Guatemala has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. The average 9 year old here is at least 2 inches shorter than nine year olds everywhere else in the world because of malnutrition.
The malnutrition center that we went to has children ranging from birth to 11 years old. The majority of the kids are babies. There used to be 200 children served there but because of lack of funding and various problems, the number dropped drastically. Currently, Pastor Mike's home church is supporting the center and has provided for the center to take care of 73 kids (I think that's the number)! There is one doctor who sees the children. There are various women who live and work there to take care of these children's needs and to "re-feed" them. the children are divided by age into separate rooms. Some children are sent there after doctors have told their parents that the child is going to die. Others are dropped of by their mothers who simply can't take care of them. One set of siblings were recently dropped off by their father because their mother had died during child birth and he could not afford to properly feed them.... he does hope to come back and get them when they regain health.
The first room I went into was the "Canaries", the infant room. There are 2 women who take care of the 20 infants.... If you've ever had children, you can imagine what these women must do and just how huge of a task this is. The children are all on doctor prescribed diets. They have to have specific formulas and bottles 4 times a day. This does not include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These 2 women have to keep 20 childrens' diapers changed. They have to get the children up, bathed each morning, dressed, beds stripped and thoroughly cleaned, fed, bottles washed, diapers changed.... As you can imagine, they literally NEVER stop. It is literally all they can do to keep up with the basic things. They do a wonderful job at it. However, with that many children, they do not actually have time or the ability to hold the babies.
Studies after studies have shown just how detrimental it is to infant growth and development to not encounter human contact. When it is feeding time on an average day, over half of the kids are laid on the floor and hold their own bottles.... some only a few months old. When someone begins to cry, there is no one who is able to pick them up. It would be impossible for these women to rock each baby to sleep and to read them a bed time story. There is no time to stop and play or talk to the babies. Some of the babies are so sick that they have infant sized bodies and regular sized heads. Last year, a women volunteering with a missions team held a baby as it closed it's tiny eyes for the last time...
We took the team there for 2 days to simply help. We helped feed, rock, change, wash, hold, and care for the babies. The most important thing we did was just love on these kids. There was one little girl that I was immediately drawn to. Her name was written on the white board above her crib, Sandra. Her date of birth as well as date of arrival to the center was also written. Sandra was 2 years old and had only been at the center for 4 days. Her mother had dropped her off because doctors had said that she basically had no hope. She was in the infant wing because she was SO tiny and so, so sick. Her eyes told an deep story of fear, sorrow, and suffering. At 2 years old, Sandra could not hold herself up to sit; she could not talk; she could not crawl, she did not play at all; she couldn't even eat much because the act of eating made her sick. Sandra was so sad..... On Monday, I held her all day. She just laid in my arms and looked up at me. Whenever I tried to lay her down, she would scream. Mothers know about the different cries a baby has... this cry was so unique and just screamed "help me".
Monday & Tuesday afternoon, I tried to put Sandra down for a nap with the other children (when it was time for the team to leave). She grabbed my hair with both hands, clinching onto me, and wrapped her legs around me. She screamed so loudly and would not let go.... Her eyes begged me to stay. She screamed and cried.... as I had to leave her. This child has nothing constant in her life. Her mother has left her, the nurses must quickly come and go, and now I have to leave her. She has nothing to hold onto or depend on. She is scared and looking at me, an adult, to help her. That was the worst feeling in the world. I cried having to walk out of the room, leaving a helpless child scared and alone.
I know that all of these children are at the center to regain their health so that they can actually survive. It is just so sad to watch and worry. I know that God is working in this place, it is so evident. These women who work for barely nothing are gifts directly from God. The doctors who volunteer to save lives here are sent directly from God. I pray that by just holding these babies, we may be able to show them some sort of love as the arms of Jesus.
One little boy was sent home Tuesday. He had been at the center for 9 months. He had finally gotten healthy enough that he was released back to his parents. His parents cried as the doctors completed the final check-up. There was so much joy in that moment. I looked back through the glass at crying little Sandra and knew that at least she had hope....