Microfinance on Gender Inequality
Many women around the world struggle to stay afloat and support their families. However, the effects of microfinance on gender inequality are significant in that a loan could help women start businesses to financially support themselves.

The Story of Nicolasa

At the age of 4, Nicolasa’s mother died, leaving her in the care of her father and older sister. Though Nicolasa’s father did his best to provide for his daughters, they both had to abandon their education in order to keep the family afloat. Nicolasa and her sister worked on the streets of San Antonio Palopó, Guatemala selling a variety of food items.

As Nicolasa grew up and married, she vowed that her child would not live the same life as hers. She wanted to be present for her children, yet the only place she had worked was far from home. To care for her children both physically and financially, Nicolasa decided she would start her own weaving business from home. With no capital or collateral, and no banks to borrow from in her small town, Nicolasa faced an immense obstacle.


Nicolasa’s problem is one that many women in Guatemala and other developing nations face every day. Guatemalan women want to become financially independent but often have nowhere to obtain even a small loan. Without the aid of a financial institution, these women have minimal opportunity to start a business, make small investments or simply support their families.

In 1976, Muhammad Yunus recognized the difficulties these women face and started the first modern run microfinancing bank. His goal was to lend small amounts to those in developing countries who did not have access to banks or had little collateral to support their endeavors. A microloan as small as $60 could now go to a woman opening a fruit stand, for example. Microloans may not cover large purchases, but just a small amount of money can go a long way for women in developing nations. A successful loan may help a woman jump-start her business and become financially independent. Therefore, the effect of microfinance on gender inequality could be very significant.

The Effect of Microfinance on Gender Inequality

Studies have proven microfinance to be a great tool for economic development and the promotion of gender equality. When women are financially independent, they often meet with greater decision making power within their households. Gender equality within households often results in women taking a more prominent stance on societal issues, which in turn, further promotes equality around the world.

Gender equality can also create a healthier and more robust global economy. A study that the McKinsey Global Institute conducted claims that if each country had equal opportunity for women, the global GDP would increase by $28 trillion, or 26% by 2025. From individual households to the global economy, gender equality results in a healthier balance of power across developing nations.


Not everyone agrees with the impact that microfinance could have on gender equality. Many critics claim that a country’s cultural disapproval of women who work can minimize the positive effects of microfinance and prevent women from obtaining microloans. To combat these cultural norms and their negative effects on gender equality, many microfinance banks offer loans to women who are hoping to start a business from home. Nicolasa is one of these women.

Nicolasa Now

Nicolasa obtained a loan of $400 from the Foundation for International Community Assistance. She used the money to buy a loom, from which her success was significant enough to seek investment for a second loom. She currently weaves fabric and rents out her other loom to women from her village. Nicolasa is now proudly saving to send her daughter to college.

Nicolasa is one of many women in developing countries experiencing the positive effects of microfinance. She has provided herself with a sustainable income and is giving her daughter the wonderful gifts of higher education and financial support. If one small loan can change a woman’s life for the better, it is easy to see how microfinance is providing the same benefits to women across the world.

– Aiden Farr
Photo: Flickr


A Brief History of Indigenous Poverty in GuatemalaGuatemala has the largest population number in Central America. Over 40% of its population identifies themselves as indigenous. As a result of colonial rule and violence, racism is another social issue. Consequently, there is a high number of indigenous poverty in Guatemala. Around 21% of Guatemala’s indigenous population sits in extreme poverty, compared to 7.9% of non-indigenous populations. More specifically, predominantly Mayan communities face poverty rates as high as 80% and extreme poverty rates of 40%.

Violence and Mistreatment Against Indigenous Communities

Guatemalan indigenous communities face many forms of violence. The mistreatment and mass violence of indigenous people can be traced back as far as a colonial rule. Additionally, practices of colonialism displaced many people native to Guatemala. Colonialism removed them from their land and orchestrating a mass genocide. Spanish rulers created Encomiendas, which supposedly served to educate the natives. In reality, these Encomiendas served as mechanisms of slavery in the form of work camps.

