Phoebe Hitchman from Vitamin Angels, accompanied Univera Associates for this year’s Serve First’s trip to Nicaragua. Read more about Phoebe’s experiences below.
1) How did you feel when you landed in Nicaragua?
Excited! Sometimes a journey such as this doesn’t feel real until the plane touches down. We still had a long trek ahead of us before we would reach the first community, but just being in a new country always gets me excited. Especially since by that point I’d met the Univera and Serve First teams and knew that this awesome group of dedicated individuals was going to make this adventure all the more inspiring and memorable.
2) What was your favorite moment you had with a child/mom in the areas you visited?
Meeting Brenda Lelaya, the community nurse at Guasuyuca, truly reminded me of why it is so important to support women into roles of leadership and influence within their communities. Brenda was a vision of strength in the communities she works in, and has helped facilitate the growth of the nutrition programs that she is now implementing. It was so gratifying to see her educate mothers on the importance of nutrition, explaining the benefits of vitamin A and multivitamins, and then to visit her home and listen to her explain how hard she works to ensure her daughter receives proper nutrition. I was very inspired by her hard work and the impact she’s had on her community, and encouraged by the difference she’s making in other’s lives.
3) What differences did you see in the children who had received vitamins?
There was a stark difference between communities that were just beginning vitamin programs and those that had been implementing them for a few years. Children receiving vitamins were visibility healthier – with vibrant eyes and skin, they were also taller and more muscular, and extremely engaging with our visiting team. While the children in villages with new vitamin programs were still wonderful, very playful and full of laughter, there was a definite difference in their health that was very noticeable. They had more coughs and runny noses, and a higher percentage appeared underweight and shorter than they should be at their age. Upon arriving at the school we visited on our final day in the field, just outside of Managua, it was clear that the vitamins and fortified foods these children had been receiving for a few years had significantly supported their health.
4) What surprised you the most in the villages?
The lack of water. Generally, when I think of Central America, I imagine lush landscapes and plenty of rainfall. The dry, dusty landscapes around Esteli and Managua were quite the stark opposite, as Nicaragua is facing its worst drought in 32 years, and the areas we visited were part of regions being hit the hardest. All water use must be rationed, and families would share their portion if their extended family or neighbors ran out. Coming from California, which is also in the middle of a historic drought, it was a profound experience to visit this region and see how these water restrictions were impacting local communities. My experience with drought is that you watch your home water usage, stop watering your lawn, and perhaps pay more for your water bill each month. A drought in these communities is a huge concern to all individuals, and impacting the overall health of the community. It was a tough comparison to draw, and has stuck with me since my return home.
5) Anything else you would like people to know about your experience.
I am truly thankful for everyone at Univera and Serve First, especially Bill Lee and Ralph Bietz, for truly recognizing the importance of nutritional supplementation, and for being such incredible supporters of Vitamin Angels in allowing us to reach more children around the world. It’s because of ongoing donations such as yours that we’re able to not just continue growing and reaching new children and mothers each year, but are also able to recommit to those communities that we’re currently working in. It’s very important to me that Vitamin Angels is committed to supporting the communities we visited in Nicaragua for many years in the future, and to know that the children we met will truly have a chance for a full and productive life because of the support we’re together providing. So again, thank you – to everyone who makes donations to Serve First and believes in the mission of our work. Because it is truly making a huge difference in this world.