Guatemala: Mother Peer Counselors Fight Child Malnutrition
Published on 20 March 2012

Women peer counselors help improve nutrition and child care (Copyright: WFP/ Irma Chavarria)

Vilma Argueta and Catarina Sapón are part of a network of 228 volunteer mother peer counselors working in local communities to encourage good feeding practices and care for children under 3 years. They work in 40 indigenous communities of the seven municipalities in Totonicapán, which has one of the highest rates of chronic undernutrition (82.2%) in Guatemala.

"I like being a mother peer counselor because I can help my community and feel useful. The women in my support group are grateful for the information on the topics we discussed. It helps them care better their children if they are sick and improve their care so they don’t get sick," said Vilma. Chronic undernutrition impacts on the physical and mental development of children with life-long consequences. In the first two years of life of a child, chronic undernutrition undermines brain development, thus affecting future school performance and reducing economic productivity and incomes in adult life.  

"During the past year, we have accompanied and monitored the group of mother peer counselors who have been receiving training through the Joint Programme’s Community Education Strategy to improve the food security and nutrition of children in Totonicapán," said Irma Chavarría, Head of the Community Education Strategy. This strategy aims to train mother peer counselors and support groups as part of the Joint Programme in Totonicapán.

Elected leaders, committed volunteers

"These women are elected leaders in their communities. They are committed volunteers willing to share proper practices on breastfeeding, the timely introduction of complementary and fortified foods to small children, and local good practices in the family diet for pregnant and nursing mothers, among others," she said.  This group of women make up a network of peer counselors at the Department of Totonicapán. This network allows groups of mothers to gather and share their successful experiences on nutrition and child care. The women also do individual counseling and home visits, which has an impact on the lives of the mothers and their children.

"I learned that our children have to be very clean, they should only drink their mother's milk and eat healthy to grow without malnutrition. When they go to school, I need to prepare food so they concentrate on their lessons and grow healthy," said Catarina.

Since 2010 and with support of the Government of Spain through the MDG Achievement Fund (MDG-F), this joint program --led by six UN agencies in Guatemala: WFP, UNICEF, PAHO, UNFPA, UNV and FAO--works in coordination with the Government of Guatemala with the aim of reducing chronic undernutrition among children under 5, pregnant women and nursing mothers in 40 communities of Totonicapán.

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About the author

Elizabeth Sagastume

Public Information Officer

Elizabeth Sagastume worked as a Public Information Officer for the WFP Office in Guatemala.