Healthy mothers make happy families, hopeful futures


July 30, 2015

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  • Mercy Corps' PROCOMIDA program taught mothers in rural Guatemala about prenatal care, sanitation and nutrition, including how to properly prepare healthy meals for their children. All photos: Corrina Robbins/Mercy Corps

One small onion. One medium bell pepper. Two sprigs cilantro. One cup cooked pinto beans. So goes the recipe for pinto rice, one of the healthy dishes mothers in Guatemala learned to prepare for their children through Mercy Corps’ six-year PROCOMIDA program, which concluded earlier this summer. Read more recipes from the program ▸

Guatemala has soaring child malnutrition and maternal mortality rates. And families are especially vulnerable in the northern department of Alta Verapez, where chronic poverty and natural disasters keep people from getting the food and care they need to thrive.

But over its course, PROCOMIDA provided more than 50,000 families in Alta Verapez with food and education to help them improve their overall health and wellbeing. The initiative decreased malnutrition rates and nearly halved the number of maternal deaths during childbirth. And it gave mothers the tools they need to maintain strong, happy lives for themselves and their children long into the future.

Pregnant women and mothers with young children gather for a health training in their village.

Through the program, at-risk mothers and young children received monthly food distributions, including rice, pinto beans, vegetable oil and a nutritional corn-soy blend. And when they picked up their food package, they also attended a training guided by a leader mother from their community to learn about proper health, hygiene and nutrition.

The lessons even included cooking demonstrations so mothers could learn how to prepare the food they just received in safe, nutritious ways.

Rosa Elizabeth Ical Ba (center), a leader mother trained by Mercy Corps, demonstrates how to cook healthy, nutritious meals as other mothers from her community watch and listen.

“As a leader mother, I lead,” Rosa Elizabeth Ical Ba told us earlier this year. “I have ten mothers in my group and I demonstrate the recipes. First I prepare, then I demonstrate a recipe and then I train them. I also visit their homes. I check on the house and garden.”

Rosa and other leader mothers were trained by Mercy Corps. After receiving their own education, the leaders were responsible for teaching other women in their communities — pregnant women and mothers with young children — about the things they need to do to keep themselves and their families healthy.

“This is what I learned. Because the food has vitamins this is what the kids should eat to be strong,” explained Rosa. “Before we bought junk food at the store. And now everything that we give the kids to eat we grow here in the community."

PROCOMIDA taught mothers which foods to feed their children to support their healthy development.

“Since the program I’ve noticed that the kids are growing,” she continued. “The kids are stronger now than they were before. Before they were very sick, maybe because we didn’t wash our hands before we ate. But now the program has taught us that the first thing we need to do is wash our hands, and also wash the vegetables and fruits that we’re going to eat.”

Women also learned about things like the importance of clean water, vaccinations, household hygiene, family planning, breastfeeding and prenatal care.

Maria Magdalena Coc Sacul holds her baby daughter Hilda. Maria had a safe, healthy childbirth thanks to the education she received through the program.

“When I started the program, I didn’t know anything,” said 23-year-old Maria Magdalena Coc Sacul, who joined PROCOMIDA when she was pregnant with her now 9-month-old daughter Hilda. “I didn’t know how you got pregnant. When I was having my baby I didn’t even know how babies were born until that moment.”

But through the program Maria learned how to care for herself during her pregnancy and how to recognize danger signs. When she was suddenly in great pain one night, she knew she had to go to the health center to give birth. She was even financially prepared for the expensive middle-of-the-night taxi ride to the medical office.

“PROCOMIDA taught us that we should have some money ready for an emergency,” she told us. “[When my baby was born] I was happy because I didn’t have any problems.”

As instructed by her leader mother, Maria exclusively breastfed her daughter until she was six months old — always after washing her hands — and then introduced solid, nutritious foods into her baby’s diet.

“The kids are growing and the women are learning,” she said. “We’re beginning to put into practice what we’re learning. It’s changing our lives.”

Rosa walks her son, 6-year-old Alan Mucu-Ba, to school. “The dream I have for my family is that my kids are healthy and growing,” she told us.

And these mothers can use this knowledge to build happy, healthy futures for their families today — and for generations to come.

“I’m going to keep doing all that I’ve learned and I’m not going to let it go,” Rosa told us. “I’m going to do everything I’ve learned in the program so I can change my family and the community.”