Guatemala’s Civil War

This pattern of violence continued in a civil war that still defines the country and its poverty. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the indigenous still do not have their land back. The United Fruit Company, a US-owned company, controlled 42% of all territory in Guatemala and all modes of communication, like telephones and railroads. However, it was exempt from paying any taxes. Moreover, In 1944, the Guatemalans mobilized to create change as the fruit company paid no taxes to support public schools or hospitals. They removed a dictator, democratically elected Dr. Juan Jose Arévalo. The Guatemalans created a constitution in the image of that of the United States.

Despite this, the United States launched a coup in 1954. This consequently triggers an extremely bloody civil war. The coup succeeded. In addition, the United States replaced Arévalo with an authoritarian government led by Carlos Castillo Armas in 1954. Because democracy was not restored, Guatemala faced a series of small coups and civil conflicts. Additionally, the 36-year civil war that only came to a close in 1996.


The weight of this war fell almost entirely on indigenous populations. The United Nations has found that this war caused a second genocide against indigenous populations. According to a 1999 report written by the U.N., this 36-year long war took 200,000 lives. Around 83% of those lives were indigenous. This genocide, like the last one, created power dynamics that allowed for the systemic rape and mass torture of young indigenous women, largely at the hands of U.S.-backed forces. In addition, this violence was state-sponsored, as armies would force indigenous women into domestic and sexual slavery. However, there is yet hope. The perpetrators of this violent crime receive punishment. Two military officers have been charged with crimes against humanity for their participation in this genocide and 18 women have received reparations.

Contention Over Land and Water

There is much contention over land and water in Latin America, but the burden of this dispute seems to have fallen on indigenous communities. Like the United Fruit Company, many businesses continue to use the land occupied indigenous people without paying for it directly or in taxes. As a result, this has only exacerbated indigenous poverty in Guatemala. Moreover, this is in violation of a U.N. mandated ILO Convention 169. This gives these communities a voice in these matters as a form of reparations for the multiple genocides. Additionally, the violation of justice, patterns of violence and rampant racism created brutal economic and social conditions for indigenous peoples of Guatemala.

A Company That Helps Indigenous Women

To address the employment discrepancies in Guatemala, Gracia Inc. is providing job opportunities and vocational training for indigenous women. This is to help women raise themselves out of poverty. Additionally, Gracia Inc. trains and houses 110 women at a time. The company teaches women how to create jewelry and the business models of this jewelry company itself. In addition, this company provides a classroom to educate women in a lecture-based style, hone their craft and work towards opening their own businesses. This classroom also serves as a forum for women to voice their concerns about hostility towards indigenous communities.

Addressing the issue of indigenous poverty in Guatemala is important. After two genocides, countless crimes against humanity, systematic racism and breaches in various treaties, this indigenous population is in ruins. Indigenous communities deserve love, care and respect from global communities. One of the way to help solve this problem is to directly donate to these communities. As a result, private companies and the government itself may begin to rebuild from this civil war.

Bisma Punjani

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hunger in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America, sharing a border with Mexico and Honduras. Active volcanoes border the nation, carving high mountains and desert valleys into the landscape. Despite its beautiful scenery, however, Guatemala is considered to be one of the most unequal societies in the world. With a population of over 16 million people, nearly half of Guatemala’s population struggles to afford even the most basic of food items, and according to the World Food Program, two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day. As a result, Guatemalan citizens continue to flee to neighboring countries, seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families. Here are five things you should know about the impact of hunger in Guatemala.

