Gene and Sue Jackson of Dickinson, North Dakota, USA, founded Casa Jackson in October of 2008. The Jackson’s, who had offered their assistance various times to ANA as volunteers, were impacted by the statistics of malnutrition in Guatemala and the lack of appropriate and available resources to help the children and families desperately requiring treatment and education. The Jackson’s then donated the necessary funds to renovate an abandoned guesthouse and convert it into the clinic that it is today.
Infant malnutrition is one of the most serious health issues affecting Guatemala. According to statistics from UNICEF, Guatemala has the third highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. More than 1 of every 3 deaths that occur during childhood can be attributed to the lack of adequate nutrition. According to government statistics, almost half of all children under the age of 5 are malnourished. Children from indigenous families are twice as likely to be malnourished than non-indigenous families – 8 of every 10 indigenous children are malnourished while 4 of every 10 non-indigenous children are malnourished.
Chronic malnutrition results in stunted growth, developmental delay, impaired thinking skills, a higher incidence of learning disabilities and other ongoing health issues. The impact on the indigenous community, those most affected by poverty and social inequality, simply cannot be taken lightly. Several studies have shown that children that are properly nourished during the first 2 years of life make at least 30% more per year than their malnourished peers. In other words, children that start out as victims of poverty and malnutrition often become adults affected by these same ailments and when they have their own children the destructive cycle continues.
While some of the above statistics can be attributed to poverty, Guatemala still has a higher rate of malnutrition than other countries in the region with similar (or worse) access to social services and with a lower medium income.
In order to successfully eliminate the problem of malnutrition in Guatemala, affected families need immediate access to quality medical care, for example, extensive education with respect to the causes, signs and symptoms of malnutrition; the serious long-term implications of chronic malnutrition; proper nutrition through the life cycle; the importance of non-contaminated food and safe drinking water, etc.
a) All placements at Casa Jackson are voluntary. We lack the legal authority to admit children for treatment without the permission of both parents (and single mothers) despite their medical needs.
b) We maintain a small clinic of 20 beds in order to maximize the level of attention that each patient receives.
c) Casa Jackson treats patients from birth to 5 years of age.
d) The patients live in the house under the care of the nurses 24 hours a day. (There is 1 nurse per shift – morning, afternoon, and night).
e) The pediatrician makes rounds from 8am to 10am every day. The majority of the patients arrive with various infections which include parasites, skin infections, and respiratory diseases. These patients are isolated from other patients until proper treatment has been administered so as to not spread the infection.
f) The nutritionist comes Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8am to 10am, and Tuesdays from 2pm to 4pm. The nutritionist calculates a special diet for each patient to satisfy their unique caloric and nutritional needs. Moreover, the nutritionist takes the weight and height of the patients two times a week to closely monitor weight gain and growth rate. This information is then utilized to make any necessary changes to the diet of each patient.
g) The duration of stay for each patient varies considerably depending on the health of the child and also the preparedness of the family to welcome them home and provide them with proper nutrition. The average stay is 1.5 to 3 months.
h) Patients come to Casa Jackson in 3 different ways:
1. Word of Mouth – Concerned families hear of our program through other parents or from our efforts to spread the word and bring their child directly to Casa Jackson. We have an “open clinic” policy and families can arrive from 8am to 10am Monday to Friday for a free evaluation.
2. As References from other Health Organizations – After receiving treatment for various ailments at other health organizations, many children come to us in order to continue recuperating from malnutrition at Casa Jackson.
3. Child Protective Services of Guatemala – In situations where a child has been removed from their home due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc., a judge may reference the child to Casa Jackson if he/she suffers from malnutrition.
i) We ask that the parents visit their children on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This quality time is essential to overall health and healing. During this time, the parents can feed their children, speak with the pediatrician, the nutritionist, and with the nursing staff, and they can learn more about the dietary needs of their children. Unfortunately, many families live very far and don’t have the resources to come and visit more than once or twice a month.
a) The pediatrician considers a patient completely rehabilitated (free of infections and other health concerns) and that he/she is ready to go home.
b) The nutritionist informs the staff when the patient has reached 100% of their optimal weight for their stature. (A slight decrease in weight is expected due to the transition and adaptation period for both the child and family.)
c) The director decides if the family is prepared to provide a safe environment and adequate nutritional care for their child or if they need more education before dismissal.
Ongoing Care after Dismissal:
a) Each family receives a water filter. Due to poverty, many of our families drink untreated water from rivers that are utilized by the community to bathe, wash laundry, and wash dirty dishes. The supply of water filtration and education about food safety helps to prevent the contraction of parasites when the child returns home.
b) If the family lives in a house with a dirt floor, a service team from ANA often builds a house with a cement floor, which also considerably reduces the risk of contracting parasites and bacterial infections.
c) From time to time we hold a reunion and invite the families most affected by poverty and malnutrition. In 2009 and 2010 we invited 75 families and gave them all “solidarity bags” provided by MAGA and SESAN – these bags contain milk, rice, beans, and other nutritional goods. These provisions are an important incentive for participation.
1. During these gatherings we offered education on different topics including, prenatal care and nutrition, breastfeeding, food safety, personal hygiene, etc.
2. We took the weight and height of each child in order to monitor their development, growth, and nutritional state.
d) The children return to Casa Jackson for their follow-up appointments with the nutritionist; eventually the appointments are reduced to once or twice per year or as needed.
a) From first contact with each family, our nutritionist works extensively in order to identify and eliminate the unique causes of malnutrition in each home in order to avoid a reoccurrence of the problem.
b) We educate each family on proper nutrition and teach them how to get the most out of the resources they have to correctly feed and care for their children.