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Dealing with Malnutrition

Dealing with Malnutrition

Monday 10th April 2023

According to UNICEF nearly half of all children under five years of age in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition.  Most of these children will live in distant rural communities where help, advice and support are not as available as it is here in the city.

However, most of the children we work with and who have lived on the streets over the years have come from indigenous communities from these rural settings.  The impact of malnutrition in the early years leads to stunted growth and many of the young children we work with here in Guatemala City are very undeveloped for their age.  Our evaluations of them sadly demonstrate their place on the developmental scale and it´s not great.

A few weeks ago I took little Jonathan to the doctor as he was suffering from parasites again and the doctor wanted to do some more tests to see why he was so small for his age. He is not eating much and struggles to make any progress with his height and is clearly not happy and this is leading him to become rather down and can lead to being bullied and other issues around his self-esteem.

Today though I am with Antoni, a new boy who has started to come to the mentoring centre.  He does not know me well as he has only seen me once on my return from the UK recently. It is clear that he is excited about being in the mentoring centre and is focussing hard on a worksheet that is helping him learn to form letters.

During the pandemic he was studying from home.  However, he had no access to the educational materials as he has no internet and so his mum was trying to find ways to keep him in school even though they were closed.  The Guatemalan government decided to pass all children on the books despite many not learning anything at all.

Antoni is now 13 and can´t yet read or write.  His mum and older sisters run a small food stall on the street in La Terminal and he has grown up there and sees the streets as his home.  Due to his high connection to the streets and seeing he was at risk, the street team decided to invite him to the mentoring centre.  He now comes every day and is clearly flourishing with his education as he sits with me and helps me with a word search on my phone.

Today I walk him back from the centre to where his family are getting ready to prepare some snacks for the evening commuters before they walk home to the room they rent in La Terminal, all seven of them.

It is great to spend time getting to know Antoni´s mum and sisters and their story is heart-warming and is another long story of how her family moved from the countryside during the civil war to the city.  The mum is clearly working hard to support her children and the long hours takes their toll on her, but she smiles and tells me she loves caring for them but has been concerned that Antoni is in the streets all the time.  Having him now attend the mentoring centre has changed his life and put him in contact with other children and with caring adults who have helped him see that he can achieve his God-given potential.

Despite being 13 you would think Antoni is 10.  His body is very small and frail and he tells everyone his date of birth in order to give credibility to his story of why he is so small.  It is doubtful he will grow much more but with the support we can offer he could gain some weight and might increase in height when puberty hits.

Thankfully we have had a visit from the British Ambassador, Nick Whittingham, who was accompanied by David Rutley MP.  The visit coincided with a large donation of vitamins for children, arranged by the embassy from Drogueria Italiana here in the city.

The vitamins will be given to the children and their families and the supply will be enough for the next six months.  There is also plenty to share with various other projects in the city that work with children at risk.

Handing out vitamins to the children each day is only one solution to helping them recover from years of malnutrition. It is part of the package we can offer to keep children focussed on their education and not take those early steps to street life.

Antoni enjoys his daily vitamins and we are hopeful that he will continue to commit to learning with us this year and then next year start school full-time.

I know I say this a lot, but your support really does help us reach these kids and make a difference in their lives.  Thank you and please do pray for Antoni and I am sure that over the year we will see him thrive and grow.


Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.