BubzBeauty Helps Build Schools
Pencils of Promise is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 2008. Since then, it has built 512 schools in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos, and has helped 102,215 children obtain a quality education in those countries. Not only does the organization raise money for schools, but it also has programs to help support teachers working at and students attending these schools. Through Pencils of Promise, YouTuber BubzBeauty helps build schools in its three countries of interest.

BubzBeauty’s Involvement with Pencils of Promise

On August 8, 2015, Lindy “Bubz” Tsang announced her first campaign with Pencils of Promise to raise $50,000 to build two schools in Laos. She felt compelled to use her YouTube platform and large following to help children in poverty obtain an education and better their lives. For this first fundraiser, Bubz designed a sweatshirt for her subscribers to purchase; 100 percent of all proceeds went toward the school fund.

It was a huge success, and on January 18, 2016, Bubz released a vlog of her visit to one of the two schools, named Beauty of Knowledge. The name was a tribute to her beauty channel on YouTube, since it and its subscribers were what made the building of the school possible. As Bubz says in her vlog, “beauty doesn’t have to be just about makeup and skincare. Beauty is also knowledge.”

Building Schools in Laos and Ghana

Before the building of the new schools, the kids in Tad Thong, Laos went to school in a temporary classroom structure made from bamboo with a makeshift roof. There was no way for it to support all the children coming to attend, so the school held six grades in only three classrooms. In Saen Oudom, Laos, children also attended school in extremely poor conditions, with the building having a leaky roof and many safety hazards. Thanks to Bubz, both towns have a safe space for the kids’ education to continue and thrive. Tad Thong now has a five-classroom school and Saen Oudom a three-classroom school.

Since then, Bubz has raised money to build a total of five schools, ultimately impacting a total of 3,469 children around the world. Bubz and her beauty community have helped construct two schools in Laos and three in Ghana. The Ghana fundraiser gained monetary aid from another shirt design with all profits going toward the campaign. Additionally, Bubz created an eye shadow palette where $2 from each one sold went toward the fund. Here is a list of the three areas Bubz has helped:

  • Atravenu, Ghana: Four grades were sharing two classrooms in a chapel. This proved to be a distracting environment for both teachers and students, hindering the education process.

  • Kpando Torkor, Ghana: The school building had unfinished classrooms. The first and second graders were in the most unsafe rooms and the 91 students attending caused overcrowding, a safety hazard.

  • Mafi Agorve, Ghana: Children were attending school in makeshift structures that did not include windows or doors. This exposed them to harsh sunlight throughout the day and outdoor distractions.

With Bubz’s help, all three towns were able to build a three-unit class structure, and Kpando Torkor was also able to renovate its already existing classrooms.

Plans for the Future

In the description of her most recent update video on the schools (May 10, 2019), Bubz wrote, “When we build schools, we’re not just building a physical structure, we also build up a child’s confidence, dreams and goals. We build up communities’ potential and standard of life.” Bubz’s campaigns through BubzBeauty not only helps build schools but also helps the communities surrounding those schools flourish more than they would have without her help. Education leads to a better life for these children and brighter futures for the countries.

Even present day, BubzBeauty helps build schools with Pencils of Promise. In May 2019, she announced that profits from her formulated lipstick would go toward a fund to raise money to build a school in Guatemala.

“Not all superheroes wear capes. Some wear lipstick.” — Lindy Tsang

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

thenortherntriangle
Many know the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for their high crime rates and their role in the refugee crisis at the southern border of the U.S. The good news about the Northern Triangle, however, is that crime and murder rates are declining, there has been notable poverty reduction and the economy is growing in the region. The future of the Northern Triangle is not as bleak as news coverage often indicates. These 10 facts provide information on the good news about the Northern Triangle.

