It’s hard to reconcile the beautiful highlands of Guatemala, where I was in mid-January, with this stark fact: the child malnutrition rate here is the highest in the Western hemisphere. Roughly 5 out of every 10 Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition. All
around, you see green fields and
lush vegetation, yet families living in poverty struggle to feed their families enough food and enough of the right foods. And lack of diverse food for Guatemala’s poor doesn’t just affect kids today—it stunts a generation of children’s growth both mentally and physically and can hold back the whole country. UN studies have shown that malnutrition can affect the GDP or earning power of a country by up to 5%. But now, an unlikely hero has stepped up to the plate.
But there are programs that can turn these statistics around. Save the Children is implementing innovative programs in Guatemala with partners like USAID, Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) to improve food security — so that families know where their next meal is coming from. We visited one of these programs in the community of Nebaj, north of the capital Guatemala City. The program centers around one set of rather unlikely heroes in this battle against hunger…a herd of goats. Save the Children—along with a local Guatemalan organization, Agros, and supported by USAID and GMCR—is running a goat center, a facility that raises new breeds of very productive goats and provides milk for hundreds of local families with children. Some of these “super goats” are given out to local farming families who grow coffee or other crops, so that they have another source of nutrition for their children.
The center also provides a facility where farmers can sell excess milk to be made into yogurt, nutritious snacks, and even goat milk hand cream (our group tried it on our sunburn and it worked wonders!) These goods are sold in local markets with proceeds going back to the center to turn it into a self-sustaining business. So one goat can not only give milk for hungry kids, but it can also provide additional income to families to help them get through the lean months between harvests.
I met one of these families at our next stop, where farmer Diego proudly showed me his six goats; the first came from the Save the Children program and he bred the others himself. Now, Diego is not only able to provide milk for his family but he also sells his extra milk and has become an inspiration for others in his community. His young son, Heraldo, is a testament to the power of nutrition that not only feeds young bodies but young minds as well. Thanks to the goat milk and the extra income, which helps provide a nutritious and varied diet, his dad told us how well Heraldo and his siblings are now doing in school.
I guess I had never thought too much about goats before this trip. You see them everywhere in the developing world and they are often a source of protein for poor families, but who knew they were superheroes in disguise? You can keep your caped crusaders and men of steel…in the fight against malnutrition and hunger in Guatemala, goats are the true heroes.
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