I get to help start nutrition projects for the Bountiful Children’s Foundation all throughout western South America, which sounds a lot harder than it really is. In reality the whole process is pretty simple. I, or someone from the foundation, call a stake president (ecclesiastical leader) and ask if we can weigh and measure the children in that area to see if there are any that are malnourished. We set a date, and we show up on that date to weigh and measure the children. After that, the ones who are below the World Health Organization standards for height and weight receive nutritional supplements each month through a local coordinator that we choose during the nutrition evaluation.
For such a straightforward approach things sure can get complicated. Not including those who cancel, or change dates for the evaluation, the majority of the issues arise when there has been a lack of communication to the community about the project. Lots of times people think that American doctors are coming to give free medical services to everybody. More than once I have had someone angry with me because I am not a doctor. In those situations I usually recommend one of my mom’s natural remedies or “witchcraft” cures and see what people’s reactions are. My favorite is the moms who are worried about a child with a cough or runny nose. I always recommend a lemon and honey tea, but I tell them to put a few chili peppers in it, and see what it does. They never believe me, but that is my homemade remedy that I’ve sworn by for years. It is probably good that I am not a doctor.
Anyway, another problem that seems to happen in the evaluations is that no one shows up. For me this is the one that hurts the most. Recently we screened two towns in the northern Bolivia/Brasil border. Both have districts, which is a smaller version of an LDS stake. In one evaluation we had about 30 kids show up, and 3 entered the program, one of which was on the verge of death. In the other area, which is less than an hour away, over 115 kids showed up and more than 50 entered the program. The reason it hurts when no one shows up is because I am guessing that there are malnourished children in both towns, but we can only help those who show up to get help.
A lot of people think that giving handouts is the worst way to help people. In all honesty, what we do is basically give handouts to moms so that they have something to feed their starving child. In the states we cannot really understand the situation of the people here. We think, “Get a job,” or, “Learn how to eat healthier,” or, “I’ll give you a loan so you can get yourself out of the situation you’re in.” While in some cases these philosophies might be true, it is a little hard to tell someone to get a job when there are no jobs to be had. And it is hard to give a loan when there is no market for them to sell their goods. And it is hard to tell someone to eat healthy when they don’t have anything to eat. We Americans have a hard time fathoming someone not having anything to eat. But sadly, it is a reality. Some children eat one meal a day, if they even eat a meal, and their bodies visibly suffer. One of the children that entered the program from the town where only 3 entered was so malnourished that I knew from just looking at him that he would enter the program. We use three standards in order to tell if someone is malnourished; height for age, weight for age, and BMI. He was extremely low in all three. He looked a year or two younger than his age and rather than a smiling, or crying baby, (both of which signify life), he looked like a limp shell of a human being with barely enough energy to care that there were strange people measuring him.