Alarmed by the high rates of child malnutrition and hunger, and the low rates of primary school completion she found during several volunteer sabbaticals at a school for child workers in Panajachel, Sololá, Margaret Blood was determined to help. Community leaders told her that if she wanted to help, she should feed the children. Margaret raised funds to launch a breakfast program for the 160 children at the school and based on the impact of that effort, founded Mil Milagros in 2007 with the pro-bono assistance of the Goulston and Storrs law firm in Boston.
The organization was named “Mil Milagros” (A Thousand Miracles) with “Mil” representing alignment with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and “Milagros” meaning “miracles” – often essential to achieving big visions. The goals of Mil Milagros are aligned with several of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, and universal primary education. In 2008, Mil Milagros launched its pilot nutrition program serving 200 children in two schools. Since then, Mil Milagros has served more than 3,600 children.
Mil Milagros builds the capacity of mothers, grandmothers, and teachers to implement and sustain changes in their children’s schools and in their communities. To further leverage its impact, Mil Milagros forms strategic partnerships with other organizations to address other pressing needs in its partner communities including health and dental care, water, and housing and school construction.
“The effects of malnutrition on child development are like a ‘life sentence’ because it compromises (children’s) health, their ability to learn, and their growth.” – UNICEF
Guatemala, which means “country of many trees,” is the most populous country in Central America with an estimated population of 15.47 million. A combination of historical and contextual factors has profoundly influenced Guatemala’s performance in key human development areas such as education, health, and nutrition. The effects of the civil war that lasted nearly four decades (1960-1996) continue to be felt today.
Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the world – and the highest rate in Latin America and the Caribbean – with 50% of the children chronically malnourished. The rate of chronic malnutrition among Maya children in rural communities is 72.3%. Guatemala also has the highest birthrate in Latin America with nearly four births per woman. In the department of Sololá, 96% of the population is Maya and 94% of the population lives on less than $3.00 per day.
Guatemala has the lowest primary school completion rate in Central America, and education indicators continue to lag far behind nearly every other country in the hemisphere. Only 66% of children graduate from primary school – and the percentages are estimated to be much lower in rural communities like those where Mil Milagros works. The average number of years of schooling completed is just four.
Mothers and grandmothers are the key to Mil Milagros’ success. We work with our partner schools to organize Boards of Mother and Grandmother leaders in each community. We train these leaders, and they, in turn, train their peers. The mothers and grandmothers take turns to prepare nourishing meals each school day, and also help with hygiene interventions including the application of fluoride varnish and lice shampoo. The children bring their own dishes and utensils to school, along with firewood for the stoves.