NUTRITIONAL CENTER

Written by:  Maria Cardinale Curreri 1/2009

My first visit with Father Nick to the Nutritional Center told me quite a bit about why OCIMA financially supports a small group of Dominican sisters located in Morales, Guatemala.  Morales is a small city in the eastern part of Guatemala, not far from the Caribbean.  Just across from a gasoline station on the outskirts of Morales is a modest building the sisters call home.  At any given time, there are between four and six sisters living at the convent.  But judging from the work they are able to accomplish, you would think they had an army!

The weather is hot and humid – emphasis on HOT AND HUMID.  And there’s no air conditioning.  Personally, I can’t take a step without immediately turning into a wet mop!  So you can imagine how the sisters feel dressed in a full-length white habit, coif and veil each day – especially given their many activities.

Behind the convent is a dining hall where the sisters provide a nutritious meal to 45 or 50 children each day.  OCIMA financed its construction in 2003.  Whenever we visit, it is packed full of children and parents to celebrate their connection to OCIMA and Father Nick.  Okay, maybe the kids are there to get a piece of cake and help break open the piñata.  But they are also very eager to give Father Nick a hug and a kiss and to hang out with him.  He represents all the good work the sisters are able to accomplish as a result of OCIMA’s financial support!  So if you are a supporter of OCIMA, hopefully you are feeling those hugs and kisses too.

The Nutritional Center was founded in 2001, but OCIMA has a long history with the sisters in Morales.  Father Nick first encountered the sisters when he volunteered to be a pastor during 1984 and 1985 to two nearby parishes, and since that time, Father Nick, OCIMA and the sisters in Morales have partnered to aid the people in Morales and the surrounding villages.

From the beginning, OCIMA’s support has primarily been for food and medicines for the very needy and this continues to be our primary focus.  But through the years, OCIMA has also assisted with a sewing project, elementary schools, and adult education – all sponsored by the same group of sisters – and all programs still in place today.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch (October 1998), OCIMA acted quickly and immediately sent $10,000 to feed people.  There were four sisters in Morales at that time and they were able to prepare and serve 400 meals daily for five weeks – a total of about 15,000 meals!  Feeding the hungry was a first and necessary step after Hurricane Mitch.  But when people began to fend for themselves, OCIMA began the work of rehabilitating or reconstructing the houses that were destroyed, and this work continued through 2002.

Over time, things got back to normal.  But, normal to the people in this region still meant hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty.  So in 2001, the sisters having established a record of achievement in Morales, OCIMA funded the sisters in Morales to establish the first ever Nutritional Center in all of Guatemala operating without any support from the government!

Each day, the sisters visit one or two villages, depending on the difficulty of the journey, run a small pharmacy, and feed 45 to 50 children in the dining hall.  They bring food to the villages, in bulk, which is shared among the residents, but special packages are delivered to the older residents who have no family to help them.  While in each village, the sisters monitor the weight and height of all the children who participate in the nutritional program.  In their travels, they also identify special needs so that individuals can receive proper medical attention back at the Nutritional Center.

The Nutritional Center also has accommodations for six to seven pregnant mothers who are malnourished, or not otherwise healthy, so that the sisters can look after their pre- and post-natal care.  While at the convent, the mothers are taught hygiene and nutrition.  Before this program began, the children had birth weights of 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, and now, we see birth weights between six and eight pounds.

Over the years, I have come to know how critical this small group of women is to Morales and the many surrounding villages.  There are other groups in the area who provide aid, but often, there are strings attached.  The sisters provide aid with no expectations other than some sign that the people are interested in helping themselves.  Yes, their garb identifies them as a group of Catholic nuns, but they extend their hands to anyone who is trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance.

In late 1999 or early 2000, the sisters told Father Nick that their work would not be possible without the help of OCIMA.  The thought that we alone are responsible for their continued good work is awesome and urgent.  They do so much good work with so little.