The Nutrition Centre (May 31)

I spent most of my service time during this Guatemala experience at the Nutrition Centre in Champerico. This centre is a residential program run by Sister Rosa who is a most caring, capable and knowledgeable woman with a nursing background. The children in her care are suffering from malnutrition. It was shocking to see how small and fragile these children are, especially given their ages. Our first tour of the Centre brought many of us to tears. One little girl was 11 years old and was no bigger than a four year old. Another child was almost 4 and looked like a one year old. These children responded so well to our time and attention; and we saw noticeable differences in their abilities and social interactions by the end of the week.

I am a physiotherapist who has worked in the field of Infant Development for many years. It is rare – if ever – that I saw a child who was significantly malnourished in Canada. And so it was shocking for me to see the impact of malnutrition on the development of these children. Many of the children displayed appropriate play skills (to the credit of the Nutrition Centre staff) but there gross motor development was markedly delayed. One of the 4 year olds is just learning to pull up to standing. Another 19 month old has just mastered sitting. These children all appear to have low muscle tone which makes it very difficult for them to master the typical pattern of gross motor development. This is compounded by the fact that their bones and muscles are poorly developed due to their malnutrition. Basically, they haven’t the strength to move. During the first three to four months of a child’s stay at the Nutrition Centre, the goal of the centre staff is to build up their health and nutrition, so that they have the energy to move.

Working with infants is not a new experience for me – but observing the effects of malnutrition on children certainly is. It is so overwhelming. The before and after pictures tell the tale. The amazing Centre staff bring these children back to life. The presence of God is clearly seen and felt. We were privileged to witness and experience this during our time at the Nutrition Centre.

- Betty from Mitchell, ON

Betty and one of the children

The play room

Sr. Rosa, the Superior of the Tertiary Capuchin Sisters of the Holy Family