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September 17, 2018
Mothers Counselors: Community leaders in rural Guatemala

Due to the chronic malnutrition and food insecurity, Guatemala's population faces limitations in the ability to fully exercise their rights to food and nutrition, health, water and sanitation, while perpetuating the cycle of poverty. For this reason, the country, together with development partners, is committed to increasing efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. In the rural department of San Marcos, in the northwest of the country, a network of women volunteers known as "Mother Counselors" joined forces against child malnutrition in the framework of the joint program of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

Mothers Counselors is a female community-based educational intervention that started in early 2015 with the purpose of changing feeding practices and care for children under two years. The intervention includes the participation of trained volunteer mothers as peer counselors, on issues of feeding and child care and counseling skills. These trained leaders provide adequate information to pregnant women and mothers with children under the age of two in their communities, through support groups, home visits and individual counseling. Parent participation will be encouraged, both in support groups and in counseling networks.

The counselors were elected through community assemblies and their formation of counselors will be carried out by trainers of advisory mothers incorporated into the health districts. The goal is the formation of one or more counselors per priority community. The topics developed through the support groups emphasize exclusive and continuous breastfeeding, complementary feeding, hygiene in the home, feeding sick children and feeding the pregnant mother and mother during lactation. Through the counseling network and support groups, information was provided and the use of health services was promoted, related to the "1,000 Days" window.

In their talks and visits, the Mother Counselors promote breastfeeding and making porridge by fortifying existing foods with oil and a combination of protein such as chicken liver. Appropriate practices such as the importance of hand washing, exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding are also of paramount importance. They have greater knowledge to recognize the characteristics of children with chronic malnutrition, although some do not measure the transcendence of it.

They have educational support material for their talks and trainings. Their participation derives from a leadership they have in the community. Many of them belong to different groups or members of promoters of other cooperations, NGOs, municipalities that have community work. The practical training was very useful to be able to give the knowledge to other women. The elaboration of porridges combining unusual foods such as banana with egg yolk or chicken liver and adding oil was something that everyone liked.

The Mother Counselors became an essential driver of the ODS Fund program because they proved to be very motivated and will continue to carry out their monthly social work in their communities. They are convinced of the importance of supporting other mothers, which will allow the initiative to continue once the program is over. All the services include Mother Counselors who have support groups in the intervention communities of the project. All are certified by health services and active in their communities.