5 Things to Know About Hunger in Guatemala

  1. Changing weather patterns cause food shortages in Guatemala. According to National Geographic, unpredictable weather patterns were what induced a devastating 2018 drought that was determined to be one of the worst in Guatemala’s history. Farmers rely on consistent weather patterns, and just a few unexpected changes in rainfall can spell disaster for food supplies. Guatemala has suffered from several long and sustained periods of drought over the past decade, and continues to experience increasing numbers of hurricanes and natural disasters. Severe El Niño storms and droughts are increasing in their intensity, forcing many families to flee their homes in hope of a better life.
  2. Children are the most vulnerable. A recent article by Reuters reports a 24% increase in malnutrition in children aged five years or younger. Even during the peak of the rain season, Guatemalan farmers are struggling to keep staple crops like wheat and grain safe from dry heat. As periodic drought continues to weaken Guatemala’s peak rain season, children experience the brunt of the impact, with their families are unable to afford food for daily meals.
  3. The government is working to improve nutrition. For some children, school meals may be the only ones that they receive. To address child malnutrition, the Guatemalan government passed a new law to increase investment in school meals for children. This law increases the reach of its school meal program to all of its departments, benefiting over 2.5 million school children across the country. Additionally, this expansion increases the economic impact of these nutritional meals, requiring 50% of the food for the program to be purchased from local farmers, in order to bolster local businesses.
  4. International organizations are focusing on female empowerment and education initiatives to fight hunger. The World Bank is working to target female farmers and connect them with markets for fresh food, including school feeding initiatives. By empowering these female farmers in Guatemala, the country is simultaneously increasing income equality and replenishing the food supply for impoverished children. Pilot programs by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization have shown success in strengthening these ties between female farmers and schools, ultimately keeping children in education and empowering local farmers. Overall, the programs have overwhelming public support, with 95% of school children enjoying the new menu implementations.
  5. USAID is contributing to Guatemalan efforts to reduce hunger. In addition to empowering local farmers and strengthening education initiatives, USAID currently oversees three main initiatives to increase the effectiveness of medical, educational and economic measures combating hunger in Guatemala – Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative and the Global Climate Change Initiative. These initiatives include programs to expand the current Guatemalan infrastructure in partnership with nonprofit organizations, increase access to basic health care for citizens in rural areas, provide education and community outreach to convey the importance of a nutritious diet and streamline access to medical care and treatment for malnutrition.

The Guatemalan government and international organizations are working collaboratively to address the serious problem of nationwide hunger. While current projects are seeing substantial progress, sustained efforts will be needed as climate change continues to increase the influence of erratic weather patterns.

Amanda Ozaki-Laughon
Photo: Unsplash

Homelessness in Guatemala
Guatemala has a population of 17 million people. Although Guatemala contains vast industries like tourism and agriculture, the nation still has a large problem with homelessness. Guatemala’s homelessness correlates with the poverty occurring in the country. In 2014, 8.7% of the population fell under extreme poverty. People that made $5 a day make up 48.5% of the population. Because of this dire poverty situation, most families in poverty in Guatemala reside in makeshift homes that do not protect against weather conditions. Here are five facts about homelessness in Guatemala.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Guatemala

  1. The young population deals the most with homelessness. Children as young as 12 migrate to other cities in Guatemala to look for economic opportunities. Despite this, most of the children do not find employment: 50% of youth live in poverty in Guatemala and 52% cannot find employment (despite 20% of children needing to work to support their families). Most of the immigrants come from Nicaragua and Honduras because of civil unrest within the government in these countries. Homelessness in youth populations continues to occur because of limited opportunities for youth in the country.
  2. Young girls are targets of homelessness. Guatemala has a large problem with human trafficking, particularly of the female population. The Guatemalan government has identified 371 victims of trafficking in 2018. The number decreased from 673 victims in 2016, but it still has not been eliminated. Charities like La Alianza Homeless Shelter attempt to provide housing for women in Guatemala City. The Public Ministry of Guatemala is attempting to provide more help to potential victims by expanding its Immediate Response Team to help and find victims. With efforts from non-governmental and governmental programs, trafficking due to homelessness is decreasing, but it has not been extinguished yet.
  3. Altering weather conditions cause homelessness in Guatemala. The altering climate in Guatemala causes some farmers to lose their crop produce. Guatemala is one of the ten countries most at risk of the negative effects of drastic climate changes. As climate problems change the landscape, families of farmers are moving to urban centers to find working opportunities. Most of these people end up homeless because they do not find any jobs. Guatemala can not solve factors like temperature changes on their own. In 2017, the United States stopped funding the Climate, Nature, and Communities program that helped the people in rural towns in Guatemala to have better food security. The changing weather patterns in Guatemala will continue to leave farmers without food unless other countries attempt to help. Without food in small towns, farmers are forced to abandon homes and become nomads in their own country.
  4. The inequality in Guatemala aids to homelessness. Guatemala’s unemployment rate is 2.7%. Despite Guatemala having the lowest unemployment rate in Central America, it does not have sufficient job opportunities. In a Union Bank of Switzerland study, statistics revealed that 260 people in Guatemala control 56% of the economy. The second group of people in the high-income bracket receive 63% of available income. The people of Guatemala receive a minimum wage of about $270 per month. With residential properties costing an average of $150,000, the minimum wage leaves people without the means to pay for housing. Since 59% of people live below the poverty line, they are unable to afford the high prices of residential living. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity are working to build housing for people in Guatemala that live in overcrowded spaces. According to Habitat for Humanity, 1.6 million people suffer from having inadequate housing. Through organizations helping with homelessness, people can prosper.
  5. Indigenous populations are vulnerable to homelessness in Guatemala because they are not represented in the government and experience discrimination. Statistics confirm that 21.8% of poverty comes from the indigenous population. People in indigenous communities suffer inadequate water supplies and health care. The situation leads to indigenous people attempting to escape the country because of extortion or violence. Only 5% of people under 18 that migrate to other countries are not indigenous. With 40% of the population accounting for indigenous people, indigenous people should have more representation in their government. Indigenous people are usually homeless because they are recurring migrants that attempt to escape Guatemala, only to return again to the same situation they were in. The Government of Guatemala has issued a UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People, but they have not dedicated specific legislation towards the problem.

