Overcoming Hunger in Guatemala
María Ermelinda Vásquez Ramírez knows hunger and heartache. In 2015, a severe and extended drought caused major crop damage in her community in Chiquimula, Guatemala. The drought hit Guatemala’s Dry Corridor hard. About 1.3 million people who depend on subsistence agriculture—nearly 10% of the country’s population—were facing hunger. Many families, including María’s, resorted to skipping or reducing the size of their meals.
“There was no corn, no beans. We had to ration the food to two tortillas each if we could get the corn and, if not, only a glass of coffee. There was no money to buy anything,” she says. “The saddest days were when I found nothing … not even salt, nor soap, nor sugar, nor corn, nor beans. We had to drink a little bit of water to support the soul.”
For María, life became even more difficult.
“It was hard for me because I was pregnant. I only had him for 13 days. When I came back to breastfeed him, he died,” María says. “What I did was cry, crying because what was happening in my life was so difficult. The need was so extreme to the point that my son died.”
Immediate food assistance
“Superamos” means “we overcome.” That’s just what María and some of her neighbors are doing with the help of a small card provided by a CRS project.
CRS and our partners Caritas Jalapa and Caritas Zacapa created a 6-month emergency response project that provides $3 million in electronic voucher cards and cash transfers to help 5,000 families buy food and other essentials.
“The Superamos project allows families to have immediate food assistance. They are given an electronic card. Each family can go to the village shop and receive their food, especially food with a high nutritional value that can help alleviate the acute level of malnutrition in children under 5,” says Gustavo Chew, CRS coordinator for MEAL, or monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning.
Purchasing locally helps stimulate the economy. Participating shops use smartphones to show their inventory so families can see what is available and select the food they want.
Nutrition education included
The women and men who participate also receive education. To maximize the nutritional impact of their monthly benefit, they participate in a series of activities that empower them to jointly make important decisions about household health and nutrition.
“During six sessions, they discuss topics about the status of children’s health, pregnant mothers, nutritional issues and hygiene,” Gustavo says.
Parents learn to recognize symptoms of acute malnutrition and other illnesses, and how to select food and prepare nutritious meals.
With Superamos, María’s children can look forward to the joy of having a glass of milk; and she, to healthier children.
“They say, ‘Oh, we’ll have a chance to have a glass of milk—God willing!’” María says. “The change will happen. I know it. I will take care of my children. I will give them food.”