Sandy Neville Haggart
Feed the Dream
Whether she’s toting thousands of vitamins in her backpack in 117-degree heat or learning how to make tortillas from the laughing young women of a remote village—"Theirs were perfect circles, and ours looked like Play-Doh!"—Sandy Neville Haggart’s laser-beam focus never wavers from the one corner of the world she is determined to improve. That corner is the Guatemalan Highlands, where everyday realities are bleak: 98 percent of the water is not drinkable; 72 percent of the population lives in poverty; and the malnutrition that begins in the womb often becomes a life sentence. "Everything we do makes a difference today, but it also starts a cycle for the future," says Sandy of Feed the Dream, the nutritional, educational, and agricultural program she founded in 2004.
The story began in 1997 when Sandy read about a medical mission trip to Guatemala. With typical big-hearted gusto, she volunteered as a translator for patients, many of whom had cleft palates or burns from open fires. Both she and her adult daughter, Holly, who went along, fell hard for the Guatemalan people—so hard that five years later, Holly adopted a Guatemalan girl, sparkling Sarah, who is now 5 and the light of their lives.
"I was swept away by the country and its incredible people—beautiful, warm, friendly, humble, and, despite their astonishing poverty, full of hope and appreciation," Sandy recalls. Granddaughter Sarah brings Sandy so much joy that just two years ago, she started giving back with Feed the Dream in one village.
Today the program has spread to other villages and affects 500 people daily. It trains indigenous people to help their own by providing snacks and vitamins to young children and pregnant women, building bathrooms, and planting community gardens that emphasize diverse and nutritionally intense crops. Feeding centers show villagers how to cook on enclosed stoves that use less wood, which is in short supply. The results include bigger and healthier babies, richer mothers’ milk, healthier air, and fewer burns from open fires. In the hamlet where the program began, a villager’s reaction brought Sandy to tears: "We didn’t know anyone cared about us."
Without knowing it, the charismatic Sandy was preparing all her life for Feed the Dream—as an exchange student, translator, hospice volunteer, administrator, and wife and mother. She not only visits Guatemala several times a year but also chairs fund-raisers, writes publicity materials, and gives presentations at home. Her motivation is as straightforward as the Guatemalan people she so loves: "I fell in love with a country. I saw a need. It was crucial to give back, and I just went with it."
Photograph: Michael Weschler
Text: Akiko Busch