Many factors cause homelessness in Guatemala, but it takes an approach from the Guatemalan government, non-government organizations and developed countries to improve the situation in these countries. Despite Guatemala having large pockets of inequality, the situation is improving, as the economy’s GDP grew from 68% in 2016 to 85% in 2020. Along with this, multiple non-government organizations help to house people that live in unstable houses. Organization Asociacion Nuestros Ahijados is another NGO helping to shelter people in poverty. Through these measures, people are able to have stable homes, but it will take reductions in violence, pollution and poverty to end homelessness in Guatemala.

– Sarah Litchney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Guatemala is a country made up of six primary ethnic communities, though the population mostly comprises people belonging to the Mestizo and Maya ethnic groups. These ethnic groups are generationally skilled in creating traditional forms of art, which include weaving, beading and embroidering. Over half the Guatemalan population lives in a highly populated southern mountainous area. Within this region also live the majority of communities that experience poverty in the country. Many individuals from ethnic communities in this region use art to leverage themselves out of poverty.

Poverty in Guatemala

While Guatemala’s GDP has increased by an average of 3.5% over the past five years, high rates of poverty still exist within the country. 59.3% of the Guatemalan population (9.4 million people) live below the poverty line. In surrounding Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) regional contexts, the average per capita growth is 1.6%. Due to high population growth rates since 2000, Guatemala’s recent annual per capita growth is only 1.3%. High population growth rates are, in part, caused by a young population, with a median age of 23.2 years.

The Literacy Gap

Guatemala also experiences lower rates of literacy among women than men. As of 2015, 87.4% of men and 76.3% of women were literate in Guatemala. Between 2002 and 2014, literacy rates among women improved by 13.03%. In recent years, organizations like MayaWorks have worked to address the low literacy rates among women in Guatemala. MayaWorks is a non-profit organization that partners with women from rural communities to transform artisanal skills into sustainable businesses. Across 125 partnerships that MayaWorks has established with skilled Guatemalan artisans, over 40% of women are reported to have never received a primary education — and therefore lack literacy skills. Through one program, MayaWorks offers women in rural Guatemala access to primary education to improve their literacy. Business and literacy training programs enable women to not only improve situations for their families and communities, but also to decrease overall rates of poverty in Guatemala.

Supporting Women’s Education and Entrepreneurship

MayaWorks has shared stories of how business and literacy training programs can relieve women suffering from poverty in Guatemala. The Tz’utujil indigenous group makes up 30% of the Maya ethnic population and is primarily situated in a rural highland region of Guatemala. Women from this ethnic group are skilled in creating Maya-style crafts, including cultural staples such as crochet, hand weaving and treadle foot loom weaving. With the help of MayaWorks, over 52 Tz’utujil women from Santiago Atitlán are leveraging their artisan skills and sharing their cultural forms of expression with businesses in the United States. These partnerships allow for extended solutions to both local and national poverty in Guatemala through international support. Meanwhile, the international business of Mayan artists is strengthening relations between Guatemala and the United States.

