The VA team in Laos 2011
The following story was written by Vitamin Angels’ Director and corporate partner, Doug Jones, during a recent trip to the field with our team.
I write this after a few days of being in Guatemala with Vitamin Angels. We are working in various villages with one of our NGO partners, Mayan Families providing vitamin A and albendazole, an anti-parasitic drug, to children from 6 to 59 months old. Over the past few days, a few things have really struck me. I would love to focus on choices tonight.
In preparing for the trip, I had many choices that I needed to make. Some of those included which clothes to pack, which shoes, whether to bring a video camera, a go pro or my regular camera, whether to bring an extra set of clothes in case I was delayed. I had to choose which suitcases to bring or to bring a suitcase and a backpack; whether or not I was going to bring my laptop, my iPad or both. I chose which over the counter digestive remedies and which supplements to bring out of the many that are in our cupboard. The morning of the flight, I chose a breakfast from the many options that I had in my fridge and from my pantry.
You get the idea. We each face a myriad of choices each day from the plenty that we have.
This is in stark contrast to the villages that we have visited. On Tuesday, we visited a village named El Barranco. It’s a small farming community just outside of Lake Atitlan. Most men in the area are either farmers or day laborers and they can make around 50 quetzals a day ($6.40) if there is work. We are at the end of a farming cycle, so for most there is not.
There is not much of a choice for them as to how to make money. For 35 of the kids in the village, a sponsor is paying about $30 a month to send them to preschool and to provide them a breakfast, a snack for lunch, and some hygiene lessons such as washing their hands before each meal and brushing their teeth after they eat.
For the rest of the kids (a few hundred, by a teacher’s estimate), there isn’t a choice because school and all school supplies must be paid for by the parents and that’s simply not much of an option. Some of the parents do sacrifice, though, and make the choice between “real” meals and their children’s schooling.
Not much of a choice.
Most of the families here live in a single room house with potentially another room or small area outside of the room to do their cooking. There is no choice of which room to go to if they want to read, chat, watch TV, or eat.
Today, in the village of San George, we visited several homes. The smallest house had 6 people living in a room with adobe bricks, mud floors, a tin metal ceiling with holes in it and a curtain as the door. The room was no larger than 10x10’. When it rains, the water flows right through the holes in the ceiling. There are two beds where 3 people sleep in each. There is no running water. The only choice for water is for the family is to walk about a ¼ of a mile to the center of town to fetch water in buckets and bring it back (usually around 3 times a day).
There is also no electricity in the house, which means no choice to read after its dark, or do pretty much anything after dark. There is also no bathroom. They use their in-law’s latrine that is a few houses over.
Not much in the way of choices.
As for clothes, well, my newest 3-year-old buddy, Vilma, has 3 outfits to choose from. Her sister, Blanca also has 3. Her mom has 4. Not too much of a choice as to what they are going to wear or sleep in, or work in, or play in each day. This goes on and on and on for everything, from what they will eat, to when they will go to sleep.
The good news? The parents had a choice to bring their children to come see us, and support their children’s health by getting them vitamin A and anti-parasitics, and many did. Word spread that we were coming, and the reception in both towns was fabulous. We served close to 150 young children in the last 2 days and helped to educate their parents on the role and importance of keeping up with this treatment every 4-6 months.
We provided moms that were expecting or were thinking of having more children with prenatal multivitamins and taught them how to take them and how often. We also supplied the multivitamins that are given out in the schools each day to the children under 5.
For the parents that have seen the impact of this simple measure on their children, the choice was clear. We heard from several moms that the children who are in the program are healthier, have more energy, are more attentive, are happier, get sick less often and less severely than their older siblings who haven’t taken vitamins.
The great news? Children are children no matter where they are. They love to play, sing, dance, color, chase, laugh, giggle, whisper to their friends, run…
Beautiful little children.