By Eugene Lee of World Vision
Six-year-old Belen likes to play with her dolls. Like many young girls in Namotivas, Nicaragua, she models what she sees around the home. She likes to pretend her dolls are sick with a cough and fever, and then help them get healthy again.
“I give them syrup so they can get better,” says Belen, who also has two younger sisters. In this game, her doll’s make-believe sickness is a reflection of her own real-life experience as an underweight, malnourished child.
The effects of malnutrition are often underestimated. Even though many children may eat enough to feel full, the lack of nutrients contributes to weaker immune systems and limits mental and physical development. Undernourished children are more likely to get sick and not perform as well in school.
The World Bank classifies Nicaragua as the second poorest country in the Latin America and Caribbean region, and the World Food Programme estimates that chronic malnutrition affects 22 percent of children under 5.
Belen used to be one of them—but not anymore.
Determined to find Belen a sponsor, Family Christian store manager, Shari Kuiken in Frisco, TX started asking her customers if they’d be willing to change Belen’s life through sponsorship. She finally found a sponsor for Belen in her dear friend and Family Christian customer, Margo.
Sponsorship feeds a growing mind
Through Margo’s support, Belen is able to get school supplies, new shoes, and a backpack. More importantly, her mother is able to attend World Vision nutrition workshops to improve the family’s eating habits. This in turn reduces illness and trips to see the doctor.
“I could say that before she was having a fever or cold most of the time, but now she has improved a lot,” says Telma, Belen’s grandmother who lives with the family.
In these nutrition workshops, called “Common Pot,” mothers learn to cook with more nutritious—and less expensive—ingredients such as soybeans and fresh vegetables grown in community gardens. And to specifically help Belen’s family, sponsorship funds provided Belen’s family with five hens so they can eat protein-rich eggs every day.
“It [the new cooking techniques] can prevent illness with children. This is important to pass on the trainings to the children” says Geraldine, a facilitator of one Common Pot group. Her 9-year-old daughter is also sponsored.
Because of what her mother learned in the Common Pot workshops, Belen’s nutrition has improved and she’s well enough to go to school.
Hope for the future
“I like to read. And I like to study with my dad,” Belen says. One of her favorite stories is Pinocchio and she loves to hear stories about princesses. Her teacher, Francisco, mentions Belen likes to learn about math and Spanish literature. He describes her as very disciplined — on time for class, never misses a day, and always has her homework done. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up, so she already has the right study habits.
“As a teacher, we have a big task,” says Francisco of his students. “It’s to prepare them for the future … we are taking care of those dreams we talk about here and how we accompany them through the path to fulfill that dream.”
Sponsorship has also shown Belen and her family a tangible expression of God’s love. Margo is a very active sponsor, sending letters, photos, and gifts to Belen. Belen is equally active in sending cards—and even drawings back!
Shari explained that Margo would bring the cards she received from Belen back to the Family Christian store to show the team “They always traced her little hand, and we’ve just watched it grow. It’s neat, you know, we always put our hand on it ‘cause it made you feel like you were holding her hand when you did it.” When Shari had the chance to meet Belen, she couldn’t wait to tell Margo that Belen had kept all of the pictures she had sent, “She had a picture of Margo’s grandson that she sent her. He’s four now, and she still has his baby picture with her in her backpack. So, I mean the impact—they really do feel like they’re part of your family.”
“It’s very special that these people who don’t know us personally, really care for us and have this love for us,” Telma says. “I’m really thankful.”
Photos and article are by Eugene Lee from World Vision.