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NBC’s Today: A day for Sprinkles

Jenna Bush Hager, longtime UNICEF supporter and a correspondent for NBC’s Today show, reported last week on a story that may have been news for some morning audiences but is a core concern for us at the U.S. Fund. The segment was shot in Guatemala, the country with the highest rates of malnutrition in Latin America.

Bush told the story of Maria Claudia Sentizo, an officer from UNICEF Guatemala, and of her “daily rescue mission” to bring UNICEF-supplied micronutrient supplements to children who have been the hardest hit victims of rising food prices and food scarcity.

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This child nutrition crisis is more than a news story for Bush, who began her job with the Today show in September 2009. The former first daughter has been involved with children’s issues in Latin America since 2007, when she interned for UNICEF. She is currently chairing UNICEF’s Next Generation, a group of young professionals committed to UNICEF’s mission.

Malnutrition is a major contributor to child mortality. In less critical cases, it can still cause arrested cognitive development and poor academic performance. In Guatemala, it can be seen as perpetuating a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment.

But it’s impact on children is more immediately visible. “The first thing they lose is their smile,” says Sentizo.

With your help, UNICEF can restore smiles, along with critical vitamins and minerals. Sprinkles – doing whatever it takes.

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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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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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UNICEF’s Next Generation Launch Event

This blog post has been written by Caroline Johnston Polisi, a member of UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee.

UNICEF’s Next Generationa new U.S. Fund for UNICEF volunteer group dedicated to saving and improving the lives of children around the world–made our public debut last Thursday night with the launch of our first initiative, Project Sprinkles: Combating Malnutrition in Guatemala. The committee is comprised of 30 young adults from diverse backgrounds, of which I am one, and is led by Jenna Bush Hager, a longtime UNICEF supporter and Young Leadership Ambassador & Next Generation Chair.

The Gates, a venue in NYC, was abuzz with other Next Generation members, U.S. Fund for UNICEF staff–including U.S. Fund for UNICEF President & CEO, Caryl Stern–and other like-minded young professionals, all committed to doing whatever it takes to save the lives of children. Guests enjoyed Crumbs Cupcakes (aptly decorated with sprinkles), sipped Sprinkle Spritzers, danced to DJ Josh Madden’s beats, and bid on raffle prizes for gift certificates to restaurants including the Waverly Inn and Kingswood, among others. Guests could also purchase a variety of UNICEF’s Inspired Gifts, like the prominently displayed School-in-a-Box kit, which includes the tools to provide a temporary school for over 40 children in times of emergency.

UNICEF's Next Generation Steering Committee member Megan Ferguson and chair Jenna Bush Hager call out raffle numbers. The event helped raise around $45,000.
© McMullan/2009
UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee member Megan Ferguson and chair Jenna Bush Hager call out raffle numbers. The event helped raise around $45,000.

The vibe was upbeat and excited as Jenna took the microphone around 9:00 p.m. to welcome guests and to update them on our new group’s plans, which begin with a focus on the children of Latin America. During our initial committee meetings, UNICEF’s Guatemala representative briefed us about rising levels of malnutrition among Guatemala’s children, and we decided to take immediate action, committing to raise $175,000 for Project Sprinkles. Resembling a small packet of sugar, one sachet of “Sprinkles” poured over one meal a day provides the perfect amount of daily nutrients to a child, regardless of the quantity or quality of the food the child eats.

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