lucas Toliman Municipality.

As in many other rural, coffee-growing communities, children in Pacoc suffer from reduced growth rates (stunting) and parents often acknowledge a reliance on staple grains like corn and rice, which fill stomachs but lack nutritional value. As such, the community was an ideal candidate for our school-based programming, which seeks to provide children with the comprehensive support they need to reach and graduate the sixth grade.

Since the beginning of the year in Pacoc, excitement for the garden has been palpable. Students swarm to the garden between classes to water and care for the crops and teachers and parents have assumed an active role in garden maintenance through weekend cleanings, coordination committees, and trainings with Pueblo a Pueblo staff. And, just as in our other partner schools, all harvests are used to prepare healthy snacks and lunches for students at the school.

We’re excited to see the momentum build over the rest of the year. Thanks for all you do and we’ll be in touch soon with more updates! 

It's lunchtime!

In Guatemala, 51% of the population resides in areas where food insecurity and malnourishment rates are among the highest in the world. One such area is the Santiago Atitlán municipality, where people’s livelihoods often hinge on a single annual coffee harvest and there are few alternative options for generating income. Guatemala-based livelihood studies show that when savings begin to run out or food prices rise internationally, the first household items to go are fruits and vegetables. 

Due to lack of government support, NGOs often provide an important safety net in ensuring that students in rural communities have daily access to at least one balanced meal.

For us at Pueblo a Pueblo, this effort takes the form of our School Nutrition Project, which in 2013 provided daily nutritious lunches to 754 students in four elementary schools in Santiago. This cornerstone meal improves core cognitive functions and increases school attendance, as well as provides students with the nutrients they need to stay healthy and active.

Manuel Gonzalez, a teacher at Panabaj Elemetary School, affirms the value of the lunches, noting that “since we started the lunch project children are coming more frequently and paying more attention in school.”

But while these lunches are an essential ingredient in boosting educational performance and keeping the classroom full, safety nets only address short-term need. That’s why we aim to complement the School Nutrition Project with our Organic School Garden Project, which teaches students how easy it is to grow produce at home and incorporate nutrients into their diets.

Just in 2013 there were 169 days in which school communities consumed vegetables, fruit, and herbs produced right in their organic garden. Now, in 2014, we’re looking forward to introducing our School Nutrition Project to 80 more students in Tololyá elementary school, where over the past year students and teachers have cultivated a healthy garden filled with everything from lettuce, tomatoes, and onions to bananas, papaya, and chipilín. We’re excited to be a part of such a successful project and we’ll be sure to keep you all informed on our progress! 

A student and teacher help clean the garden
A student and teacher help clean the garden
Everybody helps out, no matter how small
Everybody helps out, no matter how small

This past month Pueblo a Pueblo launched its second annual summer vacation Garden Camp.  By the end of December, more than 100 students in four partner schools will have explored the wonders of organic gardening and learned about issues like biodiversity, organic versus inorganic waste, the effect of chemicals on the environment, and the identification of common plants.

To keep campers engaged with the issues, our team has put together lots of interactive, hands-on activities, including painting, building scarecrows, and creating team posters and songs that the campers can present each day. “In contrast to conventional teaching practices in Guatemala, experiential learning lets students be creative and independent, which gives them a better grasp of the topics at hand,” says Tina, our school health and nutrition project manager.

And this year there’s an added surprise: cooking classes! We’ve partnered with Guatemala’s department of agriculture to lead sessions on how to make healthy recipes with ingredients that are easily affordable for local families — ingredients you can grow in an organic garden! A government-sponsored educator joins each school for three days, helping different teams of campers prepare nutritious lunches for the whole camp. As a result, children learn not only the importance of nutritionally beneficial food, but also artistry and creativity that can so easily be incorporated into cooking.  

Imagine preparing dishes like The Boat Adventurer — a baked güisquil hull filled with carrots, radishes, and green beans, with a triangle piece of tortilla for the sail – or the Fun Family of Chard, a compilation of delicious carrot and chili mashed potato bodies with smiling potato and carrot faces, sleeping under a blanket of cooked chard.  “We’re especially excited about these classes because they’re breaking down the strong gender barriers that you often see in Santiago,” says Monika, our Organic School Gardens project intern. “In the morning, boys were saying they didn’t want to participate because cooking is for girls, but by afternoon they were chopping, cooking, and really enjoying themselves.”

To share all the amazing things the children have been learning and creating over the past few weeks, we’ve invited parents to the last day of camp. We hope this will give campers the chance to pass on to their entire families the important lessons they’ve learned and delicious recipes they’ve tried at this year’s Garden Camp.

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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Andrew Wilson
Executive Director
Cabin John, MD Guatemala