Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Observations on Child Nutrition in Belize

Hi, Steve here. One of my primary work partners is a young man who is a social worker by training. He is in charge of the district’s child nutrition project. It is a national project to identify undernourished children up to two years of age and provide food supplement to bring them back up on the growth chart.

The network includes satellite clinics, rural health posts, and community health workers who function much like nurse practitioners. Babies have their weight and length measured when they come in for check-ups and immunizations. If their growth is not progressing or if they fall below the second standard deviation for age, they are  are given supplements. If they are at minus three standard deviations, they are referred to the regional doctors, since they may also have parasites or other illness in addition to not eating enough calories.

Children are supplemented up to the age of two since that is the critical time of development that cannot be corrected by feeding later in life. The cut-off at age two is not a hard end point, and there is some flexibility.

The supplement used is Incaparina and comes dry and packaged in plastic. It looks like corn meal but is mostly soy protein and has vitamin supplements. Each serving (corn and soy flours) of Incaparina contains 379 calories and has 21.75 grams of protein, no sugar, 5.58 grams of fat, 9.9 grams of fiber and zero cholesterol. The brochures describe many ways to prepare it. It keeps for up to four days with refrigeration once it is prepared.

I think the program is a wonderful one and is pretty successful. The weak point may be the number of community health workers who are on the front lines of the campaign. They work extremely hard and are underpaid. I think they need more help. The payoff will be the next generation of youth who will start life without the deficit of malnutrition.  

Last week our blog passed 10,000 views! We began writing in October 2009, the time when we applied to join the Peace Corps. Thanks to all of you who read and comment on our entries. We enjoy keeping folks back home informed of our work and play here.

Fu We Dog's first bath

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quickie Update on Peace Corps Stuff

Vacations are great, but we ARE here for a purpose, right?

Steve continues to go to the Polyclinic every day. Sometimes he goes with the social worker or the community health care workers to teach about hygiene or other topics. Yesterday he went to Hopkins door-to-door to warn about their water source. Fecal matter had been found in the water, and everyone needed to be taught about boiling water or using "purified" (bottled) water for drinking, cooking, washing hands and brushing teeth.

Steve is a great teacher. He's helping the neighbor boy downstairs with his homework several days a week. He also helped one of the POWA women with her high school homework recently. It was a marathon session to prepare her for a big-time math exam. She said he really helped her to understand all the different types of math. Kudos to Steve!

I am still teaching HFLE (sex ed) and life skills to elementary schools. Just got "fired" from one school yesterday. I guess I stepped over the line when I showed them how to put on a condom. The kids are 12 and 13 years old, and already know A LOT about puberty and other sexual health and reproduction topics. They have a very healthy sexual curiosity, too. But the parents felt that I was teaching them too much, that impregnation and safe sex were too much in depth. Here are some of the quotes: "They know more than I do." "They shouldn't be learning these topics until 6th Form (Junior college)." "They don't need to know about safe sex because they will wait until they are married to have sex." One parent threatened that if I kept teaching there, that she would keep her child out of school on those days. The book the teacher had been using before I started teaching was a Bible-based text called Love, Romance, and Marriage.

OK, so I learned my lesson, and will tread lightly at my other schools. I HAVE been teaching these same topics in the same way to other youth groups, but they were a little older. Anyway, I am a little worried that this could cause trouble for Peace Corps and reinforce some Belizeans' opinion that the US is trying to corrupt the people.

My Belizean friends sided with me and said the kids NEED to have the information, maybe even younger.  The other classes are going along fine, but I'm scared now, so I may not continue teaching the young ones after I meet my commitment through May.

I was officially put on a Pause status with POWA, meaning that I would not work them until things could be ironed out regarding my role and my relationship with my work partner. In the meantime, I certainly do not want to lose my friendships with the POWA members, so I have been visiting with them socially. In one case, I learned about an additional work project.

A little logo I made for their event
A small group of citizens (two of whom are POWA members) has formed Dangriga Youth Alive. Their focus is on raising funds for high school scholarships. They will hold a beach bash over the Easter weekend toward that end. Members of the organizing committee include the Community Relations Officer of the Police Department. He runs a group of kids called Police Cadets. There is another guy who runs the BDF (Belize Defense Force) Cadets. There is a woman who is a Girl Guides leader, and three parents. I will help them, and have done a few things already.

For one thing, they did a great job of keeping expenses down by getting contributions of supplies and prizes, but they needed more ideas for raising cash. Other than a fee from the food/snack vendors, and a percentage of the beer sales, they were basically providing free music and games for everybody for the gate admission of $1BZ.
I suggested some additional games that will appeal to kids and adults. They will pay to play them and have a chance to win prizes. The ever-popular CornHole, Fishing for Treasure, and others. We may have face painting for a shilling - $.25 BZ. That event is scheduled for April 8 and 9, Easter and Easter Monday.

