God’s Child Project

20 years of improving lives

by Hannah Wallace Bowman

Malnourished kids are among the many who benefit

Volunteer Melanie H. with a child recovering from malnutrition. (photo: Ray Conway)

Volunteer Melanie H. with a child recovering from malnutrition. (photo: Ray Conway)

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in Latin America, with 45 percent of children under the age of 5 suffering from this chronic and life-threatening illness. When Jose Alberto arrived at Casa Jackson, an emergency recovery center for infants suffering from acute malnutrition, he was the physical embodiment of this sad truth.

Aged 1 year and weighing only 13 pounds, Jose was referred to the clinic for treatment at a local hospital. As his story unraveled it seemed that he had come from a single-parent household where, after being abandoned by her husband, his mother had been unable to cope with raising the four children with whom she had been left.

When Jose was initially admitted to the program, located just outside La Antigua Guatemala, he displayed signs of severe neglect and was a withdrawn and morose character, rarely laughing or crying. Yet, very quickly, he became one of the most energetic and animated babies the staff had ever seen come through the program. As he gained weight he was nicknamed “Gordito” by the nurses, and under their supervision he learned to crawl, take his first steps and then walk.

One of several life-changing programs established by the GOD’S CHILD Project, Casa Jackson (Jackson House) provides in-house and outpatient care to hundreds of at-risk children every year. Although its immediate priority is to rehabilitate its patients in the short term, one of its fundamental goals is to address the underlying causes of poverty and implement sustainable change through education.

By working with the families and coaching them on the issues of nutrition and hygiene, and providing financial assistance or improved housing where necessary, the aim is that the child will be able to return home as soon as possible with a relatively low risk of relapse.

Unfortunately, in the case of Jose, his mother was unwilling or unable to take him back. Eventually, a judge made the difficult decision that Jose be placed into someone else’s care.

There was a lot of concern over where this hugely popular and unique little boy—the cheeky chappy who had become the resident smile of the second floor—would end up, possibly an institution. When Jose left the Casa Jackson six months later, however, weighing a healthy 25 pounds, it was to join the family of the staff nutritionist who had offered to take on the responsibility of fostering him. He is now thriving in a loving and stable home.

Although Casa Jackson itself is relatively new, having opened in 2008, its parent organization, the GOD’S CHILD Project, celebrated its 20th birthday last month.

Founded in June 1991 by international educator and human rights leader Patrick Atkinson, it has grown exponentially over the past two decades. The GOD’S CHILD Project now operates various programs, including the Dreamer Center School, the Scheel Center Dental Clinic, Santa Madre Homeless Shelter, an anti-human trafficking department (ITEMP) and Atkinson Clinics.

Providing services in several countries, the GOD’S CHILD Project cares for and educates 5,000 orphaned, abandoned and poverty-stricken children, and nearly 8,700 widowed, abandoned and single mothers and their dependents in many of the world’s poorest neighborhoods.

To donate, volunteer or for more information, visit www.godschild.org or www.casajackson.org

Editor’s note: The child’s name and some details have been altered to protect his identity.

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