Crowds of Guatemalans flood the streets of Guatemala City. Lines at ATMs snake around street corners, and panicked parents rush to obtain the food they need to feed their families. In the sea of chaos and panic, confusion arises. Will Guatemalans receive their salaries with the banks closed? How will citizens commute to food markets without public transportation? For millions of Guatemalans, these questions remain unanswered.
On March 13, Guatemala documented its first case of COVID-19. Yet, as this number rose to the current 1,518 confirmed cases, the Guatemalan government placed stricter restrictions in the country. Last week, President Alejandro Giammattei announced a complete shutdown of Guatemala, placing the lives of millions of Guatemalans at risk. On May 18, Giammattei declared that food markets can only open for short time periods – leaving many scrambling to get in, and others waiting outside in crowds ripe for infection. As pay day in Guatemala is on Friday, the bank closures in the country prevented many from retrieving their paychecks last week. In a country where 59.3% of the population lives below the poverty line, working to receive weekly paychecks is the only way to put food on the table for over 10 million Guatemalans.
"Yet, from thousands of miles away, Olas participants can make a difference."
A new schedule of curfews will confine citizens to their homes, which for many Olas families are champas, or small metal huts. In the summer heat, families in Zone 3 are overheating, often with 11-15 family members. From Friday the 15th, the day after the President’s announcement, until Sunday the 17th, people were only allowed to leave their homes from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM. This was enforced under penalty of arrest. This weekend, the policies are more severe: no citizen is permitted to leave the house at any time. As Carmen, a coordinator on the ground, describes, “Think for a moment about a mom in Olas who has 6 kids in the same house all different ages.” As public transportation systems shut down, many are forced to walk to obtain food and resources, which places citizens in rural areas at a daunting disadvantage. With unequal access to food and water, millions of Guatemalans continue to hope for clarity. Carmen told Olas, “[This shutdown] is directly affecting our community, our women, and their families.” Yet, from thousands of miles away, Olas participants can make a difference.
Project Olas provides Olas moms a sustainable source of income, combating social inequality and financial insecurity with each conversation. In the midst of this turmoil, Olas moms and students alike find purpose through Project Olas. Jeimy, an Olas mom, said in Spanish “Olas began as a way to make an income, but has turned into something that opened [my mind] to other cultures. It exhilarates me to meet new people.” Since lessons take place remotely over WhatsApp, Olas moms avoid the risk of infection, while maintaining a source of income during the shutdown.
"Her positivity inspires me to remain hopeful."
When I signed up for conversations, my intention was to hone my Spanish speaking skills and learn about a way of life unlike my own. But after Jeanette welcomed me into her life and told me her stories, I began to learn more about myself. This past week, Jeanette mentioned that quarantine gave her the opportunity to bond with her children. Her family’s favorite pastime is going to the beach, and so in this crisis, Jeanette purchased an inflatable pool and the family pretended they were on la playa. Her positivity inspires me to remain hopeful.
Start a conversation with an Olas mom today, and build hope and human connection in the wake of global hardship.
Chloe is a part of the Olas team, and an Olas student. She is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University.