Dietary Science Students Serve in Guatemala

Students from Olivet University near Chicago measure the bone length of a child at a feeding center outside Guatemala City. Emily Younglove is in the foreground with Kristen McKinley behind her. The students were on a trip with the international relief and development agency Food For The Poor.

Related Information:

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (July 5, 2012) — On a recent mission trip to Guatemala with Food For The Poor, dietary science students and an Olivet Nazarene University professor had the opportunity to put their hearts and classroom lessons to work in feeding and malnutrition centers. They measured tiny arms, checking for bone length and muscle mass, and they weighed the children and checked their height.

 All of this was done with one goal in mind – to help prevent the kind of childhood malnutrition that stunts the mental and physical development of so many children living in poverty in developing countries. Guatemala has a poverty rate of more than 50 percent and the chronic malnutrition rate is the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Cathy Anstrom, Ph.D., has been at Olivet for 17 years and is a professor and director of the Dietetic Program there. She had traveled to Guatemala 10 years ago, and was eager to lead the group of students on what would become a life-changing experience for them. It turned out to be a different experience for her, as well.

“This time I left with a sense of hope for the people that we were visiting with, and helping,” Dr. Anstrom said. “The last time – and this is such a clear memory for me even though it was a long time ago – I remember thinking I don’t know how these people are going to survive.”

Seeing the women and children in their home environments and then serving them later at the feeding centers, where they also were weighed and measured, provided a way for the girls to connect with the children, she said. Her interest in Food For The Poor projects involving hunger and malnutrition stems from a course she began teaching 17 years ago on World Food Problems, which addressed possible group and individual solutions to this debilitating problem.

“I thought, if I teach anything to these students, I hope it is that these people are your brothers, your sisters,” Dr. Anstrom said.  “We are global; it’s not us and them.” 

Megan Grise, from Piqua, Ohio, graduated in May as a student of Dr. Anstrom’s, and now wants to specialize in pediatric nutrition.

“I got a lot out of going into the homes and witnessing the needs of the poor. There was a little boy, he was 7, rolling newspapers to sell to help feed the family. He was not complaining, just quietly working,” Megan said. “When we talked to him, he and his little brother told us that when they got very hungry, they would drink the glue made of a little corn starch and water. It just broke my heart.”

When the girls traveled later to the feeding center, they had a chance to feed the boys a meal along with the other children and see the confidence the women gained from having provisions for their families. The women brought firewood to the center to exchange for a meal of soup and tortillas. Then they assisted with the cooking and serving. If there is enough food available at the feeding centers, the women can take some home.

“We are so grateful for the help provided for the poor on this trip by the students and Dr. Anstrom,” said Angel Aloma, executive director of Food For The Poor. “Their practical skills, combined with their true heart for the poor, elevated this trip for everyone involved. Helping those suffering from malnutrition goes to the very core of our work.”

One form of malnutrition is scarcity of nutrients, which is common in a diet that relies mainly on starch. At one home, the mother had only a corn tortilla and salt to offer her little ones. In a country where round cheeks sometimes are mistaken for health, simple blood tests show that the children are desperately deficient of vital nutrients necessary for brain and muscle development.

Another form of malnutrition is caused by food scarcity. Some children may go days without eating, while parents struggle to find food. The students met a child at the San Juan Nutritional Center who weighed just 22 pounds and was almost 6 years old. She is one of about 60 children there who range from infancy to age 8, and who have been brought there because they are near death. On average, about two-thirds of the children admitted to the center are nourished back to health.

The reality of the level of poverty struck University of Florida student Allie North when the group visited the home of a mother and her children.

“I saw a child eat a chicken bone off the ground. He just picked it up and gnawed on it, because it was all they had. It was very sad and hard to believe that only two hours away from my home that people were living like this,” said Allie, who is a food science and human nutrition major at UF, and lives in Boca Raton, Fla. “When I originally declared my major, I wanted to be able to work with obesity and eating disorders, but this was a whole eye-opening experience.

“I examined my life when I got home, looked at my full refrigerator and thought about how those children live and it made me incredibly sad,” said Allie. “I want to help people like that. They really need our help.”

Upon their return to the United States, the group decided to raise funds to help the Dolores Nutritional Center Restoration project located in Dolores, El Peten, Guatemala. The center focuses on mild to severe malnutrition cases, particularly mothers and children suffering from chronic malnutrition. The project goal is to provide needed repairs to the center that will create a much safer environment for those receiving care.

Checks to support the project can be mailed to Food For The Poor, 6401 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek, Fla., 33073, using the source code 86122 in the memo field.

Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor.

For more information, please visit

Kathy Skipper
Director of Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6614