Amid Venezuelan food shortage, sisters strive to save children

Yudelsi Avila watches as her daughter, Rebeca, eats oatmeal. Rebecca was once diagnosed as malnourished but has recovered thanks to the help of local Catholic organizations. (Cody Weddle)

Two-year-old Rebecca Rubio's collarbone no longer protrudes as noticeably as it did two years ago.

She still weighs only 20 pounds and, as evidenced by her skinny arms and small frame, could stand to gain more weight. Doctors have told her mother she should already weigh 26 pounds. After a recent cold, she once again was classified as malnourished but has since recovered.

But Rebecca's situation could be much worse.

A recent New York Times investigation confirmed long-held but until recently unproven fears that hundreds of Venezuelan children like her have essentially starved to death because of the country's economic crisis. Rebecca's mom, Yudelsi Avila, has maintained her daughter's weight largely thanks to the work of two sisters and Catholic organizations like Caritas Internationalis.

"If this clinic wouldn't have existed, I have no idea what would have happened, because it's thanks to the sisters and Caritas that my daughter has changed," Avila said as her daughter sat on her lap, eating a small cup of oatmeal provided by Sr. Yexci Moreno.

From September 2016 to July 2017, Moreno and Sr. Teresa Gomez of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres congregation hosted nutrition clinics at their preschool in Caracas' working-class neighborhood of Propatria. As they prepare for the school year to begin, they've begun the clinics again.

Volunteers weigh and measure children under 5 years old to detect signs of malnutrition. At the first clinic after the recess on Dec. 21, 15 of the 25 children who attended were malnourished.

"This year in the community, the situation has only gotten worse in terms of food supply, medicine supply, and quality of life," Moreno said. "We have people who show up to the school asking for food, and then they faint."

Read the full story on Global Sisters Report.

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