Among the many challenges faced by disadvantaged populations in Guatemala is that of providing adequate nutrition for themselves and their families. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. The mainstay of the typical diet is based on corn (in the form of tortillas) and beans, and also includes sugar, cheese, eggs, meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. Although many Guatemalans enjoy the exceptional coffee grown in their country, it is typical a much weaker brew than that preferred in America and is usually served with plenty of sugar. The most impoverished people in Guatemala often subsist on a diet of just corn, beans, and fruit, which provides inadequate amounts of many nutrients, including amino acids and fat.
Almost 20% of the population of Guatemala is categorized as undernourished by the World Bank. Children under the age of five are especially at risk, with over 25% being underweight and over 50% being stunted (short for their age). Most at risk are rural, indigenous people, who are also the less educated and poorest populations in the country. Anemia is big risk particularly for pregnant women and infants. The underlying cause of the much of the nutritional deficiency for the majority of Guatemalans is economic access to food. 54% of the population is living below the poverty line, and these people only consume about 60% of the minimum daily caloric requirement, leading to malnutrition.
Unique Batik provides vital income to just this at-risk population through fair trade purchases of their handmade crafts. Seeing the nutritional challenges faced by so many of the people of Guatemala, we wanted to do more, and when the good work of ODIM was brought to our attention, it seemed like the right partnership for advancing the cause of good nutrition in Guatemala. Unique Batik has been a supporter of ODIM for several years, funding their Children’s Cultural Exchange (CCE) and Nutrition Project.
ODIM is an organization operating in the Highlands of Guatemala on the shores of Lake Atitlan in two villages, San Juan and San Pablo La Laguna, with a focus on healthcare and education. ODIM stands for Organization for the Development of the Indigenous Maya, and the two villages where they work have a total population of approximately 20,000 people, almost entirely indigenous Maya. ODIM’s Nutrition Project was founded in 2010 after seeing a drastic increase in severely malnourished children at their healthcare clinics. The Nutrition Project is a comprehensive nutrition program that works with twenty families. Participants attend monthly classes in hygiene, nutrition, combating common illnesses, safe food preparation, and family budgeting. The program also includes cooking classes, bi-monthly health checks, emergency food assistance and a community garden where families in the program work and share in the vegetable harvests.
The nutrition, cooking, and budgeting classes, as well as the organic vegetables and herbs from the community garden established especially for them, has greatly improved the lives of both the mothers and children involved in the Nutrition Project. ODIM no longer sees such extreme cases as the month-old baby girl, weighing 4 pounds and the 10-month-old baby boy, weighing 8.8 pounds who were the impetus for the program.