Nonprofit Spotlight: World Food Program – Denver

Lisa Crawford, Coordinator for the Denver chapter of the US branch of the World Food Program (WFP) recently traveled to Guatemala with the WFP where she met children whose lives were saved by Plumpy’nut.  As the WFP Denver coordinator, Lisa overseas fundraising and advocating efforts in the US for WFP.  Below, Lisa shares her experience working for this lifesaving organization and how she witnessed Plumpy’nut in the field. 

Photo from University of St. Thomas - Guatemala Vision Trip

Is childhood malnutrition prevalent in Guatemala?

Guatemala has the fourth highest chronic malnutrition rate in the world, and the highest rate in Latin America.  It is estimated that 49.3% of children under 5 are chronically malnourished, but those rates are much higher in the rural areas.  In indigenous, Mayan communities malnutrition rates are closer to 70-80% of children.

If a child is chronically malnourished during the formative years from birth to 5 years old, they are permanently limited for the rest of their lives.  Physically, children are stunted and bone growth is hindered.  Mentally, neurons fail to form properly which causes lack of concentration and limitations on learning and mental capacity.

What were your responsibilities during the trip?

Our primary responsibility during the trip was to observe WFP operations so that we could bring the experience and knowledge back to our communities. Our group members all lead local community chapters of WFP, USA in order to raise funds for WFP and bring awareness and advocacy for world hunger issues.

Did you visit therapeutic feeding centers during your recent trip to Guatemala with the WFP?  If so, can you explain how these centers operated? How was the Plumpy’nut distributed?

In Guatemala, the rural indigenous population receives most of their healthcare via clinics that travel to communities once a month.  During my visit with WFP, we traveled to the eastern part of Guatemala.  We spent most of our time in the rural areas of the Izabal Province, near Lake Izabal.

WFP partners with the healthcare provider in the area to ensure that children are weighed and monitored and receive nutritional supplements as needed.  WFP Guatemala uses Plumpy’Nut to revive children who are suffering from acute starvation.  They educate parents on what is needed for the child and provide Plumpy’Nut, while monitoring progress over the following months.

For cases of chronic malnutrition, very prevalent in indigenous Guatemalan communities, WFP provides Vitacereal which is a fortified porridge-type food designed for longer term use. 

Photo from Brandeis University

Also during the trip you experienced a volcanic eruption and tropical storm.  Was Plumpy’nut used in these emergency disaster situations?

Unfortunately, Guatemala was hit with a tropical storm just two days after Pacaya erupted, near Guatemala City.   Guatemala had already been in a “silent emergency” after significant crop losses last year due to alternating flood and drought.   Many families were already without food even before the storm.

During this emergency many people were displaced from their homes, fleeing mudslides and flooding.  WFP stepped in immediately to provide emergency rations, including Plumpy’Nut, both to shelters and in the very remote areas where people had no other assistance.

Tropical Storm Agatha dumped incredible amounts of rain throughout the country, at the most unfortunate time.  Technically the wet season had not begun, so crops had just been planted and estimates say as much as 50-75% of crops were lost.  Rain has continued throughout the summer, at unprecedented rates, causing further damage.  The worst suffering from this disaster is yet to come – it will be in the months to follow, when subsistence farmers use up what small stores of food they had and crop prices start to rise from scarcity, that we see further devastation. 

You have traveled to Guatemala on three separate occasions.  What made your trip with WFP different?

I have traveled on three aid trips to Guatemala and I continue to work with non-governmental organizations in the country to provide assistance.  We saw firsthand the programs that WFP implements – Mother and Child Nutrition, Food for Development, Purchase for Progress, and of course Disaster Relief.  We met with Guatemala Country Director, Willem Van Milink, who provided us with a very detailed brief about the needs in Guatemala and WFP’s current operations.  This was a very different experience that allowed me to gain a greater understanding of large scale relief efforts.

How many children are being fed Plumpy’nut in Guatemala by the WFP?

This number fluctuates weekly, depending on need.  In Guatemala, WFP is not delivering regular rations of Plumpy’nut, except in individual cases as needed.  Instead they focus on combating malnutrition before it gets to the acute starvation phase.  WFP, Guatemala is using Vitacereal and food rations in this process.

How did children react to the taste of Plumpy’nut?

Most children love it!  It tastes like very sweet peanut butter.

How did parents react upon receiving Plumpy’nut for their children? 

Parents are grateful for a product that helps their child to recover quickly and, in most cases, at home.  Previous methods of recovery included the need for a child to remain in a hospital for long periods of time, which was very expensive and difficult for the families who often were unable to stay with the sick child.  Successful recovery rates were also much lower.

Do you have any stories of individual children you interacted with who were being treated with Plumpy’nut?

In one very rural community, that we reached by 4x4s along a very treacherous “road”, we met a man who held his 2 year old daughter.  She had been receiving Plumpy’nut for several weeks and was recovering wonderfully.  Although still very small for her age, she now looked like a thin little girl.  WFP staff told us that 3 months ago she could not stand and was lifeless, with bones protruding all over her body.  The father said that prior to receiving help from WFP, he was forced to chop tree roots and boil them for something to feed his family.

Is there any other information you’d like to share about the WFP, USA Denver or your trips to Guatemala?

Guatemala is a beautiful country with a lot of potential.  I was honored to travel with WFP staff and witness how hard they work and how dedicated they are.  I hope that our organization in Denver will be able to use my experience to share with the community how much WFP needs our support.  Currently, WFP is very underfunded and is only able to provide for about 1/3 of the target need.  WFP, USA in Denver will be doing several fundraisers and advocacy projects to raise awareness about global hunger issues. Please email for information at wfpusadenver@gmail.com

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