10 Pieces of Good News About the Northern Triangle

  1. From 2008 to 2013, educational initiatives in Honduras created 800 new preschools. Additionally, access to education in impoverished communities increased from 36 percent to 50 percent. The educational initiatives also provided training for teachers employed at the new schools.
  2. During the past decade, Guatemala’s agricultural diversity has expanded, and it is now a top regional exporter of green beans, fruit and other types of produce. This has created more prosperity for small farmers.
  3. In El Salvador, economic growth has occurred steadily as well. In 2013, its GDP per capita was $3,516 and its exports were $5.5 billion. Four years later, El Salvador’s GDP per capita was $3,895 and its exports were $5.8 billion.
  4. From 2016 to 2017, the Northern Triangle’s homicide rates fell by 23 percent. Salvadoran murder rates fell by 34 percent and Honduran murder rates fell by 28 percent, with a comparable decline in Guatemala.
  5. Thanks in large part to USAID agricultural programs, the Guatemalan economy added 78,000 new jobs from 2013 to 2017. The new jobs created $160 million and specifically benefited the Western Highlands, a region that is a frequent source of migrants.
  6. From 2011 to 2016, USAID provided assistance to Salvadoran businesses. By 2016, there were 22,000 new jobs in the Salvadoran economy. The higher number of employment opportunities led to higher incomes and provided non-violent alternatives to youth at risk of being involved in gang violence.
  7. Poverty increases rates of illegal migration, but thanks to U.S. assistance, rates of illegal migration from the Northern Triangle were lower in 2017 than they had been since 1971. The three-year U.S. led initiative to reduce illegal migration through development aid was effective.
  8. The Honduran government is taking measures to reform the criminal justice system. In 2011, Honduras introduced a new Comprehensive Coexistence and Security Policy. In 2011, Honduras overhauled its police force, ousting large numbers of officers deemed unfit to serve. The country closed many mismanaged Honduran prisons, showing its commitment to respecting human rights.
  9. A commission formed to investigate corruption in the Honduran government launched its investigations in 2017. Although the investigated officials have made it difficult for the commission to conduct its work, it has continued to exist. The Honduran people and anti-corruption forces within the government continue to support the commission, indicating a commitment to respecting democratic norms. As the country’s economic situation improves, its people feel freer to demand a fair society.
  10. Guatemalan anti-corruption forces have seen unprecedented success. With support from the U.N., the Guatemalan anti-corruption commission was able to successfully conduct cases against multiple corrupt former presidents. In 2015, the commission forced President Molina, who previously engaged in fraud, to resign; he later became imprisoned.

These countries are building new schools and growing crops, while crime rates are falling and they are taking steps to fight corruption. These examples all spell good news for the Northern Triangle. It it is easy to be ignorant of the progress taking place when the media characterizes the Northern Triangle as a place defined merely by poverty and violence. It is also vital for people to note that the good news about the Northern Triangle links to U.S. aid, which funds programs that create new jobs and new opportunities in the region. If this aid continues along with a commitment to progress, then the dream of a brighter future in the Northern Triangle can become a reality.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts ABout Human Trafficking in GuatemalaAccording to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) about 15,000 young people are being trafficked for sexual exploitation currently in Guatemala and for every victim that is rescued approximately 30 more are exploited and kept hidden. Here are 10 facts about human trafficking in Guatemala.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Guatemala

  1. Poverty is considered one of the main causes behind human trafficking, given that three in five people live on less than $3.10 a day. As a result, most victims are often uneducated, unemployed and are lured based on false promises of potential job opportunities. Domestic violence can also be a main driver, given the engrained patriarchal mentality that exists in this society. Often, human trafficking situations arise from domestic violence from male relatives, in turn causing young children to flee home where they are then submitted to the harsh realities of human trafficking conditions.
  2. Only four percent of human trafficking victims in Guatemala are actually Guatemalan citizens, meaning that about 96 percent of the people who are trafficked in Guatemala are not native Guatemalans. Since the majority of the victims come from neighboring countries, human trafficking can be linked with northern migration. Guatemala’s neighbor countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, are all part of the C-4 visa area, which establishes that citizens of these countries can travel freely back and forth. This means Guatemala may be seen as an attractive location to relocate for economic purposes.
  3. Of the approximately 50,000 sex trafficking victims reported in Guatemala, almost 60 percent are children. It is very common to see girls as young as 12 years old working in brothels and being forced to have sex with upwards of 30 customers a day. In some cases, traffickers can be found at schools where they recruit virgin schoolgirls to partake in such acts. With the high number of children being sold for sex trafficking, the revenue is equivalent to 2.7 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product (GDP).
  4. Along with young children, women are also at higher risk for victimization. According to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CIGIG), women make up 64 percent of victims, of which several are little girls as young as eight years old. Because there is often a higher demand and willingness to pay more money for specific traits in girls such as virginity, traffickers must often target younger women.
  5. Although efforts are being made to stop human trafficking, only about three percent of cases are detected every year. Additionally, there are only two prosecutors country-wide who are working solely on sex trafficking cases. Because of this, human trafficking convictions in Guatemala are extremely low.
  6. Due to a misidentification of human trafficking victims, the number of victims is actually higher than what has been reported. Over the past five years, approximately 1,568 victims have been detected annually as human trafficking victims. Of these, 317 are sex trafficking victims and 810 are human trafficking victims.
  7. The Human Trafficking Institute has listed some of the challenges that Guatemalan authorities have faced when it comes to reducing and eliminating human trafficking. Some of these challenges include the human trafficking rings that currently exist, gang related crime and high levels of poverty. Furthermore, many victims include indigenous peoples who may not speak Spanish well enough or at all in order to report the traffickers to the respective authorities.
  8. The Guatemalan government has taken notice of the increasing problem of human trafficking and is taking the appropriate measures to stop it. The government has recently released its anti-trafficking action plan for 2018 to 2022, which establishes that it aims to provide a victim protection protocol in differing languages and dialects for those whose first language is not Spanish. Additionally, the government will open an anti-trafficking unit that will operate regionally and attempt to process and bring more traffickers to justice.
  9. Although a lack of education can lead people to become prey to human traffickers, becoming more educated can help survivors overcome the trauma they have undergone. Not only does education help victims but it can also prevent people from becoming victims by raising awareness of the problem and providing them with solutions to avoid being trafficked. Education can also help young people develop a skill or interest after the fact, in order to help them move on and lead a normal life.
  10. The UNODC has developed a trust fund in order to help victims of human trafficking. This program works by rescuing victims and slowly reintegrating them into society, while giving them a much-needed support system. However, this program not only benefits the victims of human trafficking, but it also aims to raise awareness and educate the general public in how to keep human trafficking from occurring at all.

