Thursday, August 30, 2012

A full-circle journey to Guatemala

By Andrea Aldana
Edesia | Global Nutrition Solutions

Edesia's Andrea Aldana at a conference in Guatemala.
In October 2011, I had the privilege of travelling to Guatemala to give a presentation on behalf of Edesia at a malnutriton conference, a topic now very dear to me, although 18 months ago I did not know it.
My name is Andrea Aldana and, since March 2011, I have been the Customer Relations Manager for Edesia. My two older brothers and I are all first-generation born in the United States. My parents are both Guatemalan, having immigrated to the United States in the late 70s. My parents are from Zacapa, referred to as “Tierra Caliente,” which is the very hot, dry corridor of the country where malnutrition rates are an estimated 30-40%, moderate for a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. I didn’t know anything about these statistics until I started working at Edesia.

Growing up in Rhode Island, I was blessed with a very loving and giving family. Along with my mother, who taught me the gift of giving without expecting something in return, I had four other great figures and mentors in my life. Of these, one is my father. The other three, I affectionately call my uncles. These Guatemalan men are more like second father figures to me. From these individuals, I learned the value and importance of giving back and helping those in need. I am who I am because of the values they instilled in me at a very young age. These individuals continually change my view on life and expand my thinking on what the term “giving back” means.

Prior to arriving at Edesia, in one of my frequent trips to Guatemala, besides visiting family, much of my time was spent in the town of Llano Verde at one of my uncle’s ministries, Hope of Life International. It was during one recent trip that the sight of a severely malnourished baby transformed my way of seeing the world once again. At Hope of Life, I helped with feedings at the local landfill, I aided in food distributions and visited the nutrition center, finding babies that were literally skin and bones and had inflated stomachs. Were these children starving? Were they lacking the appropriate medical attention and resources needed? Were they malnourished? Looking back, the answer to all these questions is yes, but quite honestly, those thoughts never came to my mind back then. At that point in my life I didn’t know how to relate hunger and malnutrition in the same sentence. At that point in my life, all I could think of was, “How can I help?”

When I left the corporate world behind and joined Edesia, my journey started to come full circle. Because of my position as the Customer Relations Manager, I was given an opportunity to learn about this preventable condition called malnutrition that kills more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Reading articles, I soon began to understand the enormity of the problem, and the importance of nutrition in developing countries like Guatemala.

And then, I was given an opportunity to go back to the land of my forefathers, not only to discuss the topic of malnutrition at a conference, but also to teach the indigenous people of Patzun and neighboring towns of what malnutrition really is and the importance of proper nutrition, hygiene, education, development, etc. It was an amazing feeling to know that I was giving back to the land of my ancestors. The best part was seeing the faces of these individuals who were so receptive to learning and taking a proactive approach to improve the lives of their children. I could see in their faces the realization and enlightenment that comes with new information and knowledge—knowing that they wanted to make a change and that they could do their part and take the appropriate steps to put an end to the vicious cycle of malnutrition.

Almost 18 months ago, before I started working at Edesia, I can honestly say I knew a little but I did not know much more than those attendees did before coming to the conference. Throughout these past months, and through the help of my cherished mentors, I have learned what kind of person I aim to be and what kind of person I still have yet to become. Never has Ghandi’s quote resonated so strong as it does today in my life, “be the change you want to see in the world.”