Julia Velasco Parisaca and Wendy Medina of the IPS give us the stats for this region of Latin America's poorest country.
According to the National Nutrition Survey conducted in 2007 by the Health Ministry, municipalities where 38 of every 100 children are malnourished are classified as having a high degree of food vulnerability. In Betanzos, the rate is 50 out of 100.
Dr. Braulio Escalante, the municipality’s top health authority, told IPS that the living conditions of Quechua families have a major impact on their children’s nutrition and health.
"Most families are involved in agriculture, but they only raise enough food for their own subsistence and a small amount to barter (for other goods) or to sell in order to acquire other foodstuffs, such as sugar or rice," he noted.
Almost 80 percent of the population of Potosí lives in poverty, which is exarcebated by environmental problems like drought. Out of the 10 poorest provinces in the department, nine are Quechua, according to figures from the 2001 census.
The Quechua are the largest indigenous group in Bolivia. A total of 1,557,689 respondents identified themselves as Quechua in the 2001 census, out of a total population of 9.2 million.
The extreme poverty in this region is combined with another problem: local eating habits are not based on the high-protein foodstuffs that are grown and harvested here, such as fava beans, corn, potatoes and wheat, nor on fruit like peaches, said Escalante. Instead, local peasant farmers prefer to trade or sell this fresh produce for processed flour-based products like pasta.
The story goes on to detail a "Mindful Mothers" program, that helps with the children's nutrition. But the program can still only reach 20 percent of the Betanzos population, largely because of hilly terrain without any roads.
"Our task is to weigh and measure children from the time they are newborns until they are five, to see whether or not they are malnourished and whether or not they are gaining weight and growing. As madres vigilantes we train other women how to feed their kids so that one day malnutrition will disappear," Eva Juchani from Buey Tambo told IPS.
Juchani and the other 1,500 madres vigilantes throughout Betanzas also work to inform and educate their communities about better eating and cooking habits.
"It’s hard to get people organised. We started with meetings, markets and festivals. We teach women that as mothers, we must keep ourselves very clean, and give our children food that is well prepared and nutritious," commented Reyna Caba, a community health worker and madre vigilante in Buey Tambo.
The women’s training was sponsored by Plan International, a UK-based non-governmental humanitarian organisation that is collaborating in the implementation of Community Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (C-IMCI), a programme that targets children under the age of five.
C-IMCI was developed in 1996 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
"Madres vigilantes are trained about children’s growth, development and nutrition, and at the same time, they pass on this training to other mothers in their communities, while monitoring the growth and development of their children," explained Aurora Gutiérrez, the health programme coordinator for the Plan International branch in Bolivia, based in Sucre.