As the ANF car pulls up at the nourishment center in Matagalpa, mixed emotions are still in the air from our last stop. It’s been less than two hours since we visited the ANF-assisted senior home cared for by a group of Catholic nuns who strive to provide their guests with shelter, electricity, food, and medical care. It was an emotional visit that leaves us curious for the stops to come.
One of the final stops before lunch is a stark contrast to our first ANF site visit. Just having bid farewell to abandoned elderies, we now arrive to another center for nourishment for children, one that is closer to the Honduras border, and one who’s reputation precedes it. The conditions of the children that have been brought here was dire, but as we near the door and see their face peering through the windows, it is obvious that their smiles understand little of the gravity of the situation.
Ranked the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, malnutrition is an epidemic in Nicaragua, a result of the severe poverty that has a tight grip on the country. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), 27% of the population is suffering undernourishment, and on today’s ANF journey we see the issue scale from newborns to old age. ANF and other organizations like it work hard to battle the consequences of poverty and lack of education that haunt the developing country of Nicaragua. ANF provides the center with a portion of its food aid and contributes to cover the center’s operating costs, without which the center could not subsist. In particular, ANF provides the center with a specially designed rice and soy meal that has been fortified with vitamins and nutrients to combat undernourishment.
As we approach the facility, the faces are just as one would imagine them to be, darling and illuminated. There is a cheerful streak from baby boy, Elvin. A victim of malnourishment, like many of the children admitted to the second floor at this facility, Elvin is just under 20 lbs. This puts him nearly 15 pounds under his age’s ideal 33 lbs. Elvin is in danger of suffering the consequences of this serious issue. The physical consequences are already apparent. They range from 2-6 years old, but are all equally small and fragile. The tiniest are those in a line of nearby cribs.
21-month-old Elvin lays on a blue mat inside a wooden crib. His smile is grandiose and his feet wiggle playfully as the group passes him. His mother Maria, who raises him alone, brought him here to gain access to medical treatment, food, and consistent care. She is unable to care for him and has requested assistance and, given his state, Elvin has been brought to the center.
Elvin’s crib sits under a chart of pictures depicting the most serious cases that the center has faced. The team, having already bonded with him, anxiously scans for his picture on this chart. Unrecognizable at first, he is there as many of the other children in plain view. Like similar cases, the center hopes to help Elvin and all other children recover quickly and soundly with as few hiccups as possible, but resources are limited as it appears donations are not as easily or consistently offered for children as they are for severe diseases and adults.
We learn that a clean and organized center like this will normally provide assistance to eight children like Elvin at any given time. The facility sees an average of 30-40 children a year. Brought here by their families and visited on a regular basis, it sometimes takes the children a few months to recover from the severe malnourishment that is common in these arid and agriculturally unproductive/impoverished parts of the country. In this time, they battle several obstacles brought on by malnourishment and lack of care. Curious, we make rounds into the kitchen as the cooks file out. “Donations allow for a variation of meat, chicken, and soy each week,” she says pointing to the protein being prepared before she moves on to the next room.
As we sit in on a meeting between some of the nurses and the children’s parents, one cannot help but notice the counted bottles on the shelves. We watch reunion after reunion, medicine flies as children come in and out of the room. Stressful as it may be to the women who care for them, in the end, resources are where they should be, in the hands of these children’s caretakers.
This the difference that donations make to the communities supported by ANF. The medication, food, and funds provided to these centers has changed the lives of many and have given them hope and care in times of dire need. As the chart of pictures depicting the most serious cases that the center has faced over Elvin’s crib shows, donations matter and in some instances, it gives many a new breath of life.