Indigenous fashionFast fashion is fashion that producers make cheaply and price low to catch up with current trends. However, indigenous people are trying to change this. With their unique patterns and colorful designs, many indigenous people are using their culture and skills to allow indigenous culture to live forever, especially in the fashion world. More importantly, indigenous people are investing their skills and resources into creating sustainable fashion to combat poverty. Indigenous communities, while representing roughly 5% of the world’s population, also represent much of the world’s impoverished. Through indigenous fashion, the number of indigenous people in poverty may soon decrease.

History Behind the Pattern

Indigenous people, specifically the indigenous people of Guatemala, have a specific reason for choosing their patterns and distinctive colors. Color and design are deeply integrated into their everlasting culture and history. According to an ancient Mayan myth, the Mayan goddess Ixchel first developed this type of design, called loom weaving. People know her as the goddess of love, the moon, medicine and textile arts. Loom weavers utilize her practices to create fashionable crossbody bags. Whether they work with a company or by themselves, weavers are benefitting from the popularity of their culture’s patterns.

Weaving has henceforth become more than just a means for indigenous women to provide for their families. These women have important roles in their communities and these skills are teaching them to push for more self-reliance within themselves.

Mama Tierra

Indigenous Guatemalans are not the only ones taking advantage of this development in indigenous fashion. A nonprofit organization called Mama Tierra (which translates to “Mother Earth” in Spanish) is helping advance self-reliance in the Wayuu community through fashion. Founded in 2014, Mama Tierra assists the Wayuu community of La Guajira in several ways. It works to:

  • Make sure that women making bags (which comprise sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled bottles and pineapple leaves) receive proper pay.
  • Teach women how to make soap to keep their families healthier.
  • Provide Wayuu people with accessible solar energy and nutrition programs.
  • Promote indigenous women’s commercial activities around Colombia.

The Wayuu community greatly needs and appreciates Mama Tierra’s work. Consisting of 600,000 people, many in the Wayuu community do not have electricity or running water. Environmental changes make their land less suitable for growing food. Additionally, 50 Wayuu children younger than 5 die each month in La Guajira due to malnutrition and related causes. These families display their humanity through the bags they produce: each bag comes with a tag with a picture of the maker and their children. With the help of organizations like Mama Tierra, the Wayuu people are improving their lives and changing their futures.

Moving Forward

Indigenous women are now turning their skills and culture into something that will pay off in the long run. Apart from providing for their families, the women are making something of themselves, putting their names on something that they created. Organizations like Mama Tierra have also created trading routes for this community, displaying their artistic skills to the fashion world. By doing this, indigenous communities’ work is becoming commercialized for a broader market to see. With skillful weaving and vivid colors, the women make their own indigenous fashion and show the larger industry they are here to stay.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr

genetically modified seedsMany countries in Central and South America are home to strong agricultural economies. Since the 1990s, the growing use of genetically modified seeds has challenged traditional forms of agriculture. Companies such as DuPont, Syngenta and Bater sent these seeds to Latin America. Since this introduction, Latin American agribusiness has become largely dependent on genetically modified seeds. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are home to roughly 120 million acres of genetically modified crops. Promises of greater yields and less work fuel this upsurge. To understand the effects of genetically modified seeds and how farmers are gaining support, The Borgen Project spoke to Aimee Code, the pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Prosperity

Two key factors explain the effect of genetically modified seeds on poverty. The first is dependence. Code explains that “many GMO seeds are intrinsically linked with pesticide use.” Code explains further that pesticide dependence can be dangerous as “this traps farmers in a cycle of needing the pesticides and needing these seeds… it becomes more and more expensive and uncomfortable.”

The difference between this cycle of seed use and traditional methods is stark as genetically modified seeds require the user to buy new seeds each year rather than harvesting and using older seeds from past harvests as is traditional. Farmers are unable to reuse genetically modified seeds and plants because they do not own them; the seeds belong to the company that sells them.

