Five Plenty staff and volunteers were in Guatemala from October 30 until November 7 visiting long-time Plenty projects and exploring potential new ones. Guatemala, of course, was the location of Plenty’s first major international engagement when we responded to a catastrophic earthquake that shattered the middle of the country on February 4, 1976, killing at least 23,000. Along with several large reconstruction projects, village water systems and medical assistance, Plenty did a lot of work introducing Mayan famers and families to soyfoods, at their request. (They saw us eating soybeans and making and milk and tofu in our camp). Ultimately, with funding from UNICEF and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), we helped the Mayan community of San Bartolo near Solola, Guatemala, construct and equip a “soy dairy” or soyaria. Amazingly, the community has kept the soyaria going all these years (after the opening in 1980), even through the 1980s when Guatemala was torn apart by an internal civil war and virtual holocaust when more than 100,000 Mayans were killed outright by the army, or caught in the crossfire between the army and the guerillas, and another 150,000 fled the country to Mexico, the US and Canada. The Plenty team met with the current staff of the soyaria (Called “ADIBE” now) and, after reviewing their plans for expansion, provided them with a grant of $3,000.
The team also met with the staff of UPAVIM, the women’s cooperative in Guatemala City where Plenty installed a small soyaria three years ago. Many of the women are widows who relocated to Guatemala City during the violence of the 1980s. UPAVIM operates a clinic, elementary school and day care center in the middle of one of the City’s most violent (due to gang warfare) barrios. The UPAVIM soyaria (they call it UPASOY) produces soymilk and other soyfoods for the school and day care center. Plenty is donating $3,000 to UPAVIM to support UPASOY and is providing ongoing technical support.
They visited the country’s largest dump and landfill. It covers 40 acres of a canyon 300 feet deep. There are no regulations about what can be dumped there so much of the waste is dangerously toxic. Hundreds of families live off what they can scavenge from the mountains of trash. The Plenty team met with groups that are helping those families and we’re looking for ways we can lend a hand.
According to one of the new groups the team met with, Food for the Poor, “undernourishment among Guatemalan youth, mothers with babies and the elderly has increased…in part due to diminished family income and local food supplies, both caused by serious droughts experienced during the past three years. Chronic undernourishment stands at 49.3% for children aged 5 years and younger. This represents nearly 1 million children.” According to UNICEF, malnutrition is the primary cause of child mortality worldwide…even moderate malnutrition can be deadly when combined with the typical infectious diseases poor children are exposed to. Since Plenty’s earliest days in Guatemala we have seen that soymilk is effective in relieving malnutrition in young children. Other organizations we’re connecting with in Guatemala such as Food for the Poor are discovering the value of introducing soyfoods to populations experiencing malnutrition.