The work of Mayan artisans, combined with the financial and educational support of MayaWorks, has already begun to alleviate poverty in Guatemala. Overall literacy levels for Guatemalan women have increased, which has also led to the employment of more women within the country’s workforce. According to the World Bank, employment rates for women in Guatemala have increased from 23.24% in 1999 to 40-45% in recent years. On a localized level, many women are now able to obtain security for their families and communities. Above all, working with MayaWorks equips women to be self-sufficient in running businesses and managing finances. This results in a generationally sustainable, long-term solution for reducing poverty in Guatemala.

Lilia Wilson

Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in GuatemalaGuatemala is a Central American country that borders Mexico and Belize to the North, and Honduras and El Salvador to the Southeast. With a population of 17.2 million as of 2018, Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America. Of the country’s total population, an estimated 45-60% is indigenous, and approximately 59% of the total population lives in poverty. Although most demographics in the country face poverty, rural indigenous communities feel the effects most acutely.

Second-Highest Level of Poverty in the Americas

Poverty in Guatemala is disproportionately high for the country with the largest economy in Central America; while Guatemala had a Gross Domestic Product of $75.62 billion in 2017, it also has the second-highest level of poverty in the Americas. Since 2006, poverty has grown. Approximately 2 million people slid below the poverty line (measured by an income of less than U.S. $5 per day) from 2006-2014. During the same window of time, around half a million slipped into extreme poverty (U.S.$1.90 or less per day). According to a national survey, the poverty rate among indigenous, predominantly rural communities is as high as 79%.

Poor Distribution of Resources

Extreme socioeconomic and geographic inequality largely characterizes the nature of poverty in Guatemala. As many as eight in 10 citizens living in rural municipalities live in poverty. One study found, from a sample of six other Latin American countries, that Guatemala had the poorest distribution of health and educational resources. Access to health resources and quality education is key in enhancing social mobility and bringing individuals out of poverty. Poor distribution of these resources in rural areas fortifies the regional cycle of poverty between contributing to lower life expectancy and limiting opportunities for education.

Additionally, chronic malnutrition debilitates poor Guatemalan communities; the level of malnutrition in Guatemalan children—47% as of 2019—is the highest of all the Latin American countries, and among the highest globally. This aggravates the cycle of poverty as well. Malnutrition burdens the already-limited healthcare system and stunts the local economic potential by reducing the physical and intellectual capability of youth. While many families traditionally subsist on agriculture to feed themselves, chronic drought has left many of these communities fully reliant on overseas remittances for survival.

Effects of the Coronavirus

As is the case in many countries, experts anticipate that poverty in Guatemala will increase as a result of COVID-19. In addition to the uneven allocation of health resources, the country’s poor have also suffered under strict lockdown rules, job loss and an enormous reduction in overseas remittances. The country reported a 17.2% loss in remittances corresponding with the rising unemployment rate in the U.S. These remittances not only make up approximately 12% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product but directly impact those families that rely on that form of income to feed themselves.

Additionally, stay-at-home orders have effectively collapsed the country’s informal economy, in which 70% of Guatemalans participate. Unregulated by the government, the informal economy comes with no formal protections or benefits in the event of labor loss. Similarly, official reports of unemployment in Guatemala are disproportionately skewed, as only 30% of Guatemalans work in the formal sector; this allows for employment statistics to disproportionately represent the number of individuals at risk of slipping into poverty.

NGOs Working to Help

Both domestic and international NGOs have turned their attention to meeting the challenges of poverty; these include issues both introduced and aggravated, respectively, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The humanitarian group Plan International presently tracks food prices via telephone surveys throughout Guatemala, identifying which regions are most food insecure.

The locally-based Konojel Community Centre is working to adapt their boots-on-the-ground services, suspending traditional programs aimed at reducing child malnutrition in order to distribute food packages to the community’s most vulnerable families. Simultaneously, Konojel Community Centre’s director is currently pushing the Guatemalan government to apply for loans from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to lessen the blow of economic crisis in vulnerable areas.

This comes at a time that Konojel Community Centre, like many NGOs at present, is hard-pressed for funding with the sharp decline of the global economy. Despite the circumstances, these NGOs are working to prevent as much loss of progress on malnutrition and poverty in Guatemala as possible.

