While other students are gearing up for vacation during spring break, 17-year-old Colette Ankenman is busy packing vitamins, blankets and baby formula, for a humanitarian trip to Central America.
Ankenman, an eleventh grader at the Athenian School, will leave for a ten-day trip to Guatemala on March 14 as part of a non-profit organization, Baragwanath Blessings, that she founded in 2008.
Her desire to help children took her to Johannesburg, South Africa in March 2009 and Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world.
With 70 to 80 babies born at the hospital each day, and a shortage of supplies, Ankenman said newborn babies at the public hospital are often sent home wrapped in newspaper.
"There is a lack of medical supplies and gowns, so women use bloody blankets," said Ankenman. "There's a whole room of abandoned babies."
Baragwanath Blessings, formed by Ankenman and her father, allowed them to collect donations, get more volunteers, and shed light on the plight of the very young at the hospital, before Ankenman's visit in 2009.
Ankenman has since expanded her work to other countries, and to projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. She will make her first first trip to Panajachel, Guatemala, next week.
"There are about 300 kids in a feeding program," said Ankenman, who will travel to Guatemala with her family. "The kids go to the orphanage three times a week, and we'll be providing vitamins for three to four months to see if there's a difference. It will help improve how they think and feel."
According the UNICEF, as many as 80 percent of children under five-years-old in the indigenous areas of Guatemala where Ankenman is traveling to, suffer from chronic malnutrition. This can result in lower IQ scores and stunted growth.
Ankenman will also take prenatal vitamins on the trip. She said many mothers are too malnourished to make breast milk or to even walk. "They're lucky if they get one cup of beans and two tortillas a day," she said.
Without breast milk, baby formula is necessary. However, it's expensive and the water in Panajachel is unsanitary. Many mothers don't know how to prepare the formula.
"We'll be doing presentations to the mothers on CPR and how to make formula for their babies," said Ankenman. "If they don't mix it correctly, it can kill the baby."
They're also bringing lots of baby hats, baby outfits, and dozens of toys, all provided by donors.
Ankeman said they will carry enough supplies to help up to 300 mothers and children in the feeding program.
"The way the medical clinic runs, you don't know how many people will show up. Anywhere from 100 to 300 people will show up in a day," said Ankenman. "We hand deliver all of our donations because we want the people to know that we care and that we can help them."
Giving a monetary donation to Baragwanath Blessings, is always helpful. So is knitting a baby hat or blanket, or donating gently used baby clothes.
"As little as $10 provides vitamins three times a week for a child for a year through the feeding program," said Ankenman. "There's a lot of need in the world, and the more help we get, the more we can do."
Ankenman and her family will travel to Guatemala with:
- 60 cans of baby formula
- 122 lice combs
- 12 pouches of Pedialyte
- 50 packets of diaper rash cream
- 200 toothbrushes
- 12 inhalers
- four tubes of Neosporin
- 21 bottles of iodine to purify water
- 300 Singulair tablets, for allergies
- 225 Albuterol, for asthma treatment
- surgical gloves and alcohol swabs
- More than 5,000 prenatal vitamins
- More than 20,000 children's vitamins
- 100 baby outfits
Stay-tuned to Danville Patch for an update on Ankenman's trip when she returns home in two weeks.