Soy Milk and Water

June 15, 2011

            One of the things we take for granted in our American, privileged, life, is that of nutrition. Today we visited the “mechanical cow,” the plant where Hogar de Cristo employees take soybean, rehydrate them process them, add brown sugar and flavoring, and in the process create soy milk.

            It all began a few years ago when nursing students from Brigham Young University came to Guayaquil, and performed simple blood tests on some of the students in Hogar de Cristo’s schools; what they learned was that about 55% of the children were anemic, with over 20% of them being severely so. With soybeans and brown sugar that are produced in Ecuador available, the idea for the mechanical cow was developed. A year later, the same children were tested, and the anemia was found to be dropping, while the children who had not been drinking the soy milk were found to be at the same, or worse, level of anemia. Hogar is now working to produce more soy milk (for those from last year’s trip, the production has moved to a larger space, and is easily doubled). Hogar is currently seeking a means of adding vitamin D to the milk to address a growing jaundice problem.

            Luis Tavarra, the Social Director for Hogar, told us that while they do not agree with the theology of the Brigham Young students, he appreciates the fact that they share a common mission: to better the lives of the poorest of the poor.

            From there we travelled to the central office of Hogar de Cristo, where we observed the kits being assembled that are what we are using each day to build homes for the families. We asked one worker what his production was, and he told us that each day, he puts together 40 walls. Given the number of work stations, we can assume that at a bare minimum, 40 home kits are being assembled each day; some to use in Guayaquil, others to be distributed to other places in Ecuador so they can benefit people in other regions. Hogar has four manufacturing plants in the country, but many more areas where the homes are sold, distributed, and provide shelter for the poorest of the poor.

            That last phrase is one to remember; Luis (a former Catholic Priest, now married with a family) shared with us that the Ecuadorian government is a leftist one, meaning that is oriented towards helping the poor; but the government is not interested in the poorest of the poor, which are the people Hogar helps.

            With a microlending ministry that works exclusively with women (because women invest in their family, while men invest in themselves), the repayment is above 99%, a staggering figure. Hogar invests in these women with trade, skill, and business training, seeking to rebuild their self-esteem that life has shredded. A house of refuge for women and families who are victims of domestic violence, and a growing ministry to the 6000 women who are a part of the sex trafficking industry, to help get them out of that cycle of deprivation and into a redeeming trade make up other ministries Hogar is involved in.

            One other thing that we take for granted is safe, clean, water. It is an uncertain commodity here, and has been a growing concern for some of our team for the last several years. This year—today—we were able to broach the subject with Luis, and Woody King showed a simple ceramic filter he has researched that can revolutionize the issue. Luis then showed us a similar model they are looking at, and we hope to have further dialogue about this.

            Two more homes tomorrow, with another two on the agenda for Thursday. We came to build homes and change lives; that’s what we pray we do!

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