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Vitamin Angels Development Coordinator Brittany Andrews is in Nicaragua observing vitamin distributions implemented through our Operation 20/20 and Thrive to Five programs. She is joined by Vitamin Angels President Howard Schiffer, photographer Matt Dayka and our friends and partners at Univera.
I felt the contrast of this new country with my own on the first day of our trip. During our drive to El Trapiche, dust flooded our vehicle. Jim Oman, Executive Director of The Rainbow Network, carried along the conversation as if the air wasn’t suddenly full of dirt and our bodies weren’t being tossed from side to side with each rock and pothole encountered. Through each bump and turn I learned that this experience was quite normal. The majority of places The Rainbow Network operates in are remote villages and communities. These are also the places Vitamin Angles strives to work in, since communities outside the typical government distribution system are those most in need of micronutrient supplementation. Jim told us that during the rainy season, the roads of El Trapiche become so flooded that driving is impossible, making much needed medical trips simply out of the question.
When the road came to an end we were faced with two lines of freshly built shacks, each with cement flooring and a tin roof. These homes are significant improvements from the usual residencies of this area, which were previously constructed of poles and tarp coverings and could on any occasion fall victim to flooding and rodent/bug infestations. The next thing I knew I was cradling a one year old baby boy named Umberto, who had a slight cold, but a smile that would melt your heart. His mother, Angelica, told us that she understood the value of prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, and had taken them while carrying each of her four children. She had delivered each child in a hospital and only had a complication during one birth. I found about half of the women we interviewed were very aware of the important role diet, micronutrient supplementation and regular medical check-ups played in the health and wellbeing of them and their children. Umberto’s mother, Angelica, also expressed a deep sadness that her elder two children had to discontinue school in order to work in the field. She said that she hopes Umberto can receive a good education someday and grow up to be a professional.
Across the street from Umberto’s family’s home, we had an interesting discussion with a grandmother named Susucena. Susucena discussed her own pregnancies and health throughout the birth of her seven children. She had lost four babies due to complications during and after pregnancy and experienced one stillborn. She didn’t have any access to prenatal vitamins and consumed a diet of rice, beans and tortillas, supplemented on occasion by milk. She shared that her daughter-in-laws have been taking prenatal vitamins and going for regular clinic check-ups. Not only have they been healthier during their pregnancies, but also their grandchildren have more energy and become sick less often. She said the prenatal vitamins have changed everything.
I also spoke with Adela and her family, who have lived in Los Tinajas for many years. The town has very poor living conditions, and her children have suffered from repeated colds and respiratory problems. Their home has a dirt floor and rodents who carry disease, leave droppings in the family’s food, and have overtaken the home. While Adela supplemented her last two pregnancies with some herbs from her plant garden, she wasn’t able to visit a clinic for regular check-ups or take prenatal vitamins and had a cough throughout her pregnancy. Adela was happy to tell me that since then, a clinic has opened up closer to her home. She also shared that an education is the only thing she can give her children, as they have very few material possessions. This is why she hopes her children will be able to receive a higher education, even if the school is far away. Her 8-year-old daughter, Ztxy, told me she likes school and her favorite thing to do was study.
It was through conversations such as these that I understood how my work with Vitamin Angels could help a child like Ztxy to achieve her goals. I saw my role in keeping children like her healthy, so that they can develop both physically and cognitively, ward off infection and disease, and have energy to commit to a higher education. I cherish this opportunity to provide health for all of these children. This is probably the most important foundational stepping stone I can contribute.
Written by Brittany Andrews, Vitamin Angels Development Coordinator