These 10 facts about human trafficking in Guatemala shed light on what a pressing issue it is, however efforts are being made by the government as well as international organizations to continue progress in ending human trafficking worldwide.

—Laura Rogers
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America
Central America, which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, is a diverse geographical region housing almost 50 million people. With a wealth of natural resources, Central America has the potential for sustainable and rigorous economic growth as it seeks to mitigate political unrest and economic inequality. Within this context, here are 10 facts about economic development in Central America.

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America

  1. Central America is an Agricultural Powerhouse: The backbone of Central America’s economy relies on agricultural exports, such as coffee, bananas and pineapples. For example, agriculture comprises 24 percent of Costa Rica’s total GDP and 17 percent of Panama’s total GDP. In 2001, agriculture employed approximately 34 percent of Honduras.
  2. Central America’s Growing Tourism Industry: Belize and El Salvador contribute to Central America’s robust tourism industry. In Belize, tourism is the most important economic sector in the country next to agriculture. In 2017, El Salvador reported a 23.2 percent annual growth rate from domestic tourism. El Salvador expects to generate $75.5 million from its tourism industry in 2019.
  3. Severe Weather and Foreign Aid: In the wake of Hurricane Nate, Costa Rica alone reported $562 million in damages, severely crippling its agricultural and transportation industries. In response, USAID provided $150,000 to support immediate humanitarian efforts. More recently, in 2018, El Fuego erupted in Guatemala affecting approximately 1.7 million people. World Vision, a non-profit organization, responded by sending 30,000 boxes of medical supplies to affected regions.
  4. Tepid Economic Growth: One of the key 10 facts about economic development in Central America that informs policy-making is an analysis of GDP growth and poverty rates. As a whole, Central America has an average poverty rate of 34.2 percent. Guatemala has the highest rate of 59 percent as of 2014. Mitigating these poverty rates is difficult since GDP growth has slowly decelerated in many Central American countries. In the case of Honduras, declining prices for agricultural exports have left its main industries struggling. People expect Honduras’ GDP to grow with the decline in poverty. The nation’s poverty rate came down to 3.6 percent in 2019, from 4.8 percent in 2017.
  5. Political Uncertainty and Economic Expectations: Since 2018, many Nicaraguans protested the political oppression of their president, Daniel Ortega. They believe he is tamping out political opposition from human rights groups and using the poor to maintain political power. This recent political upheaval has alarmed investors, who have withdrawn an estimated $634 million according to Bloomberg. In this tumultuous climate, the International Monetary Fund believes Nicaragua’s economy could spiral into recession with unemployment climbing to 10 percent.
  6. Underinvestment in Infrastructure: Due to extreme weather and political upheaval, Central America often lacks the infrastructure to mobilize its economy. Central American countries spend only around two percent of their total GDP on transportation and infrastructure. Panama is a testament to the benefits of investing in infrastructure. The revenue generated from the Cobre Panama mine and the Panama canal gave the nation an average GDP growth rate of 5.6 percent over the past five years.
  7. Maintaining Trade Agreements: One way Central American countries have greatly benefited in terms of economic development is through maintaining trade agreements like CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Between 2006 and 2016, Central America’s total trade with the U.S. increased by 17 percent and with the world, 20 percent.
  8. Grassroots Technology and Collaboration: Grassroots organizations have achieved economic success. For example, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered with Nicaragua and Peru to promote agricultural productivity in its host country of Colombia. The CIAT has 51 active projects in Central America and 15 projects currently in Nicaragua. Such projects include investments in innovative technology that would make the rural family’s crops more resilient and more abundant.
  9. The Future is Technical: Costa Rica has successfully created a robust medical-device manufacturing industry dating back to 1987. It now generates $4 billion in exports for the country. Even more surprising, in 2017, medical device exports surpassed agricultural products for the first time in the nation’s history. Costa Rica boasts quality human resources and manufacturing and houses 96 operating firms in the medical device manufacturing sector.
  10. The Exemplary Success of Panama: Many expect Panama’s GDP to grow at six percent compared to 3.6 percent in 2018 and the country has cut its poverty rate from 15.4 percent to 14.1 percent. Panama’s performance comes from investing in industries like mining, transportation and logistics. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Panama must continue to invest in education. One initiative in the U.S. that is investing in education in Panama is the Environmental Education Through the Transformation of Schools into Eco-friendly and Sustainable Schools program at Johns Hopkins University. Its goal is to educate Panama’s students on how to make their public school system more environmentally friendly.

