July 2014 - “The land is holy,” José Tacen-Car said from the edge of his family’s farm. The family stopped applying pesticides on their crops nearly a decade ago after experiencing illnesses they say were tied to chemicals in the food.
Maize stretch to the horizon in the rural highlands of Chimaltenango, a district 35 miles west of Guatemala City. A vehicle can take upwards to four hours to reach a village nestled between hills and dirt roads. Despite the abundance of crops, Guatemala has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the western hemisphere.
The family’s kitchen, dining area and a room to store daily harvests stands separate from a main adobe home.
Claudia Tacen-Car preparing lunch for her siblings, a daily meal of tortillas and cake made of beans and potatoes.
Maria Theresa Tacen-Car, the mother of seventeen children, prepares tortilla
Because of poverty and lack of nutrition from prenatal care to daily meals, half of the country’s children under the age of 5 suffer from anemia and stunting.
The family eats chicken once a week and relies on a handful for their eggs. Their modest adobe house is also home to many domesticated animals including rabbits, one turkey and ducks.
Vegetables are eaten once a week in a meal.
The hillsides of Chimaltenango are dotted with plots of maize and fruit trees. During a decades-long civil war that ended in a treaty in 1996, the highlands were the site of massacres committed both by government forces and guerrilla fighters. Maria Theresa lost two of her eldest children to sickness during the height of the fighting as she hid in the forests with other family members.
Towns that are an entrypoint towards many rural villages have local marketplaces and small businesses.
A local clinic in a town of Chimaltenango promotes nutritious diets in its waiting room. The Guatemalan government’s recent project, the Zero Hunger Plan, is at a nascent stage of launching initiatives to reduce chronic malnutrition by 10 percent in children below five years of age. The government is also partnering with the private sector to reach the goal by 2016.
A local organization outside of the popular tourist destination of Antigua admits and cares for malnourished infants and young children from nearby towns and rural villages.
Nicole, a three-year-old who is malnourished, has been in the clinic for more than two weeks. She struggles to hold a pen and cannot walk without guidance.