By Narayan Murarka, Suzanne Gibson, Mary Holcomb, and Mark Gibson, Members of the Rotary Club of Barrington Breakfast, Illinois, USA
At 54%, Guatemala has the highest malnutrition index in children younger than 5 years of age and has the highest chronic malnutrition index in Latin America and the Caribbean. Malnutrition in children increases the risk of decreased cognitive development and slows down their overall growth. This is a serious problem, mainly in rural areas of Guatemala.
The Barrington Breakfast Rotary Club in the United States partnered with the Rotary Club of Guatemala Sur in Guatemala to combat malnutrition for children and establish microenterprises for women through mechanical cow projects.
A mechanical cow is a machine which processes soybeans, water and steam to produce a slurry that can be separated into soy milk and a solid byproduct called okara. The protein-rich soy milk and okara help combat malnutrition.
The first machine was installed at the Proximos Pasos Girls School in Santa Maria de Jesus which serves about 250 girls. This was followed by the addition of two machines in the town of Sumpango serving over 1000 children.
Finally, we partnered with the Rotary Club of Guatemala Asuncion to install five more machines. These machines will be operated by five independent cooperating organizations at five different locations. A local Rotary club will oversee each of these organizations.
The soy milk generated from these eight machines will collectively serve more than 4,000 children to alleviate their malnutrition condition.
At first, advantages of okara were not fully understood and it was not utilized and thrown away. Rotarian Mary Holcomb from the Barrington Breakfast Rotary Club promoted the idea of blending okara with other food items. A Vocational Training Team of Rotarians from the Barrington Breakfast Rotary Club visited Sumpango for one week to train approximately eighty local women on how to use okara. They received valuable information about the nutrition and benefits of soy milk and okara and learned how to blend okara in flour and make many kinds of baked goods. Okara is now used to fortify or blend regular corn flour; the fortified flour is used to make tortillas for daily consumption by hundreds of families thereby increasing protein intake for everyone.
Okara has also developed a micro-enterprise business where local women can make and sell protein-rich okara-based baked goods to generate income. Participating women were also trained on the economic benefits of the microenterprise business.
Working together and developing alliances with organizations with common interests has been a major approach in our global grant projects. Our partners commit to provide physical facilities, hire staff to operate the machines, pay for utilities such as electricity, gas and water; and make provisions for distributing soymilk to children. They help women start their microenterprise business and promote their ventures.
We created partnerships among our Rotary friends from multiple districts and clubs. These relationships have evolved significantly over the years; we have all developed a greater understanding and appreciation for each other while we build an international community and promote understanding, goodwill and peace.
Check out this video for more information on the project.