Covid-19 in Central America
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have left no region of the world unscathed. Central America and Mexico have certainly felt the wrath of this virus. Recent outbreaks in the region threaten to compound upon other humanitarian struggles. The U.S. has recognized this challenge and taken action to provide aid, despite facing its own issues fighting the coronavirus — the difficulties of COVID-19 in Central America and Mexico are vast.

An Issue in Central America & Mexico Before COVID-19

COVID-19 poses a health and economic challenge to Central America and Mexico. Yet, before the pandemic, the region was already suffering from poverty. As such, the pandemic has hit this area particularly hard. Our World in Data projected that the extreme poverty rate was about 8.12% in Guatemala, 14.24% in Honduras, 2.79% in El Salvador and 1.96% in Mexico in 2019. The full economic impacts of COVID-19 are not yet known.

Apart from facing extreme poverty — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico also suffer from high crime rates. In 2017, Guatemala had an intentional homicide rate of about 26.1 per 100,000, Honduras had 41.7, El Salvador had 61.8 and Mexico had 24.8.

Providing sustainable assistance to Central America is particularly important for the national security in the U.S. As of July 2019, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition explained that there is a correlation between children seeking refuge in the U.S. and murders in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Aid to these three countries could reduce poverty and crime. Consequently, the number of people searching for safety in the U.S. may potentially decrease.

The US Steps Up

The U.S. has committed to providing more than $22 million for Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The aid focuses on key areas of need. For example, the U.S. committed $850,000 in Migration and Refugee Assistance funding in Mexico. This includes funding for the dissemination of hygiene products and assistance creating a remote program to register asylum seekers and hold interviews.

The U.S. also committed to providing almost $6.6 million in aid to El Salvador, more than $8.4 million to Guatemala and more than $5.4 million to Honduras. Notably, these aid packages contain International Disaster Assistance for each country. The assistance also focuses on immediate and long-term health needs.

In recent months, the U.S. has also provided other forms of support to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Notable aid includes investments in critical infrastructures, such as energy programs. This is an important step in reducing poverty in the region. However, continued aid and investment are necessary to fight COVID-19 in Central America, save lives, reduce poverty and protect U.S. national security.

Global Help

This aid is a substantial sum targeted in areas that most need money to help fight COVID-19. However, there is more than the U.S. could do to protect global health. Global health spending has remained mostly constant for the past 10 years. Now, the future of U.S. global health aid is at-risk. The federal government’s spending on global health could reduce to its lowest point in 13 years if the proposed budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year receives approval. This could exacerbate outbreaks of other diseases that the U.S. has historically fought against. Without aid from the U.S., other nations such as China will have to step in as a global leader during this crisis.

Kayleigh Crabb
Photo: Pixabay

Education in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Latin America with one of the highest illiteracy rates. Furthermore, 79% of indigenous Guatemalans live in poverty. Education in Guatemala lacks government funding and has further limitations, especially in rural areas. Educators face inadequate or non-existent supplies, no training and no desks or tables in more rural areas. With remote learning emerging worldwide during the pandemic, many students in Guatemala lost their access to education due to missing technological equipment. Gerardo Ixcoy, a 27-year-old teacher in the small farming community of Santa Cruz de Quiche, is bringing the classroom to his students to ensure they keep learning.

Guatemalan Students Face More Than COVID-19

Unlike most western countries, only the first six years of school are free in Guatemala. Junior high and high schools require entrance fees, uniforms and supplies. Since 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, only around one-third of students continue with secondary education. Many families struggle to regularly put food on the table, making education in Guatemala a luxury rather than a necessity. Only a mere 10% attend high school.

Children who cannot afford schooling often end up working for a low wage and cannot pursue higher education even as adults. Illiteracy is common, with rates of up to 25% in adults and young adults over 15. Indigenous children thereby face the most problems. Language barriers and lack of schools physically existing near their rural communities have failed to integrate Guatemala’s indigenous children into the school system.

A Hero on Three Wheels

As shutdowns across the world spread due to COVID-19, Guatemala is no exception. When schools closed in the middle of March 2020, Gerardo Ixcoy purchased a used adult tricycle with his savings. At first, Ixcoy attempted the normal distance learning route via internet apps such as WhatsApp to give children their worksheets, but less than 15% of homes have internet in the farming community. Many could not afford the necessary data packages to utilize online learning either. Education in Guatemala, especially in rural areas, is vital to keep children from working on the streets. Over 40% of the population in Santa Cruz de Quiche is illiterate and children run the risk of becoming part of that statistic due to the pandemic. Thus, Ixcoy took action.

Ixcoy turned a simple second-hand tricycle into a mobile, pandemic-safe classroom. Plastic barriers adorn the sides serve as protection measures and he installed a whiteboard to show examples while teaching. The mobile classroom even has a solar panel for the stereo that is used for certain lessons. He maintains six feet of distance, often teaching children just outside their doorways. Every day, Ixcoy pedals to each student to teach them math, reading, science and art.

After weeks of quarantine, the children have something to look forward to. Both the children and Ixcoy wear face masks to avoid spreading the virus but continue lessons as normal as possible. Oscar Rojas, an 11-year-old student of Ixcoy says, “because now I’m not receiving normal classes, Teacher Lalito only comes for a little while to teach me, but I learn a lot.”

Ixcoy’s dedication to his student’s academic success is not only incredibly moving, but may also be a potential solution to the lack of educational access in Guatemala.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr