It’s been about eight years since the last global food crisis, but many countries continue to battle food insecurity. In fact, during the last two years, Central America’s dry corridor has faced severe drought, affecting more than 3.5 million people.
The corredor seco, or dry corridor, runs through parts of Central America, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. This area faces reoccurring droughts that destroy crops, which cause food scarcity leading to hunger and malnutrition — especially among children.
And hardships, such as violence and disease, magnify when vulnerable populations do not have access to food and clean water. Livelihoods of farmers and their families are also impacted because they can’t produce enough crops to sell.
Since many of our centers in Central America have experienced extreme drought, our field office staff in each country works with the churches to develop sustainable solutions tailored for their own communities.
In times of emergencies or in cases of extreme malnutrition, our student centers distribute meals, food packages and nutritional supplements. And training and education also offer unique opportunities to promote long-lasting change and a decreased reliance on food aid.
Self-Sustainable Rural Homes in Guatemala
After two consecutive years distributing food to the communities facing intense drought, the field office and church partners began to think of preventative actions.
One partnership facilitator started a program with a group of churches called the self-sustainable rural home. They provided hens that produce eggs, seeds to grow vegetables, and supplies for small gardens. Seven of those centers also partnered with an organization that has agricultural training for youth.
Other centers created greenhouses where the children learn farming techniques to produce veggies like tomatoes, green peppers and jalapeños. Other centers have implemented production techniques for fish and goat’s milk.
Training on business and income generation helps families sell their products in local markets and start productive small businesses.
Hydroponic Gardens in El Salvador
The communities in El Salvador are also fighting food insecurity.
In the urban areas, center staff from 45 church partners were trained on the construction of home gardens to produce vegetables like tomatoes, green peppers and lettuce. They were also trained on the creation of hydroponic gardens that grow faster and use less water than traditional gardens.
In the rural areas, 55 centers grew corn and red beans, bred chickens and rabbits, and farmed tilapia. Last year, one group of churches produced an estimated 50,000 pounds of grain. That’s about the weight of eight elephants!
A proposal for the coming year consists of the development of many more agricultural activities: vegetable production, poultry farming, fish farming, pelibuey (a type of sheep) and goat breeding. Not only do the children and families learn useful skills, but they also benefit from business and income generation through the production and commercialization of these goods.
Mommy and Me Nutrition in Honduras
In Honduras, many of the areas where our church partners work have higher malnutrition rates compared to the rest of the country. Part of food security includes having access to nutrient-rich food that meets dietary needs for healthy growth.
But the medical evaluations of the children in our program revealed a progressive increase in malnutrition. So five years ago, a “Step by Step Program on Health and Nutrition” began. The program’s three phases took a community approach to help combat malnutrition and infant mortality by training mothers on nutrition, food preparation and hygiene.
First, professional health technicians train our program staff on basic health, nutrition principles, and responsible food preparation practices.
Then, the program staff select and train “mother guides” — women that live in the same social and economic context but do not have malnourished children. These mother guides teach other mothers with malnourished children about healthy food practices and proper hygiene.
The third phase consists of a 10-15 day workshop in homes. Each day, the mother guides and mothers prepare local, seasonal food together at a low cost but with a high nutrition value. The mothers bring available food from their homes. It allows them to contribute and strengthens the solidarity among the group of mothers.
In less than six months following the workshops, 80 percent of the children have gained needed weight, according to the World Health Organization standards. Our church partners continue supporting the children with home visits and monitoring their weight and height each month.
Creative Local Solutions
In each of these countries, our offices and church partners work together to find solutions that fit the unique needs of their individual communities. They assess the core issue, evaluate the resources available, and apply creative solutions. One thing is always the same though, the health and development of the children are at the heart of each intervention.