Central America has positioned itself well for future economic prosperity based on this brief analysis of 10 facts about economic development in Central America. In order to accelerate Central America’s path of economic growth, World Vision has run a program in Guatemala since the 1970s that provides sponsorships, education, health and protective rights to children. Other organizations, like CIAT, have more than 60 programs in the Central American regions.

– Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Guatemala
Guatemala is currently experiencing an invisible health care crisis because people have not noticed the harmful effects of the lack of access to primary health care services for decades. Guatemala has a population of 16.91 million, with 60 percent of the population living below the national poverty line and 23 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. Fortunately, there are some nonprofit organizations attempting to improve health care in Guatemala.

Barriers to Indigenous Health Care in Guatemala

Access to health care in Guatemala is heavily reliant on environmental and socioeconomic factors. Indigenous populations, in particular, have the greatest difficulty accessing basic health care services. An estimated 40 percent of the population is indigenous and speaks indigenous languages such as Xincan and K’iche. Most health care providers in Guatemala speak Spanish, posing a communication barrier to administering health services.

Another barrier is that the majority of health care services are located in the capital, Guatemala City, making them geographically unreachable for many indigenous people. In order to receive adequate health care, indigenous people would have to take time off work, pay money out of pocket for transportation and travel many hours to the capital. This is unattainable for families who are already struggling to afford basic daily amenities such as food and clean water.

Cultural barriers also represent another hurdle in terms of health care access for indigenous people in Guatemala. Many indigenous communities have rigid cultural practices regarding health care and they feel that the national health care systems do not respect their traditions. Many would prefer to go to a local traditional healer who uses more holistic methods such as plant-based medicine and spiritual guidance. Sometimes this sort of natural-based health care suffices, but with more serious illnesses, traditional remedies do not always work and patients arrive at hospitals with untreated or advanced, serious illnesses.

Government Funding

According to Guatemala’s constitution, access to health care is a human right, however, lack of funding in rural areas excludes indigenous populations from this fundamental right. The Guatemalan government spends around $97 per person per year on public health care, dramatically less than the United States which spends $7,825. This means many local health care services are understaffed, lack proper supplies and are understocked. This has the greatest impact on indigenous people who cannot afford to go to expensive private hospitals and clinics.

Nonprofits and Foreign Aid Working to Expand Indigenous Health Care in Guatemala

Several groups are working to eliminate these barriers to health care access in Guatemala, particularly among the indigenous populations. The local nonprofit, Mayan Families, aims to provide “world-class care to patients free of charge, including primary care, health education, specialist referrals and all medications.”

The international nonprofit, ActionAid, has many regionally focused programs, specifically in Peten, which is home to many Q’echi people, an indigenous group that makes up about 6 percent of Guatemala’s entire population. ActionAid worked with many local partners to train translators and hospital staff in Q’echi languages and culture so that hospitals could provide adequate health care to local indigenous populations.

