My reflections from Guatemala and a commitment to engage with more youth in the SUN Movement
About the author: Dr. Claire Blanchard, Civil Society Network Coordinator, reflects on her mission to El Salvador, 2016
Guatemala has a different context with violence being an issue but not as visible as in El Salvador. However, poverty, inequity and high levels of malnutrition are striking. Guatemala has 46.5% of chronic malnutrition of children under 5 (ENSMI 2013/2014) in the Central American region in spite of high level political commitment. This is the highest in the region and one of the highest burden in the world.
A new government with high hopes
Corruption scandals plunged Guatemala into turmoil, but with a new government recently installed following elections civil society has high hopes that their voices will be heard. This is a result of society’s voice starting to be heard. Civil Society Organisations are already making key connections within government to ensure continued commitment and high level political will. CSOs are also working to ensure improved participation of civil society and youth in decision-making, policy and planning platforms at national level and in local level platforms like the Office of Women, Youth and Adolescents.
A little about the civil society alliance (CSA)
The alliance has 250 members, all of which are grassroots organisations apart from two INGOs. The alliance is hosted by Save the Children Guatemala, which provides a lot of additional support beyond the scope of the current SUN Multi-partner trust fund. It has a youth network which aims to engage young people at all levels and live up to the SUN principles of engagement in all its activities. The engagement of young people in Guatemala is key as more than half the population is under 30.
The alliance works to ensure civil society participates and is able to influence political decisions. The aim is to raise awareness of nutrition all the way down to the household level. The alliance also promotes the change of behaviour starting with each and every one engaged in the project and building shared responsibility for addressing malnutrition. “We cannot expect the government to do it all. We have to commit to changing ourselves and our communities” says a representative from a group of indigenous women, member of the CSA.
The engagement of the CSA members is truly striking and an example for most of us within the SUN Movement. Most members of the alliance commit their time, passion, dedication to ensure that nutrition efforts reach the hardest to reach and empower excluded groups to ensure they are able to realise their rights (right to food and nutrition, right to education, right to health care, women rights and children rights).
A flagship project – social accountability
Another flagship project for the alliance is their recent social auditing efforts to monitor the implementation of the 1,000 days strategy in remote communities.
Key features of the project included technical support from one of the members of the alliance (ICEFI – Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, who are experts in financial studies and budget analysis), youth network have 22 organizations of civil society in the country’s 10 departments.
- Asociaciòn de Desarrollo Integral Comunitario –ADIC (San Marcos & Quiché) who also have coverage in Totonicapán and Quetzaltenango;
- Fundación de la Mujer Maya del Norte – FUNMAYAN (Alta Verapaz);
- Asociación de Mujeres Ixpiyakok –ADEMI- (Chimaltenango);
- Colectivo Maya Mam Chmool B´ee (Huehuetenango);
- Centro de Desarrollo de la Mujer –CEDEM IXMUKANE (Sololá),
- Save the Children Guatemala (Chiquimula) and
- Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales –ICEFI.
Coverage – the initial phase of the exercise covered 4 regions, 7 departments, 8 municipalities and 32 communities and their health centres. In each of the 32 communities, 19 samples were collected (2 from pregnant women, 6 from mothers of children less than 6 months old, 9 of mothers with children aged between 6 and 24 months, 1 from health care professional, 1 from a midwife).
Instruments used for the collection of data – observations of nutritional and food education chats, checks of vitamins and vaccines available in health centre, interview with pregnant women, mothers of children less than 6 months old, mothers with children aged between 6 and 24 months) and checks in the health centre with the health care professional.
Who conducted the data collection – The methodology was developed as an alliance. It was then implemented by two young people (1 male and 1 female for security reasons), with support from an ICEFI representative. The project worked in some of the hardest to reach communities, where the only access is on foot – a 6-7 hours walk with significant security risks.
Results – The results were compiled, analysed and are now ready to disseminate and share with the incoming government. This monitoring effort complements the study already undertaken by the Alianza por la Nutricion. The new research covers remote and hard to reach areas and is starting to collect data where there has been none. It contributes to building a more comprehensive picture of the implementation of government programmes.
Next steps will include:
- Partnering with the Alianza por la Nutricion to complement efforts and get additional support through strategic partnerships;
- Using innovative approaches (like mobile technology and applications) to facilitate data collection, led by youth, and ensure this feeds into a broader data collection efforts;
- Mass awareness raising of the current striking gaps; and
- Propose concrete steps and solution for multiple stakeholders to address these gaps together.
Some lessons and messages from my visits
One of the biggest assets is the commitment of the alliance’s membership and the youth network in the work, and their constructive and responsible approach. The contribution of the members’ time is invaluable. It is the best investment one could ever hope for to ensure the sustainability of efforts to promote social justice and human development.
From our meetings with key officials, it is clear that for some in the country SUN remain an external stakeholder and a vague concept with no clarity of its added value. As a movement, we need to raise awareness of what SUN really is, not only at a high level in non-nutrition forums, but also in countries, particularly following a change of government.. The SUN lead group needs to play a key role in this process. However, ultimately, my personal perspective is that SUN should not be a brand or an outside programme but should be considered as an approach that is grounded on solid principles of engagement. In fact, my main message when in Guatemala was that SUN is those very actors in country committed to improving the nutrition of our children.
A commitment to have active participation from youth in the SUN Movement
Youth engagement is often overlooked, including in our SUN Movement, and yet young people are the ones with most potential for innovation and are societies’ future leaders. As such I have committed the SUN CSN to ensure more active participation of young people in the movement. I propose we do this by:
- Ensuring financial support for young people to be able to take part in key regional and global events like the World Health Assembly and the annual SUN Global Gathering and others to bring the voice from the field and ensure global decisions are a reflection of everyday reality on the ground; and
- Creating a youth group within the SUN CSN with virtual meetings to start off with at the regional level building towards global cross-learning and strategy virtual discussions.