Alexandra Black
Photo: Flickr

Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.


The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”


ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images

Healthcare in Guatemala
For far too many citizens living in Guatemala, healthcare is not feasible and the results of this are catastrophic. Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of malnutrition, and although the Guatemalan constitution guarantees healthcare, many fail to access the care that they need. Here are five facts about healthcare in Guatemala.

5 Facts About Healthcare in Guatemala

  1. The Guatemalan government spends very little money on healthcare. In fact, Guatemala only spends about $97 per person on healthcare. Comparatively, the United States spends $7,825 per person, and healthcare is not even an explicit “right” under the U.S. constitution. This leads to an underfunded, understaffed and underpaid system that oftentimes does not have the resources necessary to deal with complex diseases. According to a 2017 Health Policy Plus report, the Guatemalan government simply does not have the economic ability to fully fund its healthcare system. The report states that “Limited public resources have inhibited the Government of Guatemala’s ability to meet the health needs of the growing population and comply with its constitutional obligation to provide health services as a public good.”
  2. If a person wants specialists, they have to travel. About 80% of doctors in Guatemala work in Guatemala City. As a result, rural and poorer areas of Guatemala lack the resources they need to get the proper care. Subsequently, in order to receive certain tests, people living in rural areas often have to travel long distances, sometimes taking a day or two off of work. In many cases, people live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to miss out on a day of pay.
  3. There is a language barrier. Medicine is complex, and trying to explain medical treatment to someone who does not speak the same language is oftentimes impossible. Guatemala possesses a whopping 25 languages. In Guatemala City, where the specialty doctors are located, the primary language is Spanish. As a result, a person who does not speak Spanish and needs special treatment may have serious challenges.
  4. Rural areas are less advanced. As previously mentioned, the overwhelming majority of doctors work in Guatemala City. For those living in rural areas, access to care is often non-existent. This can lead to a slew of medical ailments, but it also means that these people practice a less advanced version of medicine. For example, in 2009 only 46% of rural Guatemalans utilized modern contraceptives.
  5. Maternal mortality is higher among minorities. Despite making up 43% of the population, more indigenous people suffer from maternal mortality than any other group. Of the 452 maternal deaths in 2013, 68% were indigenous women. In addition, the indigenous maternal mortality ratio was 159 per 100,000 and only 70 per 100,000 for non-indigenous women. One possible explanation is the language barrier. Most doctors work in Guatemala City with a primary language of Spanish. In cases where an indigenous person speaks one of the other 24 languages, it can be difficult for doctors and patients to communicate.

Looking Forward

Although the Guatemalan government considers healthcare in Guatemala a right, for a large fraction of the population it is not. People simply do not have the means to travel or take a day off of work just go see a specialist. Thankfully NGOs are stepping up. One NGO, The GOD’S CHILD Project, is currently fundraising to fight malnourishment in Guatemala. This NGO claims to have helped 4,000 orphaned and impoverished children, as well as 7,000 widowed, abandoned and single mothers and their dependents across Guatemala.

Another NGO named Wings fights exclusively for issues relating to Guatemalan healthcare. Wings’ subsidizes things like contraception and education in rural areas with patients who have serious medical conditions. In 2018 alone, this group helped 3,658 adolescents and young adults with contraceptive access and education. With the help of these NGOs, improved healthcare for Guatemala is on the horizon.

– Tyler Piekarski 
Photo: Flickr

How Can We End World Hunger?
The Borgen Project has published this article and podcast episode, “How Can We End World Hunger? Travel Expert Rick Steves Visits Guatemala and Ethiopia to Explore Answers,” with permission from The World Food Program (WFP) USA. “Hacking Hunger” is the organization’s podcast that features stories of people around the world who are struggling with hunger and thought-provoking conversations with humanitarians who are working to solve it.


Rick Steves is no stranger to exploration. The renowned travel expert has built his career around investigating the nooks and crannies of Europe and sharing his discoveries with curious travelers. Recently, however, Rick ventured beyond Europe to explore one of the most pressing problems of our day: the problem of global hunger. He documents his journey in a new TV special, Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala.

