What do you do at the nutrition center? Do you go there just once a day according to your "daily routine"?
I really enjoy my ministry at the Santa Clara Nutrition Center and appreciate greatly the work that they do. We all work from 8 am to Noon.
Normally, we spend 2 or 3 days a week walking different neighborhoods and talking to parents about nutrition for their kids. I normally take photos, and Sister Yanira does all the talking. She is a nurse and uses that knowledge to help in different ways.
We try to cook with a family once a week, which gives Sister Yanira the opportunity to bring educational material for parents and kids to learn about things like nutrition and hygiene. I think cooking might be my favorite activity because it's a time for everyone to work together to make amazing food with soy that is high in nutrients and protein for families who might not have access to a lot of healthy food, especially meat.
Finally, a day is spent in the clinic. Sister Yanira works with families and I spend my time transcribing things on the computer or looking for photos on the internet for her to use in her educational talks.
We have participated in fairs in the neighborhoods as well, impressing people with delicious food made from soy. It's really all delicious! We also have information and conversations about nutrition and hygiene.
This is a description of a typical day walking the neighborhood:
It's 8:30 and the van arrives to take us to a neighborhood. As we drive, the van bounces over potholes and puddles, going slowly where water has washed away parts of the road.
When we arrive at the Eva Morales barrio (neighborhood), we hop out of the van with our backpacks and the van leaves us, on its way to help run other errands for the sisters and act as transportation for the Tao school down the block from the center, which provides education to special needs and undocumented children.
We begin to walk. This neighborhood happens to be in a more hilly area, so it's a bit more work. The sun is hot, and temperatures at the beginning of the day are normally in the low to mid-80s. It will get into the 90s before our walk is done. They are all dirt roads here, sometimes only passable on motorcycles or by walking. We hop over gullies and holes, sometimes slipping a bit on the loose rocks. Our sandals are covered with dust and dirt quickly.
As we walk, we talk about life, our faith and ourselves. We might stop for a minute or two to enjoy a flower, tree, insect or bird. Not too much time though, because we are on a mission!
As we near different homes, we scan the clotheslines for children's clothes. I think it's such a smart way to see if we should stop. People hand wash clothes here, and as you can guess, there are always kid's clothes being cleaned! If we see them or see kids playing in the yard, we stop.
Normally, there is a gate made of re-purposed wood and barbed wire. Interestingly, a lot of people use their barbed wire fences as drying lines as well. One of the many examples of how things are well used here - I am often surprised and inspired by things like this. Sometimes a dog or two will come to challenge our entry. In many places, dogs are more protectors than family friends.
Sister Yanira shouts a bit of a greeting and we are welcomed into the yard. Most times, the general living area is outside. There may be one building or multiple smaller buildings of re-purposed wood and dirt floors for bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens.
We are welcomed to an area that, if it was in a house, would likely be called the dining room. It's more like a porch here, with a covering to keep out the sun, and a table similar to a picnic table, where the family eats. First thing, chairs are produced for each of us. It is an incredibly welcoming gesture to me that is repeated for us in almost every place we visit.
This family includes a mom, a grandma and three kids. It is often the case, not always, that fathers are not present. I don't have specifics on the reasons, but it proves to be a challenge for the mothers who many times team up with their moms and possibly their sisters and their sister's children who are in the same situation.
The kids are normally a bit shy the first time we see them. Reserved and not sure what to make of us. They are curious about Sister Yanira in her habit and listen when their mom tells them to come over to us, but they are not ready to trust us yet.
Sister Yanira will check the kids, talk about nutrition, give medical advice, discuss education options for undocumented* kids and help if there is an urgent situation.
We might schedule a cooking demonstration with a family, but we always provide information about the clinic and directions on how to get there.
As we leave, we thank the parents and say 'chao' to the kids. Now that we're leaving, smiles appear and return 'chaos' ring out from the kids. When we return in the future, most kids are transformed into interested, engaged, trusting children. It is a blessing to receive the gift of their trust.
We will repeat this process five or more times before we run out of time at about 11:30. Sometimes we are revisiting people who have received help before. Sometimes we are checking in on abuelas and abuelos (grandmothers and grandfathers) with health issues. Other times, we meet a child with special needs along with their brothers and sisters, presenting a different kind of challenge for a family here.
Sometimes when we visit a family, we find a chunky baby and kids that are a good weight. These times are not the norm however -- maybe one family of every five or six. Sister Yanira always celebrates these mothers, lifting them up with great praise and affirmation of the great job they are doing.
Finally, it's time to return. We hop on separate motorcycles and arrive back at the center with enough time for Sister Yanira to follow up on the takeaways she leaves the neighborhood with, put away our things and talk with the other staff there about each other's days.
*I wondered about what it means to be undocumented here. I wasn't sure if it was the same thing as in the United States. Here, undocumented kids are kids whose parents have not registered them. Both parents' signatures are required, and many times the fathers don't want to take responsibility for the child so they don't sign. Unregistered kids don't have access to healthcare or education. This puts moms in a very tough place. The Tao school provides education to these children.
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