In the COVID-19 era, it’s easy to keep our gaze within national borders. But in Guatemala, the pandemic has struck with devastating impacts for the communities we work with.
"Guatemala has the second-highest level of poverty in the Americas, placing many in dire need of supplies during the shutdown."
Guatemala now approaches its second month of national shutdown. As the number of coronavirus cases climb above 20,000, Guatemalans face stricter quarantine protocol. Lockdown measures include strict stay-at-home orders, suspension of public transport, curfews, and mandatory masks – with fines between $914 and $16,300 for those who fail to wear one. Many self-employed Guatemalans, who constitute 40.3% of the workforce, have lost their jobs due to the mandatory stay-at-home orders and the shutdown of all public transportation. Guatemala has the second-highest level of poverty in the Americas, placing many in dire need of supplies during the shutdown. In desperation, millions of Guatemalans have taken to the streets to wave white flags indicating their need for food, water, and other essential resources.
"In Chiquimula, an area in the Dry Corridor, acute malnutrition has climbed 56.6% since last year"
In addition to high poverty rates, Guatemala has one of the most unequal distributions of income in Latin America, demonstrating the discrepancies of access to resources between low- and high-income citizens. An area of Guatemala with especially high poverty rates is the Dry Corridor: a region extending from Mexico to Panama that routinely suffers from droughts and floods. Prior to COVID-19, food reserves were scarce and unemployment was high in the Dry Corridor, and COVID-19 has exacerbated the condition of hunger and malnutrition in these marginalized rural areas. In Chiquimula, an area in the Dry Corridor, acute malnutrition has climbed 56.6% since last year: a combined effect of the dry season in Eastern Guatemala and COVID-19. Furthermore, poverty rates are 2.8 times higher in indigenous communities than in non-indigenous communities, placing indigenous citizens at an even higher risk of health issues and malnutrition due to the shutdown.
“It is impossible to provide for everyone.”
While the Guatemalan government has attempted to provide relief to citizens in need, the government aid is ineffective and inefficient. A 2017 Guatemalan health ministry study showed that the government spends fractions of its health budget in rural zones compared to in the country’s wealthiest cities. As Ana María Méndez Libby, an aid worker at Oxfam deduces, “It is impossible to provide for everyone.” With insufficient government aid and climbing rates of infection, millions of Guatemalans are left jobless and desperate for resources.
COVID-19 relentlessly crosses national borders and invades foreign lands. While Guatemala has officially refused to accept deportees of other nationalities, returnees enter the country without prior COVID-19 testing. Since the United States – which has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world – stepped up deportations under new COVID-19-related regulations in March, 20% of infections in Guatemala have been traced to the returnees.
At Project Olas, learning Spanish is life-saving. Olas moms are part of the Guatemalan population most affected by the COVID-19 shockwaves. Yet, they spread esperanza – hope.
"Because of Jeanette, I now see at the coronavirus restrictions through fresh eyes"
In my weekly conversations, my Olas mom Jeanette inspires me to remain hopeful for the future. Using the June curriculum, Jeanette and I have had conversations regarding imaginando el cambio (imagining change), reapertura (reopening), and resiliencia (resilience). Jeanette sees the quarantine as an opportunity to bond with her four children, playing games in the house and setting up an inflatable pool on their rooftop. Because of Jeanette, I now see the coronavirus restrictions through fresh eyes; I recognize the quarantine as an opportunity to learn, grow, and maintain positivity.
Your conversations with Olas moms not only help you to learn Spanish and build cross-cultural connections; they broaden our perspectives on positivity and hope in the midst of global hardship. Through making a connection with an Olas mom, you can provide a sustainable income to families in need.