Not only do crops themselves threaten farmers’ prosperity, but the system of genetically modified agriculture also fuels poverty. With the introduction of genetically modified seeds came the promotion of farm consolidation, meaning that fewer farmers are necessary. As a result of this farm consolidation, around 200,000 agricultural producers in South America “have lost their livelihoods” in the last two decades.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Health

“The amount of data is woefully inadequate on the health effects experienced by these farmers out in the fields,” shares Code on the issue of health in Latin America. However, even ordinary individuals can draw conclusions just from the nature of these practices. The link between genetically modified seeds and health is best explained by the pesticide use required for these crops.

Because farmers must store pesticides in the crops’ area, the pesticides constantly endanger people living around farms. To highlight the commonality of these exposures, Code reflects on her experience working in Honduras. She says, “A young man offered me water to drink out of an old pesticide bottle.” She explains the link to poor health by concluding that “these are exposures that shouldn’t be happening.”

Along with pesticides sprayed on crops, Code explains that “the seeds are often coated with pesticides, making the seeds themselves dangerous depending on the handling practices.” Unfortunately, many farmers cannot access ample personal protective equipment to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals.

Exposure to the seeds and pesticides is grave as long-term effects can include respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, these pesticides can result in nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and cognitive harm.

Solving the Problem

The effects of genetically modified seeds remain prominent in the lives of many Latin Americans. However, ongoing solutions aim to mitigate the effects. Code explains that the two most important ways to reduce the spread of genetically modified seeds and crops are education and regulation. As the pesticide program director for the Xerces Society, she works with farmers to implement more sustainable practices.

The Xerces Society is not the only organization working to spread awareness of the value of non-GMO crops. Civil society and social movements throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have mobilized people to protect seeds and the heritage of agricultural practices. These movements are vital for boosting confidence in traditional practices, challenging narratives created by genetically modified seed companies.

Governments from across Latin America have also stepped up to help reduce the use of these seeds. Countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador have implemented full and partial bans on genetically modified seeds. Most recently, Mexico passed legislation to ban the use of transgenic corn and phase out glyphosate by 2024. These mark positive steps as government regulation can stop the trend of high-risk genetically modified seeds that have trapped many farmers. Such legislation will protect food sovereignty and the health of farmers in Mexico.

More legislative measures and actions are required to eliminate the effects of genetically modified seeds in Latin America. However, recent years have seen immense progress in efforts to reduce the seeds’ prevalence through policy action and awareness.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

Palm plantations in GuatemalaIn the Central American nation of Guatemala, massive palm plantations have encroached upon many rural regions populated largely by indigenous people. While the palm oil companies have experienced financial success, many indigenous people have suffered under this new presence. The infringement on indigenous land rights and livelihoods calls for reform in Guatemala.

About Palm Plantations in Guatemalan Forests

Palm oil is the most widely consumed type of oil in the world and is found in 50% of all packaged products, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Palm trees grow in many tropical environments. In specific, palm plantations in Guatemala have exploded in presence and production over the past few decades. Since 2001, the amount of land covered by palm oil plantations in Guatemala has multiplied by five.

Around half of those plantations are located in the municipality of Sayaxché, which has a majority indigenous population. The plantations are taking over Guatemala’s forest area, leaving little room for the crops of subsistence farmers. Despite the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil deeming palm plantations sustainable, the activities of palm oil producers have polluted water sources used by indigenous populations. Furthermore, palm plantations are impacting people’s livelihoods as palm oil is now a dominant industry.

Impacts on Indigenous Guatemalans

Historically, indigenous people in rural Guatemala have made a living through subsistence farming and sustained themselves by consuming community-grown food. With palm oil as the dominant industry and little remaining land for farming, many subsistence farmers have to transition to working in palm plantations. Palm plantation work is arduous, requiring extremely long hours. Despite long working hours, the pay is not adequate for households to make ends meet.

Dorrian Caal, a palm oil industry worker, told Reuters that he earned 60 quetzales (about $7.80) per day working for the palm oil company Industria Chiquibul. This is below Guatemala’s minimum daily wage of 90 quetzales for the agricultural industry. Repeated complaints by both local workers and the National Council for Displaced People of Guatemala caused the company to increase wages to 91 quetzales, local farmer Jose Maria Ical told Reuters.

Given that people can no longer rely on the food and income security of their own crops, they no longer have subsistence farming to fall back on. Others in Raxruha remain unemployed due to the limited number of available job opportunities. Many people have attempted to migrate to the U.S. out of economic necessity.

Evictions and Police Violence

Some indigenous families have made claims to ancestral land and have attempted subsistence farming on land acquired by plantation companies. In October 2016, a banana plantation company evicted 80 families with the court’s support. The families resisted and the police reacted violently, shooting at indigenous farmers, burning down farmers’ homes and destroying crops. Ultimately, the families held on to their land using machetes and pesticide sprayers to defend themselves.

Indigenous Land Rights

At the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, a set of peace accords aimed to “respect indigenous community lands, resettle displaced indigenous communities, resolve land conflicts” and provide the impoverished access to land, according to analyst Doug Hertzler. However, if one considers the actions of palm plantation companies in Guatemala, it is fair to conclude that many are not fully observing these accords today. Hertzler argues that the international community provided insufficient support to uphold the promises of the accords when they underwent signing. Hertzler proposes several recommendations.

  • The Guatemalan government needs to acknowledge the land rights of indigenous people.
  • Projects “that do not have the ongoing and legitimate Free Prior and Informed Consent of
    affected indigenous peoples, as required by international law, should stop.”
  • Funding for land tenure should “prioritize community land rights” in locations where there are conflicts with companies.
  • Programs should work with indigenous communities and organizations along with the government.

Evidence from both locals and researchers suggests that palm plantations in Guatemala are harmful to the country’s indigenous communities. Altogether, the communities receive little aid. With better support and respect for indigenous rights, indigenous Guatemalans can rise out of poverty.

– Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of Pura Utz
Anna Andrés has always admired jewelry. When she traveled to Guatemala at the age of 10, she learned how she could create jewelry and volunteer to create change. In 2019, she and her partner Bernabela built the brand Pura Utz, which has been helping women sustain themselves in tough economic times. The impact of Pura Utz makes women not only look but also feel beautiful.

Pura Utz

The name Pura Utz means “pure good” in the Mayan language. Since the culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences, these details go into every handmade piece Pura Utz sells. Recently, Pura Utz has collaborated with the bag manufacturer M2Malletier. As a result, the team of artisans, designers and distributors expanded to 100 women.

The details in the Pura Utz products demonstrate the talent of the artisans. The collection features glass beads in bags, handwoven sweaters, earrings and necklaces that artisans delicately shape into an assortment of fruits like strawberries, grapes and lemons. This collection also includes ornamental features, such as handmade flowers like poppies, white nun orchids and blue cornflowers.

Empowering Women at Pura Utz

Even though dramatic changes in the Guatemalan economy are stabilizing, the gap between the wealthier and impoverished citizens is not. The yearly minimum wage in Guatemala is $2,734. However, the impact of Pura Utz is significant because women’s pay with the company is four times more than what they would make working for a corporate manufacturer. The Pura Utz website even provides consumers a breakdown of where the money goes when they purchase an item: one-third of the price goes toward the salary for the working women, one-third goes toward indirect costs like shipping and packaging materials and one-third covers the margins.

Working to empower women has always been a goal for Andrés. In an open letter to supporters, she wrote that “Many of the women in our group and here in the village do have an education, but there are no jobs for them and if there is, they are being paid very poorly.” The essential goods that families need are medicine, food, clothes, electricity and housing. Guatemala is the fifth poorest country in Latin America, making some of these essentials hard to come by. Working at Pura Utz gives these women a way to sustain their lives, through flexible working hours and an empowering community environment.

