Guatemala (MNN) — Many children balk at eating their vegetables. All around the world, however, millions of
children die every year of diseases related to malnutrition. For them, a simple vegetable garden can make
the difference between life and death.
"8 million a year die from preventable diseases around the world. That's 22,000 children a day — one every 4
seconds," says Bas Vanderzalm, president of Medical Teams International. "Most of them will die because of reasons
related to malnutrition. It's a major
cause of [death for] children, and we can fix that.
There's not a reason why these children need to die."
In the nation of Guatemala, 70 percent of the children are
malnourished. Medical Teams International
is going from community to community, partnering with local churches and
leaders to help parents better care for their children's health. The community learns how to grow vegetables
and other foods, how to care for children when they become ill, and how to
prevent illness. This training only
costs $42 per family, or $7 per child.
"For every family that we help, that's a permanent change for them,
because once they know what to do in helping their children stay healthy, they
will do that for the rest of the lives of these children," Vanderzalm explains. "Over time we hope to help thousands and
thousands of families permanently address the causes of malnutrition for their
children, and create communities where people no longer are cursed with this
Good nutrition is especially crucial for the health of children under
the age of two, Vanderzalm says.
"We need to do this in the first two years of a child's life, because
that's the time when malnutrition has its most serious effects — both in terms
of mortality rates in children and in long-term physical implications
as well. If we don't help those children
in the first two years of their lives, they're going to be physically and
mentally affected for the rest of their lives."
Medical Teams International has seen significant, long-term change
occur in the communities it has trained to fight malnutrition. The communities often see a 20 to 40 percent
decrease in malnutrition, even after Medical Teams International is no longer
Vanderzalm says the season of Thanksgiving–when many people pause to give
thanks for God's provision over the last year–is a wonderful time to help a malnourished child. Perhaps
the community health ministry will lead many people to receive spiritual nourishment
as well — the Bread of Life.
"We trust that God will take these actions and use them to actually
touch the hearts of people who receive help," Vanderzalm says. "And we hope that as a result of that, not
only will they receive physical help, but they will also receive spiritual help
that will change their lives for eternity."