On this episode of Hacking Hunger, we caught up with Rick to discuss what this project taught him about the challenges and innovative solutions to solving global hunger and the inspiring people and organizations (including WFP) he met along the way. Listen and discover what he found.

Click the link below to listen to Rick Steves’ views on how the world can end hunger.



Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among Indigenous Peoples in Central America
Indigenous people in Central America have struggled against prejudice and a lack of visibility for hundreds of years. This struggle to maintain their place throughout the region has taken a toll on the living conditions and health among their communities. Here is more information about poverty among indigenous peoples in Central America.

Costa Rica

Approximately 1.5 percent of the population of Costa Rica is made up of indigenous people. They are considered among the most marginalized and economically excluded minorities in Central America. Approximately 95 percent of people living in Costa Rica have access to electricity. The majority of indigenous peoples in the country are included in the remaining five percent. Many believe this is due to a lack of attention from the government in the concerns of indigenous people and the living conditions in their communities.

A lack of education is also a problem among indigenous peoples in Costa Rica. The average indigenous child in Costa Rica receives only 3.6 years of schooling and 30 percent of the indigenous population is illiterate. In the hopes of reaching out to indigenous communities and reducing their poverty rates, the University of Costa Rica instituted a plan in 2014 to encourage admissions from indigenous peoples from across the country. By 2017, the program was involved in the mentoring of 400 indigenous high school students and saw 32 new indigenous students applying for the university.


Indigenous peoples make up about 40 percent of the population in Guatemala and approximately 79 percent of the indigenous population live in poverty. Forty percent of the indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. With these levels of poverty among the indigenous people, many are forced to migrate, as the poorest are threatened with violence among their communities. Ninety-five percent of those under the age of 18 who migrate from Guatemala are indigenous.

One organization working to improve the living conditions for indigenous people in Guatemala is the Organization for the Development of the Indigenous Maya (ODIM). ODIM, which was started with the intention to support the indigenous Maya people, focuses on providing health care and education to indigenous people in Guatemala. One program it supports is called “Healthy Mommy and Me,” which focuses on offering mothers and their young children access to health care, food and education. These efforts are benefiting 250 indigenous women and children across Guatemala.


In Honduras, 88.7 percent of indigenous children lived in poverty in 2016. Approximately 44.7 percent of indigenous adults were unemployed. Nineteen percent of the Honduran indigenous population is illiterate, in comparison to 13 percent of the general population. Despite the wide span of indigenous peoples across Honduras, they struggle to claim ownership of land that belonged to their ancestors. Only 10 percent of indigenous people in Honduras have a government-accredited land title.

Due to the poverty indigenous people in Honduras face, many seek opportunities in more urban areas, but the cities simply don’t have the capacity to support them all. As a result, many settle just outside of the cities to be close to opportunities. There are more than 400 unofficial settlements near the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. Despite the difficulties they face in living just outside of a city that has no room for them, being in urban areas does have its benefits for indigenous people. Ninety-four percent of indigenous people living in urban Honduras are literate, versus 79 percent in rural areas.

For those among the indigenous peoples in Honduras who struggle with poverty, Habitat for Humanity has put a special focus on indigenous people in its construction programs. Habitat for Humanity worked with different ethnic groups within the indigenous community to provide homes for those most in need, reaching 13,810 people throughout Honduras.


Poverty affects more than 70 percent of indigenous people in Panama. Among their communities, health problems and a lack of access to clean water are common.

In 2018, the World Bank approved a project to improve health, education, water and sanitation among 12 different indigenous groups in Panama. The Comprehensive National Plan for Indigenous Peoples of Panama aims to implement positive development in indigenous communities while protecting and maintaining the culture within those communities.

The aim of this project is to create a positive relationship between indigenous peoples and the government in Panama to further developments of their communities down the road. It is projected to assist some 200,000 people through improved living conditions and infrastructure among indigenous communities.

With poor access to an education and a certain level of prejudice fueling a wage gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people, natives globally face a unique challenge in their efforts to escape poverty. In many countries around the world, indigenous people are forgotten and often fall to the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This creates particularly difficult circumstances for indigenous peoples of regions that already have high poverty rates overall. However, people like those who work with the World Bank are working to see a reduction in poverty among indigenous peoples in Central America and see that indigenous people are not forgotten and are no longer neglected.

Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr