Spanish word of the day:
1. to bite; to sting
2. to annoy
This week started off quite uneventful until I befriended two women from Seattle that attend my school. They are nurses that have both traveled pretty extensively from what I have inferred. (One has also graciously given me hydrocortisone to relieve me of the horror that is 1,000 bug bites from Lake Amatitlán. Aka she is a saint.) They mentioned they were visiting an educational development organization and I asked to join because I have been searching for somewhere to volunteer during my time in Antigua. What do ya know? An organization that’s passionate about ensuring children are educated regardless of their family’s income and social status. Sounds about right to me.
So a little background on The God’s Child Project (La Asociación Nuestros Ahijados):
- Founded in 1991 by Patrick J. Atkinson
- Provides clinics, schools, social work, micro-finance, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation, and human trafficking advocacy within more 12 distinct programs in five different countries
- Inaugural institution located in Guatemala
- Serves more than an estimated 12,000 Guatemalans annually through four locations
- The four locations include: Dreamer Center, Casa Jackson Center for Malnourished Infants, Scheel Center International Technical and Training School, and Santa Madre Homeless Shelter
I was able to tour the Dreamer Center and Casa Jackson. To say I was impressed by the facilities would be an incredible understatement. We first met the volunteer coordinator, Kelly, who was a wonderful tour guide, as well as a wealth of knowledge. There was a woman from Spain that didn’t speak English on our tour, so Kelly was essentially giving a bilingual tour. If I could have half her Spanish ability, I would be a happy gal. Kelly is from Atlanta, went to school in Texas, and is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. She is working (full-time volunteering) at La Asociación Nuestros Ahijados as her internship.
The bulk of our visit was at Casa Jackson, which is about a ten minute walk from the Dreamer Center, God’s Child headquarters. This renovated abandoned hotel serves as an establishment that nurses infants and children that are suffering from malnutrition back to health. Guatemala’s chronic malnutrition rate is among the highest in the world, #3 to be exact. When a child’s growth, whether it be developmental or physical, is stunted in the first 1,000 years of it’s life (including pregnancy and his/her first two years), it is expected that the child will suffer from irreversible effects such as reduced intellectual capacity, stunted stature, lower productivity, susceptibility to illness, and even mortality. When a malnourished women gives birth, it is likely that the child will also be undernourished, thus maintaining this vicious cycle. While the average malnutrition rate for children in Guatemala is 4/10, it doubles in indigenous communities to a staggering 8/10 children. The issue isn’t necessarily that the mother doesn’t have food to provide to her child, it’s often attributed to the lack of dissemination of education to the indigenous people of Guatemala. Mothers are often uneducated about what nutrients their child needs in order to be healthy.
Meet Dania and Dailin, twins that were born in June of 2012 and are being treated at Casa Jackson.
Casa Jackson Center for Malnourished Infants has a capacity of 20 cribs – this is to ensure that each child is getting enough attention from the nurses and volunteers. The infants that are living at Casa Jackson are not only suffering from physical developmental issues, but also emotional trauma as well. There are 8 nurses on staff along with many volunteers to continuously give these little ones the love and attention they not only need, but deserve. The staff also includes a doctor that comes to the establishment every day for 2 hours to ensure the children aren’t suffering from any other medical issues and a nutritionist that creates an individual meal plan for every infant that resides at Casa Jackson. While it was incredibly heart-breaking to see these sweet babies in such an awful state, it was so refreshing to see the love and passion that the employees and volunteers provided to each and every child.
A common developmental issue that occurs with malnourished children is the lack of ability to show expression. While the furrowed brows make for a precious photo, the reasoning behind them makes my heart ache.
The God’s Child Project offers education courses to mothers about nutrition, food safety, breast-feeding, and many other topics to encourage a much healthier lifestyle for both mama and baby once the child leaves Casa Jackson. Most mothers live at the establishment with their child, but if for some reason she is unable to, the organization provides visiting hours 2 days a week.
It was hard for all of us to let go of these sweet ones and go back to Dreamer Center. Holding them was as if we were able to transfer our love into strength and give them hope at a better life.
As we walked back to the Dreamer Center we all discussed what an incredibly clean, vibrant, and well-staffed center Casa Jackson was. While it broke our hearts to be reminded of the lives that are constantly fighting for just a chance to live, it was such a joy to see the clean facility and the caregivers so eager to change each child’s daunting fate.
I wish I would have snapped a few photos of the grounds at the Dreamer Center because it is absolutely breathtaking. Built on the old city dump in 1996, it has been transformed into a sanctuary perfect for learning and provides open area giving rambunctious nuggets ample space to release all their energy. The land houses a school for grades K-6, a medical and dental clinic, and also the headquarters for all things God’s Child Project.
I will be starting to volunteer this afternoon and my heart is filled with joy just thinking about spending more time with all these smiling faces. I’m sure I’ll be bringing some stories back to y’all that are both hilarious and compelling, so be on the look out!
“Children are like dogs you can’t train. I don’t like old people either.”
How fitting, sir Gary.