Steve and I both will work at a health fair in Maya Center Village on March 9. It's an all-day fair focussed on senior citizens.

We need some pictures, right? How about puppies?! By this Friday I should have all them adopted out. Thank goodness. They are a LOT of work, and feeding them is expensive!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Great Vacation Week with the Family

At the Pelican
The week leading up to our family's visit and the visit itself was emotionally exhausting for me (in a good way), so I'm way behind in writing the blog! Here's a quick rundown of our vacation week. Those of you who regularly read our blog will recognize a lot of similarities to the activities we had when Steve's sisters visited.

Arrival! A boring picture for most people, but I really like it!
My son, Jeff, and his wife, Stephanie, and her mother, Susan, arrived late morning of Saturday the 4th. Steve and I took the bus from home to Belize and then to the airport to meet them.

We had a rental car for the whole week. That's like an extra vacation treat for Steve and me, because of the freedom it affords us. We learned that we ARE allowed to drive in Belize if we are on vacation, so we took advantage of that. It was fun to drive the roads we've been travelling on the bus, watching out for the myriad speed bumps (they call it the Highway Patrol) along the way.

Our first full day of vacation we lazed around Dangriga, taking the pretty walk north of town to the Pelican Resort. They have hammocks out on a pier where you can read, sip a drink, nap or just look at the sea. Beautiful.

Monday morning we hit the road bound for Succotz, the village closest to Xunantunich and El Castillo, a large Mayan ruin. Along the way we stopped at Marie Sharp's "pepper" plant. Her company produces hot sauces, jams and jellies, and a few other products. The people of Dangriga are very proud of her success. Heading north along the beautiful Hummingbird Highway, we enjoyed the orange groves and rain forest-covered mountains. On to Spanish Lookout, a Mennonite village that is different from anywhere else in Belize. It has large fenced pastures, huge barns and storage buildings, and American-style homes and shops. We stopped for a pizza slice and some ice cream.

Susan and Marie Sharp
The Sleeping Giant, seen along the Hummingbird Highway.
You can see his face in profile, and his body lying to the left.
Xunantunich was just as magnificent this time as when we went with Steve's sisters. Two differences this time - I did NOT go up to the top; the other four did. And we had extra time to go over to the see the howling monkeys, the ones living in the wild. That roar is truly frightening. Should be used for a monster sound in a horror movie!

Four crazy people at the top. I just couldn't bring myself to go back
up there again. Too many bad dreams after the last time I did it.

Another shot of El Castillo
Tuesday we headed to Placencia for a nice overnight stay. The Sea Spray Hotel was right on the beach, had good amenities for not much money. Most of us took a jog or power walk while we were there. Placencia is a great place to visit if you come to Belize - but it's not very Belizean there. Touristy. Tuesday night was time for Karaoke, with everyone getting in on the act except the official photographer, Steve.

We checked out Wednesday morning and headed to the Coxcomb Basin Wildlife Refuge, what a lot of people call the Jaguar Preserve. Everybody was gung-ho for a good hike. Boy, did we get what we asked for. Straight up and down to get to a double waterfall, and then retrace to get back. It was beautiful, and worth the work. At some point, I admitted that I needed some assistance and Steve made me a good walking stick. I have no trouble going up, but going down steep grades scares me. That stick gave me the extra balance I needed. The best part was swimming at the foot of the waterfall!

Cold as it was, everybody eventually got used to the water and felt
invigorated. Susan and Jeff kept talking about the water's magical
qualities. I thought they felt better because of all the negative ions
generated by the waterfall. Maybe it was magic.
Thursday everybody went snorkeling (and napping and reading) at Tobacco Caye. Sorry to say we don't have a single picture, because nobody wanted to risk taking their camera. Brought back SEVEN lobsters for Friday's dinner.

Friday was another easy day in Dangriga, just lazing around, shopping, reading, doing some fix-em-up projects at the house. And Friday night was lobster dinner with Miss Patsy and her sister, Bernice. Patsy always makes me feel so good when she comes to eat. She compliments my meal, says, "You can cook for me every Friday, Cathy." It's extra flattering since she is a professional cook!

Saturday was my birthday (62!!) and we had a great time at the Belize Zoo and dinner at the Pelican.

Well, I've left out a few things for sure (especially the absolutely miserable Wednesday night watching the Duke-Carolina basketball game), but I hit the high spots.

Although I do a fairly good job when I'm angry or indignant, I've never been good at expressing my sentimental feelings. It was tough for me to say goodbye on Sunday. I had already had several tearful moments in anticipation of their leaving, but I still had a lot of boo-hoos left. Great memories, though.