Claire Blanchard, Coordinator of the SUN Civil Society Network, hosted at Save the Children, blogs about her visit to Guatemala, where she met members of the national Civil Society Alliance working as part of the global Scaling Up Nutrition movement.
Guatemala has the highest level of chronic malnutrition among children under five in Central America, and one of the highest in the world. Almost half (46.5%) of children don’t get enough to eat.
Corruption scandals plunged Guatemala into turmoil in the recent past, but with a new government installed following elections, civil society has high hopes that their voices are starting to be heard.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) are already making connections within government to ensure continued commitment and high-level political will. They are also working to ensure improved participation of civil society and young people in decision-making, and in policy and planning at national and local level platforms, such as the Office of Women, Youth and Adolescents, established in municipalities.
Promoting civil society engagement
Guatemala’s Civil Society Alliance for scaling up nutrition has 250 members, all of which are grassroots organisations apart from two international organisations. It is hosted and supported by Save the Children Guatemala. It has a youth network, which aims to engage young people at all levels; this is particularly important in Guatemala as more than half the population is under 30.
The Alliance works to ensure that civil society participates in decision-making and is able to influence political decisions. Its aim is to raise awareness of nutrition all the way down to the household level. It also promotes behaviour change, starting with each and every person engaged in the project, and building shared responsibility for addressing malnutrition. “We cannot expect the government to do it all. We have to commit to changing ourselves and our communities,” says a representative from a group of indigenous women that is a member of the Alliance.
The engagement of Alliance member organisations is truly striking. Many people commit their time, passion and dedication to ensure that efforts reach the hardest-to-reach people and to empower excluded groups to ensure they can realise their rights to food and nutrition, education and healthcare, and women’s and children’s rights.
Pioneering social auditing
1,000 days refers to the time from conception to a child’s second birthday. Seven organisations worked together to compile data to check on progress of the implementation of the national strategy.
The project covered 32 remote communities in four regions. In each community, data was collected from pregnant women, mothers and healthcare professionals, including midwives.
The results were compiled and analysed and are now ready to disseminate and share with the new government. The findings complement a study already undertaken by the Alianza por la Nutrición (another alliance of private sector, academia, UN agencies and CSOs). The new research covers remote and hard-to-reach areas and is starting to collect data from places where previously there was none, helping to give a more comprehensive picture of how the 1,000 days programme is being implemented.
Next steps will include:
- the Civil Society Alliance for SUN partnering with the Alianza por la Nutrición to complement efforts and get additional support through strategic partnerships
- using innovative approaches (like mobile technology and applications) to facilitate data collection, led by young people, and ensure this feeds into broader data collection efforts
- raising awareness of the current striking gaps
- proposing practical ways in which multiple stakeholders can address these gaps together.
Some lessons from my visits to Guatemala and El Salvador
One of the SUN Alliance’s biggest assets is the commitment of its membership, including the youth network, and their constructive and responsible approach.
From our meetings with key officials, however, it became clear that some people in Guatemala have only a vague concept about the work of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. As a movement, we need to raise awareness of what SUN really is, particularly in countries where the government has changed. The SUN leaders need to play a key role in this process.
However, ultimately, my own view is that SUN should not be a brand or a distinct programme but should be considered as an approach that is grounded on solid principles of engagement. In fact, my main message when in Guatemala was that SUN is those people in country committed to improving children’s nutrition.
Young people’s involvement is vital
Youth engagement is often overlooked, and yet young people have most potential for innovation and are society’s future leaders. As such I have committed the global SUN civil society network to ensure more active participation of young people in the movement. I propose we do this in two ways:
- ensuring there is financial support for young people to take part in key regional and global events, such as the World Health Assembly and the annual SUN Global Gathering, to bring voices from the field and ensure global decisions are informed by everyday reality
- creating a youth group within the SUN civil society network, with virtual meetings to begin with at the regional level, building towards global cross-learning and strategy discussions.