VERONA (WKOW)-- According to the United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF, Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in Latin America. More than 1 million children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
It's those numbers that moved a Verona couple to do something about it. It makes Randy and Kim Tews October's Jefferson Award recipients.
Randy and Kim Tews work together as realtors for Restaino and Associates. The husband and wife team are proud of their careers and two daughters. They plan to adopt soon as well.
"It opened my eyes and changed my heart," said Randy Tews.
The Tews' felt they were blessed and wanted to give back. So they started to volunteer years ago with organizations in Nicaragua and Ecuador.
"I was shocked to see that just 4 hours by plane from Madison, Wisconsin," said Randy.
Their hearts broke when they saw this from eastern Guatemala.
The frail bodies of children dying from starvation.
"They are scattered among the mountains," said Kim, "It's very difficult to get into town; sometimes they have to walk several miles carrying a sick child if they need to get to the hospital."
It's estimated that 50-percent of children under five die from complications related to malnutrition. The fourth highest rate in the world.
The Tews knew they had to do something.
So, in 2005, they started a non-profit called Outreach for World Hope. The couple, along with other friends and family, volunteers countless hours and contribute financially to help save lives. They hired locals to run the program on the ground and travel to Guatemala several times a year.
"It's heart wrenching," said Randy. "I still cry when I go down."
According to government figures, more than half of the country's 14-million people, live below the poverty line.
They realize they won't be able to save every dying child. But they know they are making a difference.
"We saved a little boy dying in a hut," said Randy. "He may grow up to find the cure for cancer."
Outreach for World Hope currently has 275 families in what's called the "Lifeboat Program". Through donations, they take children on the brink of dying from malnutrition and get them the care they need.
The before and after pictures are proof the program works.
"Most of them, if we catch it in time, can be rehabilitated and turn out to be beautiful, healthy children," said Kim.
Randy and Kim collect items to bring down to Guatemala. Infant formula is a high priority due to the large number of babies born with cleft pallets and mothers who die during child birth.
"When a baby has cleft pallet they are not able to nurse from their mother," said Kim. "Infant formula is not one of the things that is cheaper in Guatemala than it is here. So that cleft pallet baby is going to starve to death without our help."
Teams of local people join Randy and Kim repairing homes, building schools, caring for the sick and more importantly showing the Guatemalans that they are loved.
"If everyone did what they can in their own parts of the world, it doesn't have to be in Guatemala, it doesn't have to be in a third world country, it can be downtown Madison at the homeless shelter or whatever, just do something," said Randy.
Outreach for World Hope also tries to end the cycle of starvation and poverty. The families involved also get fruit trees, chickens and a garden watering system to produce food for their families and to sell.