Nutri-Salud Project Opens Office in Guatemala’s Mayan Region

Nutri-Salud project will work with local communities and respect the cultural health systems and traditions of these communities,” explained Ms. Elena Hurtado, Nutri-Salud Chief of Party. “In the Mayan calendar, November 8, 2012, is Oxlajuj Noj, which means the ‘thirteen wisdoms or understandings,’” explained Mr. Francisco Poncio, a Nutri-Salud staff member and an Ajq’ij (“counter/lord of the days” in the Mayan tradition). “I recommended this date for the inauguration of the Nutri-Salud office in Quetzaltenango because it is very auspicious for starting an important enterprise.”

The Nutri-Salud: Guatemala Community Nutrition and Health Care project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by URC, is a five-year (2012–2017) effort to improve the nutrition and health of women and children in 30 municipalities in five departments of the Western Highlands of Guatemala. This area’s population is predominantly indigenous Maya. Quetzaltenango, where Nutri-Salud opened its primary technical assistance office, is the region’s largest urban center. 

"Scheduling the inauguration of the Nutri-Salud regional office on November 8th, an important date in the Mayan calendar, was meant to signal to target communities that the Nutri-Salud project will work with local communities and respect the cultural health systems and traditions of these communities,” explained Ms. Elena Hurtado, Nutri-Salud Chief of Party. 

Of Guatemala’s 14.3 million people, nearly 40% are indigenous Maya. The rate of chronic malnutrition (which results in stunting or stunted growth) among indigenous children 3–59 months old is an alarming 66%. Stunting, which is often mistaken for genetic shortness in stature, has profound negative impacts on a child’s ability to develop and learn. Malnourished children are much more likely to die from common illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia, and they are more susceptible to chronic diseases later in life. Children with severe malnutrition also have impaired brain development, which significantly limits their capacity to learn. The physical and cognitive harm caused by malnutrition in children is permanent and impairs the child’s ability to lead a healthy and productive life. 

Widespread malnutrition in Guatemala also has a negative impact on the country as a whole, hindering development, stability, and prosperity. Malnutrition in a child often starts before a woman’s pregnancy, and malnourished women give birth to malnourished children. This cycle can be broken by increasing access to essential health care and improving nutrition for women of reproductive age and children, contributing to lasting progress in nationwide health and development.

Nutri-Salut staff gather with local leaders for the ribbon-cutting ceremony

Nutri-Salud opened its office in Guatemala’s Mayan region to ensure that it can address these issues through three major objectives:

  1. Improve the nutritional status of women of reproductive age and children under five years by implementing the seven Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA), an integrated package of cost-effective actions proven to reduce maternal and child malnutrition and associated death and disease and by focusing on the 1,000 day “window of opportunity” (i.e., during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life, when ENA can prevent malnutrition);
  2. Strengthen essential maternal, neonatal, and child health care and family planning services at the community level, with a constant health care presence in target communities; and
  3. Engage communities in determining active solutions to their health care needs through community mobilization and linkages to local government structures.

More than 100 people—from municipality governments, the Ministry of Health, NGOs, USAID Guatemala, and USAID partner projects—attended the opening event, despite an earthquake the previous day. The event began with a traditional Mayan ceremony, performed by Mr. Poncio, and included project presentations, in-depth technical discussions on each of the planned project components, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Mr. Francisco Poncio (left), a Nutri-Salud staff member and an Ajq’ij (“counter/lord of the days” in the Mayan tradition), leads the ceremony.
Mr. Francisco Poncio (left), a Nutri-Salud staff member and an Ajq’ij (“counter/lord of the days” in the Mayan tradition), leads the ceremony.
Date 
November 14, 2012
Authors 
Kate Howell, Knowledge Management Specialist, URC; Elena Hurtado, Nutri-Salud Chief of Party, Guatemala; and Nancy Newton, Senior Advisor, Behavior Change and Communication, URC
Regions/ Countries