USAID’s Health Finance and Governance (HFG) project aims to help improve health in developing countries and is working to increase access to health care in Guatemala. Experts from HFG conducted an assessment of health care in Guatemala and came up with a plan to help increase health care coverage. Its plan includes funding, increasing supplies and training specialists. This will help increase access to health care for indigenous people as more funding means cheaper health care services.

The lack of access to health care in Guatemala for indigenous people is not an unsolvable issue. An increase in attention to the issue has led to international organizations taking action. A combination of advocacy, donations and political actions can greatly improve the country’s current health care system, and increase the overall health of indigenous people in Guatemala.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act
On July 15, 2019, the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. The bill, announced by New York Representative Eliot L. Engel and Texas Representative Michael McCaul, seeks to provide greater safety and security for the Northern Triangle countries. The highest volume of immigrants from South America come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It is the hope of the United States Congress that increasing aid and promoting a stronger economy and sense of security in these nations will address the root causes of the current migration crisis. This bipartisan legislation outlines several ways the United States may assist the Northern Triangle nations.

Details About The Bill

Firstly, the bill details a five-year program which focuses on economic development, the strengthening of democratic institutions and anti-corruption efforts. Because the insecurity of these countries’ economies is driving so many to seek refuge in foreign nations, enhancing market-based internal solutions for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is a priority of this plan. Furthermore, it will implement institutions and programs that will allow these places to remain resilient in the wake of frequent natural disasters.

In order to support the integrity of the democratic institutions of the Northern Triangle, this bill intends to provide support to ensure free, fair elections and the continuation of an independent media. This measure is to prevent the spread of political propaganda and to make the democratic process accessible to all.

This bill includes many measures to support and fund anti-corruption efforts, which is so important when so many migrants from these countries are leaving to escape the prevalent gang violence. It provides support for such efforts as faith-based organizations for at-risk youth. Many young people have no choice but to engage in violent gang activities in order to protect themselves or their families.

Funding From The United States

The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act is allotting $577 million dollars in monetary aid to these three countries for the 2020 fiscal year but includes strong conditions as to how the countries must use the funding.

The bill also includes measures to protect the safety of not only those native to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador but also the many American people who have concerns regarding immigration into the United States. The act calls for visa bans and asset freezes for corrupt individuals in an effort to halt some of the corruption in government and drug trafficking which are making these nations unsafe.

This bipartisan legislation will also provide increased support for development efforts in southern Mexico. The hope is that there will be more peaceful relations between Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations to diminish some of the reasons for the mass exodus from these countries.

Lastly, Congress has mandated that the State Department and USAID provide reports regarding the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle countries after the implementation of the United States’ aid. The bill mentions some of the root causes including drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, corruption, gender-based violence, gang activities and the forcible recruitment of children into gang activities. These reports will allow Congress to determine how aid from the United States and the implementation of social services has altered the social and political climate of the Northern Triangle.

A Promising Victory

With so much ever-heightening concern regarding the immigration crisis, the unanimous, bipartisan passing of the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which the Borgen Project supports, is a victory for the current state of poverty amongst immigrants. If this bill officially becomes law, it is the hope of Congress that the United States’ assistance and aid to the Northern Triangle countries will target the many causes of immigration and allow people to remain in their homes with a sense of security.

– Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

why are more people crossing the border
In early 2019, Congress approved a humanitarian aid plan for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Nevertheless, the political crisis of migrant treatment and their arrival to the U.S. continues. In February 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to obtain funding for his planned border wall. He has repeatedly called the situation at the U.S. border an invasion. The question remains: why are more people crossing the border?

People should note, however, that the number of border apprehensions dropped by 28 percent in the course of a month. The number decreased from the apprehension of an estimated 120,000 plus people in May 2019 to an estimated 80,000 plus people in June 2019.

In the past, most of the undocumented immigrants found in the U.S. southern border were single men from Mexico. Recently, most immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border are families coming from countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle, namely Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have severe instabilities. The number of people from these three nations applying for asylum around the world has increased seven-fold since 2010.

High Murder Rates in the Northern Triangle

High murder rates are a reason why more people have been leaving the Northern Triangle. Murder rates in the area have been considerably higher than in other areas, like the U.S. or Europe. These numbers peak at approximately 108.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador and 63.8 in Honduras. Residents of Honduras also face extortion as criminals may kill them if they do not pay a war tax.

