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Inspiration in Guatemala: hope is the last thing to die

Singer/Songwriter Jon McLaughlin, a UNICEF Supporter, wrote this blog post upon returning from his first UNICEF field visit in Guatemala.

I just returned from my first UNICEF field visit to the beautiful country of Guatemala. To say this was a great trip would be an understatement…I left the country encouraged and inspired by the people I met there.

Our group was made up of me, my wife, the 11 other UNICEF folks from the U.S., an interpreter and 3 UNICEF staff who live and work in Guatemala, and we traveled around in a small bus manned by a tour guide and driver.

We visited a variety of places, from Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City where we spoke to the brilliant staff of doctors and nurses, to the city of Quetzaltenango, where we met with members of the Parliament of Childhood and Adolescence. These amazing kids, ranging in age from 11-19, informed us about the jobs they have taken on as leaders in their communities, as well as representing their fellow youth at the national level of government.

© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/Minah/2010
Jon McLaughlin playing with children at a UNICEF supported school.

The highlight of the trip was being around the kids. We spent time at a public day care center in Quetzaltenango taking pictures and playing soccer with the kids and visited an elementary school in San Cristobal Totonicapán, where we talked to the teachers about how the classrooms are run, what the kids are learning and how the kids get to and from school.

While in St. Cristobal, we also visited a health center for mothers and babies that are supplied with Sprinkles, a nutritional dietary supplement used to help fight malnutrition. At the center, they talked about how the Sprinkles worked, how they distribute them and, most importantly, how they are seeing results.

This trip was such a great opportunity to see the progress that UNICEF is making in Guatemala and the difference we’re making in the lives of the people.

Probably the most sobering moment of the trip occurred when we visited a shelter for migrant children and witnessed roughly 40 Guatemalan migrants who had illegally and unsuccessfully crossed the northern border to Mexico waiting in the shelter for a bus to take them back to their homes. Standing there in that small room with the 40 Guatemalans who had been caught was very hard, very awkward, and very uncomfortable.

I know it has the 4th highest chronic malnutrition rate in the world and I am aware of the poverty, the governmental corruption and the need for education. But, I now know what a beautiful place Guatemala is after meeting the beautiful people who live there. And I now know some of the wonderful people working in the UNICEF offices who are committed to change. Their work makes me want to work. Their hope gives me hope. And, in the words of Cynthia, a 14-year-old girl from Quetzaltenango, hope is the last thing to die.

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Mothers of San Andres Xecul love Sprinkles!

— Yesterday we arrived at a women’s health clinic in San Cristobal just in time for a nutrition counselling session for mothers. The session at the San Andres Xecul clinic was held outside, and all the women wore beautiful traditional clothing, carrying their children on their backs or holding their hands.

They played a learning game similar to ‘hot potato,’ only with an egg. Whoever was holding the egg when the drum stopped would have to answer a question. The counselor asked, “What is the importance of folic acid during pregnancy?”
-”Healthy development of the baby” the mother replied.
-”Is she right?”
All the mothers clapped and yelled “Siii!” and the game began again.

After the game we asked the mothers about Sprinkles (also called chispitas or microvitals). Our questions were translated into both Spanish and the mayan language, Kiche, so all the women could understand us. One mother told us Sprinkles “makes our children healthy.They have energy now, they have appetites and they aren’t sick all the time.”

We observed the monthly weight monitoring. I helped a mother measure her daughter’s height and I placed a 4-month-old on the scale to be weighed.

“All looks great!” the doctor smiled. I can’t describe how that moment felt.

We saw doctors handing out Sprinkles packets to the mothers and we learned that Next Generation’s $175,000 donation for Sprinkles will help this very clinic! Next Gen’s fundaising and donations will allow this clinic to hire more (much needed) staff, train staff, provide needed measuring equipment and mas Sprinkles for these families AND thanks to Next Gen we will be able to provide for even more families!

Muchas gracias Next Generation!

