January 24, 2007

The importance of fairly traded and ecologically sound coffee was underscored for me today when I recieved the following email from a email list I subscribe to. It also highlights the problems with short term medical teams working in Honduras, an issue I focussed on in my Masters research. The email is from an American doctor who has just completed a weeks mission in Honduras. He decided to ask each patient he saw a few simple questions about thier diet. The answers and conclusions, although far from scientific, are enlightening.

The questions were simple. “Where do you get your water for cooking
and what kind of food does your family eat?” “How many people live in
your home and how many are children?” And finally, “Do you have an
open fire in your home for your cooking?”

Most families in Honduras obtain water from the rain in a public tank.
This presents a real public health dilemma as far as the spread of
parasites and other infections. The chief complaint in our clinics was

When asked what a family eats, I would write whatever the person said
first. I started noticing that the majority of women would reply solo
frijoles or only beans. I would ask, “No rice, no eggs, and no

“No, just beans.”

It all started to make sense. What we were seeing all around us was
hunger. Their poor nutrition was leading to opportunistic infections,
diarrhea and parasites. Honduran children play, but in my mind, with a
certain amount of lethargy. They were hungry.

One day our clinic was going along rarely smoothly until a mother
entered carrying her eight-year-old daughter. The girl was emaciated
and developing a severe form of protein malnutrition called

The child was evacuated to the hospital a day away by car to receive
nutrition. Later we discussed how, unless her family’s resources
changed, the girl would return to the same desperate situation.

Hondurans have tried to make a living for themselves. Mountainsides
are stripped of trees in order to grow the cash crop of coffee.
Unfortunately, the cash isn’t there for that crop as an export and the
fields erode and attempts are made to grow “solo frijoles.”

We as a group attempted to give information and education as well as a
mere four days worth of food in a bag. It didn’t feel like enough.

It isn’t enough.
But long term solutions require long term commitment, hard work and sacrifice form those of us who have the resources. And there’s not many prepared to do that.

One Response to “Hungry”

  1. La Gringa Says:

    Thanks for the article on Honduras. I heard a similar story from a visiting nurse, except some of the families only ate rice because it was one lempira (5 US cents) cheaper per pound. Of course she tried to tell them that if they could only eat one thing that the beans were more nutritious.

    I think most people have no idea how severe the poverty is in this country. So many people are just skin and bones. Many children look years younger than they are and then at about 30 they begin to look much older than they actually are. I’ve seen many grown men who look like they weigh about 90 pounds, if that.

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