Many families try to seek asylum in Mexico to escape these murders. Nevertheless, the number of migrants at the Mexican border tell a similar story to that of the U.S. border. The number of deportations from Mexico back to the Northern Triangle has considerably increased between 2014 and 2015.

Poverty and Migration

Another reason for the rise in migrants at the southern border in recent years has been economic imperatives. Most recent migrants hail from impoverished regions such as the western highlands of Guatemala, in search of a life better suited to raising a family.

Everyday life in the area beckons land rights conflicts, environmental instabilities and depressed prices for their crop, which undermines the ability of citizens to make a living for their family. Nearly 70 percent of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. In Guatemala, nearly 60 percent live in poverty.

Gangs and Drug Cartels

In the Northern Triangle, drug cartels and gangs are a part of everyday life and threaten national and personal security. Violent groups often impose informal curfews, make absurd tax demands and recruit youth against their will. After the fight between in Mexican government and former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, many other groups moved into the drug trade, leading to the killings of many innocent people in the country. In 2018, the number of people who made claims of credible fear and asked for asylum at the U.S. border skyrocketed to 92,000, compared to 55,000 claims in 2017.

Thousands of immigrants are facing the impossible choice of living in constant fear or seeking asylum, risking the possibility of detainment for indefinite periods or deportation back to their home nations where they risk a violent death.

No More Deaths

Illegal border crossing should not be a death sentence. No More Deaths, or No Más Muertes, is a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona that is dedicated to stepping up efforts to stop migrant deaths in the desert. The organization works in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands through the civil initiative.

It is crucial for every American citizen to realize that migrants are not entering the United States because they want to, but because they have to. Entering the detention centers at the southern border comes after a perilous journey. Migrants ride trains where gang members demand tolls of upwards of $100 per station. Gang members kidnap more than 20,000 migrants in these situations.

Action is imperative to help people crossing the border as countless lives depend on it. Nevertheless, it is possible for individuals to help. Individuals can volunteer with organizations such as No More Deaths to provide food, advocacy and mapping efforts. They can also use their voice and email Congress through The Borgen Project’s website. Lastly, it is important for all citizens to educate themselves about migrants, their treatment in detention centers and why more people are crossing the border, even when circumstances seem dire.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr

 

Corruption in GuatemalaThe United States has long been a sponsor and provider of aid to Guatemala, along with other non-governmental organizations backed by the U.N. Much of this aid has been to fight corruption—either the investigations of corrupt practices or the establishment of institutions to monitor and prevent corruption, impunity and organized crime.

The Background

As in many Latin American countries, particularly the Northern Triangle region (consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras), corruption is ubiquitous from the local to national levels of government. Corrupt government leads to extractive institutions, which in turn leads to poverty, violence and mass emigration; at present, the majority of migrants at the U.S./Mexico border are from Guatemala.

In recognition of this, several political leaders and pundits of both parties have spoken out against proposed cuts to foreign aid, citing the need to stabilize the region by addressing the problem at its source. USAID and State Department programs focused on economic development have been widely successful, resulting in: increased access to nutrition for 230,000 children under the age of five, a 51 percent increase in rural agricultural sales, 20,000 new jobs in the agricultural sector, a 60 percent increase in American agricultural exports to Guatemala and many other improvements besides.

The long history of institutional corruption has not burdened agriculture, which allows for direct economic investment while the country focusses on anti-corruption efforts to dismantle impunity in other sectors—particularly in customs administration. The customs and tax administrations conducted the Linea bribery scandal of 2015, which resulted in the impeachment of President Otto Perez Molina and nearly 600 arrests. Since the Linea scandal, officials in multiple areas have been working with the UNODC (U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime) to combat the corruption that enables the use of Guatemala’s ports as drug trafficking avenues.

The UNODC and IACAC’s Efforts to Fight Corruption

While not as specialized as other anti-corruption programs and NGOs operating within Guatemala, UNODC has been instrumental in Guatemala’s fight against organized crime, with which governmental corruption naturally dovetails. In 2010, the drug trade alone was worth double the country’s GDP. The violence it generated (Guatemala has the 15th-highest murder rate in the world, out of 230 countries) dissuaded tourists and investors, which in turn contributed to the poverty that engenders corruption and organized crime, to begin with. However, with the help of UNODC along with other domestic and international programs, Guatemala has made significant economic progress. Its current GDP is nearly double what it was before the major anti-crime and anti-corruption initiatives began in 2010 and 2011.