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Breakfast in Guatemala: Huevos and heros

I woke up to the most amazing and inspirational breakfast I have ever experienced (the food wasn’t bad either ;). But I am referring to the company! Ten members of the Guatemalan Parliament of Childhood and Adolescence joined us for huevos, frijoles y platanos. Aged 11-19, they are all elected by their indigenous communities to be the voice of their peers. We broke the ice with a song and dance game called “cuchiera y paleta”. Tak tak!

This group speaks to the public and the government about issues that are affecting children in Guatemala (sexual abuse, HIV/AIDs, migration, violence, gangs, malnutrition). They also educate their peers on their rights and work with them to identify and speak out about their problems.They are the future leaders of Guatemala.

Next Gener Danielle Abrham with two members of the student government Mayra and Evelyn.

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Next Gen learns about HIV rates in Guatemala

Casey Rotter is a development officer at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She is on a week-long field trip to Guatemala with members of UNICEF’s Next Generation.

Greetings from Guatemala!

We arrived — all fourteen of us Next Geners — in Guatemala City safe and sound! We had a nice group dinner of typical Guatemalan food last night and went to bed early so that we could be refreshed for the early morning activities.

We had our briefing at the UNICEF headquarters where we met all of the fabulous staff! And then had a security briefing to ensure that our stay in Guatemala is safe. Then we were off to see our first Unicef-funded program.

We went to Roosevelt Hospital and visited their prenatal programs and emergency prenatal and birthing services. Unicef funds 40% of the program — including funding for staff, training, supplies, food, drugs and vaccines, as well as testing for HIV, syphilis, and Hep B. We met the incredible doctors, social workers, nutritionists, psychologists and nurses who take care of all the patients.

The vertical transmission rate of HIV is 0% when the clinic detects the disease during pregnancy (meaning HIV+ mothers are giving birth to completely healthy children thanks to this clinic). Transmission rate is 5% if the disease is discovered after birth (meaning the mothers didn’t go to the clinic for prenatal care). That’s compared to 30% if there is no prevention services.

We met a beautiful woman with her son who said that she came to the clinic when she was 5 months pregnant and found out that she was HIV+. But through PMTCT services at the clinic she is happy to say that her son (now 3 years old) is negative! She said the clinic provides her with everything she needs to stay healthy. She is so grateful!

She said “I first thank God and second, I thank the clinic. Me and my son are healthy and happy because of this clinic and these people. They are so nice to me here.”

Living proof that these services work!

Now we are on a bus heading to Quetzaltenango, 5 hours away. And tomorrow we will wake up to breakfast with adolescents who are working to empower other kids to speak out about sexual violence and advocate on their behalf.

Talk to you soon!

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UNICEF’s Next Generation goes to Guatemala

Casey Rotter is a development officer at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. On Saturday, February 13, she leaves for a week-long field trip to Guatemala with members of UNICEF’s Next Generation.

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Ralph Lauren and Next Generation event helps Haiti

There are many ways to get involved in supporting UNICEF’s emergency relief in Haiti. For more information visit our Volunteer Center where you can view a listing of upcoming events, or apply to host a fundraiser of your own.

Caroline Johnston Polisi is a member of UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee. This is her second post on Fieldnotes.

Fellow members of UNICEF’S Next Generation Steering Committee and I were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we witnessed last week at Ralph Lauren’s Soho store, where an evening of private shopping helped raise funds for UNICEF’s work in Haiti.

© Patrick McMullan
(Left to Right) Lauren Bush, David Lauren, Pamela Fiori, Robert Thompson, Caryl Stern

David Lauren, Next Gen member, teamed up with Lauren Bush, Barbara Bush and the entire Next Generation Steering Committee to host the event. Ralph Lauren generously offered to provide guests with a 20% discount on all purchases during the evening; more important, the company donated 20% of all sales directly to UNICEF’s lifesaving work in Haiti.

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