Good Nutrition is the first line of defense against numerous childhood diseases, which can leave their mark on a child for life. In the area of cognitive development, “when there isn’t enough food, the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available. Survival comes first. Growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last. Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead” (Sagan and Druyan). -World Bank Report on Childhood Nutrition
We all know how important it is to eat. To get the fuel your body and your brain needs. It sounds so obvious to us here in the first world. If we have a late dinner we might comment about how hungry we are. If we miss lunch, come dinner time we are ‘starving.’ But the truth is most of us don’t know what real hunger is and we don’t know the horror and the guilt of not being able to feed our hungry, cranky, crying children. Or our elderly parents.
When VAMOS! first began, one of the very first things that the women street sellers asked for was food for their children “If we don’t sell, we don’t eat. And there are many days when we do not sell so much,” they told us. And so we thought that we could ask people to help us do that – feed the hungry. And people responded ! Each year VAMOS! serves more than 180,000 meals to the poor children, their mothers and the elderly. It is a miracle how people have been so generous in their giving. However, there is always the need for more.
The reality is that more and more poor people from rural areas continue to move into cities like Cuernavaca looking for work and a brighter future. That promising future is hard to find. No schools or poor schools in the small towns they have moved from have a left a highly motivated but unskilled workforce, hardly prepared to get a job in the city, even if there were such opportunities. Far from lazy, these former farmers or farm workers wash windshields, sell candy, gum or fruit or offer themselves to work for the day in exchange for food for their families. Anything to earn some pesos. We see it every day all over Cuernavaca. Here the minimum wage is $63.77 pesos for an 8 hour work day (About $5.10 US dollars per day or 64 cents an hour). Imagine working for less than that! You wouldn’t! Now imagine that your child is laying at home, hungry and malnourished. And yes, like the families that live in the colonias where we work, you wouldn’t stop until you found some kind of work, no matter what the pay. For most families here, the healthy meal and vitamin that they get from VAMOS! is the best meal that they’ll have all day and too often it is the only meal. The VAMOS! doctor, who provides free medical care to our families, says malnutrition is one of the biggest problems that our families suffer from. The lack of good nutrition results in children getting sick a lot, not being able to stay awake or alert in school and stunts brain and physical development. Malnutrition keeps children trapped in the cycle of poverty.
And so we feed people. VAMOS! project coordinators and cooks are trained in nutrition and prepare monthly menus of healthy meals. We purchase all of our food locally and our cooks prepare it on site. Children and mothers are fed first and then lessons take place. Ask any one at one of our projects what they like most about VAMOS! and they will say “la comidas,” the meals. And from the beginning we have provided multi vitamins with every meal. Many groups collect them and send them down to us. With the poor diet that our families survive on, vitamins play a big role in maintaining their health. Vitamin A helps to maintain healthy skin, hair and nails. Vitamin C is essential because it helps with bone development, wound healing and healthy gums and teeth. Without Vitamin D children are likely to develop softened bones and high blood pressure and even diabetes, a common disease due to the diet here. Easy bruising and excessive bleeding can occur due to a lack of Vitamin K. Children who are malnourished need to take vitamins so that they can restore the vitamins that they are not getting due to a lack of good food. It is incredibly important for them as they continue to grow and develop.
Today I was thinking about how I feel when I miss a meal. Maybe I get a little grouchy, can’t seem to get a lot done at work, don’t feel like doing much at home. I thought, what if I only had one meal a day? Everyday. Would I be able to work? To learn? Be helpful? Be happy? And yet that is the everyday reality for children and families who come to VAMOS! They’ll have one good meal a day at VAMOS! Maybe some rice in the evening. Maybe a tortilla sprinkled with some cheese. Maybe. And yes you can survive like that. But it is very hard to thrive like that, to learn or to grow. The World Bank report quoted at the top of this page goes on to say that 15.5% of Mexican children under the age of 5 are stunted by malnutrition. That number is much higher in the colonias where we work. Stunted by malnutrition. Because they were born poor in Mexico. We can stop that. You can help us!