International efforts to fight corruption in Guatemala have a long history, which has resulted in significant governmental reforms. The earliest instance of this was the adoption of IACAC, or the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which Guatemala ratified in 2001. The country has made substantial institutional reforms to maintain its compliance with IACAC, most notably a commission that allows for the coordination between the executive and judicial bodies, and its independent Association of Journalists. IACAC has also spawned several bilateral agreements with other countries—including the United States—to share evidence and otherwise support anti-corruption legal proceedings.

The reforms prompted by IACAC compliance had few immediate effects—within the first two years after ratification, Guatemala’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) did not change enough to indicate a conclusive shift. However, the primary effect of IACAC has been to keep institutions updated and to keep corruption in Guatemala in the public eye. With the institutional reforms that IACAC prompted in the early 2000s, there was an existing framework for other anti-corruption initiatives to operate with much greater effectiveness.

The International Commission Against Impunity’s Success

The U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity (referred to as CICIG by its Spanish initials) is the most successful NGO fighting corruption in Guatemala, which has prosecuted over 100 cases and obtained roughly 300 convictions since its establishment in 2003. Yet despite its impressive record, Guatemala’s current president, Jimmy Morales, attempted to end CICIG’s mandate before its natural expiration in November 2019. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court halted that decision and legal battles are still ongoing. Public support is heavily in favor of CICIG and the Court.

In the meantime, CICIG’s commissioner, Iván Velásquez, has taken the time to respond to the Morales administration’s accusations against CICIG in detail. Velásquez upholds CICIG’s record of convictions and dryly remarks that “[threats and smear campaigns are] foreseeable with respect to an entity whose purpose is to attack structures that co-opt the State to profit and refuse to lose privileges obtained illegally and illegitimately.” The country recently blocked Velásquez from re-entering, along with dozens of other CICIG staff, when Morales announced the premature termination of the commission. The country must continue to restore Guatemalan’s confidence in its elections.

– Robert Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

 

Maternal Mortality Rate in GuatemalaAs of 2015, the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala was 88, and three-quarters of these maternal deaths occurred in women of indigenous ancestry. The maternal mortality rate among indigenous women is thought to be more than 200. Since midwives or comadronas primarily care for pregnant indigenous women in Guatemala, investments from the World Bank and UNFPA have been focused on training midwives and connecting them with hospital services when necessary. More than six million indigenous people inhabit Guatemala and comprise a large portion–estimated at 45 to 60 percent–of the population. Further, 21.8 percent of the indigenous population live in extreme poverty compared to only 7.4 percent of the non-indigenous population.

Improving Mortality through Training

In 2006, UNFPA, a U.N. agency focused on sexual and reproductive health, began to offer obstetrical emergency training to local comadronas and family planning methods. The agency also teaches the importance of a skilled attendant being present during births in order to improve the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala. Estimates suggest that a well-trained midwifery service “could avert roughly two-thirds of all maternal and newborn deaths.” Statistics show that from 2009 to 2016, UNFPA has trained more than 35,000 midwives.

The Department of Sololá in the western highlands of Guatemala is home to more than 300,000 people, most of whom are indigenous Maya. Only one in four rural births occurs in a hospital, compared with over two-thirds of urban births. In Sololá, comadronas attend more than 63 percent of births mainly outside of a hospital. Some estimates put this figure at more than 90 percent.

The Improving Maternal and Neo-Natal Health Initiative has a three-pronged approach and funding from the World Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund in 2017. The initiative has established a visually-based curriculum to help comadronas recognize dangers and risks during delivery, two-week long training workshops conducted in local healthcare posts, and endowment of “safe birthing kits” for all comadronas containing tools such as latex gloves and gauze pads. Unlike previous initiatives, these trainings have been conducted in local languages rather than solely Spanish. Rosa, a comadrona in the city of Santiago, said this simple change made her “feel more respected” and gave her an increased desire to participate because she felt empowered to save “more lives in her community.”

In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and the government of Guatemala, the Maternal Child Survival Program (MCSP), an international program with national and subnational branches, implemented a Midwifery Training Program in February 2018 to improve the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala. Their model uses a competency-based skills training approach. Working with the University of San Martin Porres, MCSP established a coursework protocol for certification.

Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples

Maternal mortality rates among indigenous populations in Guatemala face particular hurdles. In addition to access to care and infrastructure challenges, indigenous populations face heavy discrimination. They are often evicted from their ancestral lands only to face abuse within the criminal justice system. One young indigenous man reported abuse at the hands of a local gang to police. He believed that “the police don’t listen to us as indigenous people–they do not care about us.” A U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, says she is very worried about “the grave situation of indigenous peoples” in Guatemala.

Guatemala has made consistent strides in reducing the national maternal mortality rate from more than 200 in 1990 to less than 100 today. However, the maternal mortality rate among indigenous populations remains high. Indigenous populations should be heartened by these improvements, but their unique struggles must not be lost in the larger narrative of maternal mortality in Guatemala.

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Central AmericaThe ability to consistently access nourishment is vital for all people. In regions affected by poverty, like Central America, many families lack this ability. These 10 facts will provide a glimpse at food insecurity in Central America, how it affects the lives of the people who live there and what has been done to address it.

10 Facts About Food Insecurity in Central America

  1. More than 10 percent of Guatemalan children are underweight. About 46.5 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from stunted growth caused by malnutrition. Indigenous children are more likely to suffer from stunted growth; 58 percent of Guatemalan indigenous children under 5 suffer from this condition. Indigenous children are also more likely to suffer from anemia and vitamin deficiencies.
  2. Food insecurity fuels migration to the U.S. Severe droughts, crops destroyed by fungus and persistent poverty all play a role in preventing families from thriving in their home country. USAID and U.N. reports find that poverty and food insecurity in Central America motivates migration more than other factors.
  3. From 2015 to 2018, food insecurity in Central America increased annually. Indigenous populations and women were the groups most impacted by chronic hunger. Poor and rural communities were also likely to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
  4. USAID’s response to food insecurity is focused on agriculture. USAID funds studies that create solutions to agricultural problems. USAID works with many groups, including governments, universities and American farmers, to bring agricultural solutions to regions affected by food insecurity. USAID also implements initiatives like Feed the Future that directly address food insecurity. Guatemala and Honduras are two of the 12 countries that receive specially targeted assistance through Feed the Future.
  5. Between 2013 and 2017, USAID’s initiative Feed the Future provided assistance to 215,000 Guatemalan children. During this period, Guatemalan agricultural production created $47.8 million worth of profits for the Guatemalan economy. Feed the Future worked to improve agriculture in Guatemala by providing resilient seedlings, higher-quality pesticides and training to prevent the spread of disease among crops. Guatemalan agriculture also became more diverse thanks to the introduction of new crops. In cooperation with USDA, Feed the Future helped Guatemalan farmers learn new methods of planting crops and tracking their growth electronically.
  6. In 2014, USAID implemented new programs in Honduras to fulfill the goals of the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy. In cooperation with the Honduran government, USAID works to decrease rates of stunted growth by 20 percent by 2020. USAID is also working to move 10,000 families out of extreme poverty by 2020. To combat food insecurity in Honduras, USAID is promoting crop diversity, improving infrastructure connecting rural areas to urban areas and improving child nutrition.
  7. The Dry Corridor is experiencing drought. The region referred to as the Central American “Dry Corridor” consists of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. During the summer of 2018, the Dry Corridor was hit by low levels of rainfall and above-average temperatures. The unusually severe drought of 2018 came after a previous two years of drought that lasted from 2014 to 2016, which required food relief for millions of people.
  8. Food insecurity in Central America has been worsened by severe droughts. For the past year, there has been a severe drought in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. 290,322 families in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were affected by the 2018 drought. $37 million worth of corn was destroyed in El Salvador alone due to lack of rain.
  9. The Central American drought was caused by the effects of the 2015-16 El Niño Event and by the results of global climate change. After the drought, about 3.6 million people required food-related aid. 50-90 percent of the region’s agricultural production was destroyed.
  10. After the 2014-15 droughts and the following spike in food insecurity, the Central American Dry Corridor received an influx of humanitarian aid. Efforts were made to conserve soil, more closely track data about nutrition and hunger and better prepare for future droughts. In the midst of the 2018 drought, data collection was prioritized in order to maintain stable food prices, combat food insecurity within particularly vulnerable populations and relocate rural families away from the regions most severely affected by the drought.

Central America, a region already affected by poverty, reached the brink of crisis after nearly 5 years of severe droughts. By 2018, food insecurity in Central America had spread throughout the countries of the Dry Corridor. But regional governments, with the assistance of relief agencies, implemented agriculture-based solutions to ensure that future droughts would not have the same disastrous consequences. These innovative solutions pave the way for a more secure future in Central America.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr