October 2016

The Center that cares for malnourished infants in Cochabamba

Though every child should be a well-nourished and happy creature, not all are. When they are not, the Albina R Patiño Centro de Nutricion Infantil rises to the challenge.

By: Jill Streeten
Projects Abroad Volunteer
London - United Kingdom

Volunteer at Albina R Patiño Center for Child Nutrition
Photo by: Jill Streeten

The story about this Center goes back to a Bolivian businessman by the name of Simon Patiño. According to its historical background described within the Fundación Patiño's webpage, Simon Patiño invested in Bolivia's tin mines and became very wealthy. After his death in 1947, his mines remained in the family until 1952, when they were nationalized. In 1958, the Simon Patiño Foundation was set up in Geneva. It is this foundation that paid for the building of the Nutrition Center, and in September 2002 it inaugurated the Center, which was named after his wife Albina. The Albina R. Patiño Centro de Nutrición infantil is now running on its 14th year; it is set alongside a hill within the very poor district of Cero in the southern part of Cochabamba. Here, there is room for up to eighteen malnourished children at a time. The ages of these children stretch from newborns up to the age of five, with the majority of the children being small babies. This center is a growing project and today the Simon Patiño foundation still pays for the maintenance of the Center.

"The ages of these children stretch from newborns up to the age of five, with the majority of the children being small babies."

Working for progress and stability

Staff at nutrition centre
Photo by: Jill Streeten

Further weight loss can occur very rapidly in a malnourished child. Some of the children's malnourishment might even have led to other symptoms beside weight loss, such as diarrhea, vomiting or other ailments, which have necessitated hospitalization first. Then, after they have completed their treatment at the hospital, they will be sent to the Center for further treatment. With the care and nutritional diets they receive from the Center, a normal weight can be achieved within weeks. The children at the Center stay for up to two months or until the desired weight has been reached. During this time, their mothers go to the Center on a regular basis every other week and are taught about nutrition, the three meals a day regime, and bout hygiene. The mothers help prepare and later enjoy the meal, then they are given time to bond with their child before leaving.

The fight for sunshine stories

Photo by: Jill Streeten

When a child leaves the Center, one of its social workers center follows the child's progress until the age of five. This way the Center makes sure that the child's health keeps improving and stays at a healthy weight.

Sadly, and despite the Center's hard work, not all cases end as successful sunshine stories. For example, the Center describes the story of a child who was admitted a year ago and who has now returned. Since leaving, he had pretty much only been fed Coca Cola and biscuits. Being on this unhealthy and malnourishing diet has affected his physical health and also his temperament, thereby making him feel very unhappy. Furthermore, he is currently rejecting the unfamiliar healthy food the Center serves him and is constantly crying.

Constant improvement

To avoid as many of the aforementioned scenarios as possible, the Center is well managed, staffed efficiently, and constantly improving. Under the leadership of one manager, there are sixteen auxiliary nurses, three cooks, four people managing the laundry, a psychologist, a nutritionist, and a social worker. All do their best to take care of the children. Furthermore, there is a doctor connected to the Center and who comes in daily.

To improve the Center, a second wing has recently been opened and added to the existing structure. This new wing is bright and airy, with large windows facing the mountains, and consists of six smaller rooms, each with four or five cots. With this new wing and with the financial help from the Simon Patiño Foundation, the Center is now able to take in more children and thereby improving the lives of many more children to come.

When visiting La Paz's Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, one is struck by the vivid personalities carved into the faces of the masks on display, making their display room one of the museum's most haunting ones. Each mask tells its own story of a region's indigenous culture, and each is crafted as a highly animated character.
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