Why Guatemala?

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Guatemala is the poorest country in Central America, and has the largest population.

All About Guatemala and Nimasac         

          Located in Central America, Guatemala is bordered by Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize. The population of Guatemala, approaching 15 million people, continues to grow at nearly 3% annually. At the current rate, the nation’s population will more than double in 25 years. There are 25 sociolinguistic groups that make up Guatemala’s diverse population (Mayan, Spanish, Xinca, and Garífuna). The first language of most residents of Nimasac (the village we work with) is Ki’che, a Mayan language.

          Guatemalan income distribution is very unequal. More than half of its people live in poverty. According to the United States Agency for International Development, “Most of Guatemala’s poor are rural indigenous people of Mayan descent who have a long history of discrimination and exclusion from full economic, political, and social participation. The rural indigenous were the most seriously affected by the 36-year armed conflict (1960-1996) that claimed more lives than the conflicts in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and Argentina combined.”

 

          Quetzaltenango, also known by its indigenous name Xela, is the second largest city in Guatemala. Xela is located in a mountain valley in the southwestern highlands, at an elevation of 7,655 feet (2,330 meters) above sea level.  The year round temperatures average 70-80°F (21°C) during the daytime and 45° F (7° C) at night.  Xela's population is close to 225,000 people, and more than 60% of them are indigenous.

          Travel by bus a little more than an hour up the mountain from Xela, and you arrive in Nimasac.  Nimasac is a village of roughly 8,000 people whose main occupation is farming, with some residents also involved in weaving and candle making. Poverty is prevalent, but the spirit of the people in Nimasac is rich. This is where Esperanza’s work takes shape.

 

          In 2015, the average family income of Nimasac families was approximately $1,200 per year.  In the Western Highlands of Guatemala, the poverty rate reaches 76%, and extreme poverty is at 27%. The chronic malnutrition rate for children under five is 67%.

 

          Housing in Nimasac varies. It is very common to see unfinished homes as they are usually built by the families themselves as resources allow. Generally, the homes have packed dirt floors, wood stoves for cooking, basic electricity, and no running water.* Most homes are multi-generational.

 

          Limited access to food is not unusual. The diet primarily consists of corn, and malnutrition is common. Half of all children under five are chronically malnourished, the worst level of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere. The availability of clean water is limited. Contamination makes the local water sources dangerous.

 

          Although public school is free in Guatemala, the cost of the required school uniform, shoes, backpack, books, school supplies, etc. is more than most families can afford. As in most of rural Guatemala, education is available through 6th grade for boys, and less for girls. Many children do not complete school through 6th grade because they are needed at home. Some students are fortunate to attend school through 8th grade; even fewer can attend high school. Nimasac has an elementary school with enrollment of 500 students, including both morning and afternoon sessions (children go to school for a half day).  There is no middle or high school in Nimasac, and the nearest upper level school is a 45-minute walk from the village center. While the school buildings in Nimasac are in disrepair, the teachers are dedicated to teaching their students, and welcome training and support.

 

To learn more about Guatemala and the Xela area, visit these websites:

https://www.state.gov/countries-areas/guatemala/

https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/guatemala

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/guatemala/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1070862

https://www.guatemala.gob.gt/