Monday, November 30, 2009

Helping Honduran Shanty-town Without Medical Care

Honduras has the 2nd worst public health system in the Western Hemisphere. Off the northern coast on an island called Roatan, I discovered a shanty-town community called La Colonia that was founded by refugees from Hurricane Mitch that destroyed these peoples' communities over ten years ago when tidal waves washed away their homes and their farmland. Seeking to settle somewhere with higher ground and jobs, they moved to this tropical island. But life in La Colonia is a daily struggle.

and our first field report from Guatemala here.

Atrocious economic conditions, a lack of educational opportunities and medical problems have left the 4,000 residents of La Colonia mired in poverty. With scant resources from the government, the people here are left to fend for themselves. Sanitation is absent, schools are overloaded (only 1 in 4 kids here go to school) and the only public health clinics are severely overcrowded and under-manned. Imagine going to a clinic without running water or any medicine!

Fortunately, an American nurse named Miss Peggy Stranges, while down in Honduras in 1998 doing humanitarian work after the destructive Hurricane Mitch, recognized the need and acted upon it. What started as a make-shift operation in her kitchen has grown into the two-story Clinic Esperanza addressing pediatrics, maternal health and more. Over 250 foreign volunteers (such as doctors from the states) volunteer at the Clinic annually and the only paid employees are Hondurans, such as the two Honduran doctors, nurse and dentist on staff. Much of the medicine is purchased with World Health Organization (WHO) discount or donated from foundations. Many supplies are donated by tourists that come through Roatan (famous for its gorgeous beaches and coral reefs) but due to the recent political crisis, tourism has been down, which is what led to the current shortage. We are confident that the holidays brings more generous foreigners to aid the clinic.

Having helped rebuild homes after the Hurricane back in 1999 while living in Guatemala, I was saddened to see people still victimized by this storm a decade later. Fortunately, Cause & Affect was able to make a difference. We learned about the current shortage of respiratory and diabetic medicine, so we delivered a $1,200 Micro-Grant to allow them to purchase these needed medications. Be sure to watch the video to see personal accounts about the importance of this clinic for this downtrodden community - their words speak louder than mine.
Thanks to all of our donors - as you can see, your money goes a long way!
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tackling Malnutrition in Guatemala

Guatemala, a stunningly beautiful country renown for its volcanoes, picturesque colonial cities and rich cultural heritage is beset with a wide variety of social, economic, educational and health problems. One of the most serious issues is malnutrition, as the country suffers from the third highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, ranking below only Yemen and Afghanistan. For a country with such fertile land, this sorry statistic speaks volumes about the level of corruption, inequality and uphill fight faced by this country’s poor population. This problem is especially acute amongst Guatemala’s indigenous Mayan population, which make up over half of the country’s population. Due to their political exclusion and economic marginalization, over 75% of these Mayan people live below the poverty line, and as a result, often have trouble feeding their children. The ridiculously high fertility rate here does not help matters; without access to family planning or contraceptives, indigenous women give birth to an average of over 6 children and half of Guatemalan women are mothers by the time they reach 19 years of age!

Though it requires decades to reverse these worrying trends, Cause & Affect Foundation is committed to using our resources to create positive change today in the most direct manner possible. C&A Founder Adam Carter spent the last month volunteering with several children’s hospitals and non-profit organizations in the country and decided upon a course of action.

First, we worked alongside a local center that provides food and shelter for homeless families that have nowhere to turn and no other source of nourishment. A local contact has agreed to further assist this shelter by providing breakfast for the 80 -100 people that visit on a daily basis. (This comes to $600 a month or $20 a day, which is about a quarter per meal).

Second, we assisted Casa Jackson, a clinic for malnourished babies from the region. Babies suffering from malnutrition are referred to the clinic by social workers, orphanages or parents unable to provide enough food for their babies. Babies are brought in and treated for their ailments and put on a nutritionally-balanced diet, being fed twelve times a day to regain their strength. Once they have overcome their malnutrition, they are returned to their families, who are them counseled about proper nutrition and childhood rearing. In assessing the project’s needs, we were alerted that the clinic was in dire need of 4 items: powdered milk, diapers, an industrial blender (to make the formula) and a food processor (to blend fruit and vegetables). Cause & Affect immediately went to the market and purchased all four for a total of $500.

Thirdly, we traveled to the remote rural Mayan communities surrounding Lake Atitlan. In association with Feed the Dream and Los Amigos de Santa Cruz, two NGO’s that do amazing work addressing pre-natal nutrition and care, feeding centers and community gardens, Cause & Affect came face-to-face with families in dire need of help, such s the ten children that were orphaned when their mother recently died in childbirth. We discovered that there is no system in place for families like this facing food emergencies to obtain assistance in a timely manner. In order to address this pressing need, we created the Cause & Affect Emergency Malnutrition Fund with a seed grant of $500. Our local partners at Los Amigos de Santa Cruz will be distributing powdered milk, fruit and vegetables to these especially desperate families and reporting back to Cause & Affect on their progress.

By tackling the pressing issue of Guatemala’s malnutrition from three angles, we have shown just how far a small amount of money can go. In this case, we accomplished the three objectives with only $1,000.

As we say, “Find a CAUSE & AFFECT a change. It’s that simple.”
Special thanks to Phi Theta Kappa’s Illinois Region - their contribution was well-spent!
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