The impact of Pura Utz has been expanding since helping Bernabela and her daughter Elisa—the first people the brand empowered. Bernabela was the first official team member of Pura Utz. Her current role is as the supervisor of production. She thoroughly enjoys her work and thoroughly enjoys being a part of a company that creates change for women. Bernabela’s daughter Elisa now also works at Pura Utz as an assistant while attending college.

The Future for Women in Guatemala

Poverty brings unimaginable hardships, which makes creating change in the community so important to Andrés. Andrés labeled her brand as an empowerment project because she wanted the economic prospects for women in Guatemala to have no limits.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Guatemala
Human trafficking is a large and lucrative industry, generating approximately $31.6 billion in international markets annually. Of that $31.6 billion, about $1.3 billion, or just over 4%, is dependent on trafficking from Latin America. Of all the countries within Latin America, human trafficking has impacted Guatemala especially heavily, with an overwhelming number of victims being girls between the ages of 14 and 17. In fact, Guatemala currently ranks as a Tier 2 country according to the Trafficking in Persons 2020 report. This means that it does “not yet meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking … but [is] showing great strides to do so.” Guatemala has dealt with a number of hardships in the past decade, from massive tax fraud by a former president that reignited political instability to a low-growing economy that the COVID-19 pandemic is now challenging.

Human Trafficking in Guatemala

The lack of stability, both economic and political, creates the ideal situation for human traffickers to thrive. Economically, Guatemala falls very low on the region’s GDP chart ranking 131 among 187 countries in the world in 2016 and representing one of the lowest GDPs on the continent. This economic instability makes living in Guatemala more difficult and more dangerous. According to The World Bank, even though Guatemala’s economy has increased marginally in recent years, the hope of continued newly emerging economic stability has not translated into a decrease in poverty or inequality. The lack of legitimate opportunities present in Guatemala, which is increasing because of COVID-19, is forcing many families to consider other options.

According to Polaris, an NGO devoted to preventing human trafficking and supporting victims of trafficking, the “single biggest factor contributing to trafficking vulnerability [in Latin American cases] is migration.” Additionally, for the Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and is “one of the most violent regions in the world,” migration rates are steep. The actual number of trafficking cases is hard to measure; traffickers are transporting some victims, who are not necessarily Guatemalan, through Guatemala. With the help of the 2009 anti-sex trafficking law that the Guatemalan government passed, however, the number of investigated cases is rising. Over the past four years, over 100 prosecutions successfully convicted traffickers and Guatemala is making continued efforts every year.

Solutions

Despite all of this, a number of NGOs are doing what they can to support Latin Americans and Guatemalans. Combatting human trafficking in Guatemala starts with providing struggling families with a sense of stability and hope. Four NGOs, WingsGuate, Ninos De Guatemala, Common Hope and Safe Passage are leading the way on that front; each of them is building programs to assist their impacted communities, focusing especially on their younger and more vulnerable populations. For Guatemalan families, WingsGuate is offering reproductive health courses as well as regular appointments for cervical cancer screenings; the organization has provided over 62,000 screenings since its founding. Ninos De Guatemala, Common Hope and Safe Passage all focus on providing children with resources in the form of immediate access to food items and quality education for children.

Combined, these organizations reach more than 15,000 children and families a year, providing elementary school programs to children and high school level classes to parents. Less than 45% of Guatemalan children go above elementary level education, but 90%-95% of children participating in these programs move forward in their education. For parents, the direct impact of these education programs is a tripled income and the ability to provide more resources to their children.

By providing minors with safe spaces where they can meet their most immediate needs and their families the opportunity to increase education and employment, NGOs like these help break the cycles of abuse. All of these NGOs provide the critical foundations necessary to keep families in place, lessening their chances of migration and greatly reducing their chances of becoming victims of human trafficking.

Looking Ahead

Although Guatemala has not yet been moved from Tier 2 regarding human trafficking, it is making efforts to reduce it. As the government of Guatemala continues to pursue this goal, organizations like WingsGuate, Ninos De Guatemala, Common Hope and Safe Passage are rekindling hopes for the younger generations of Guatemala.

– Grace Parker
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Guatemala: An UpdateIn Guatemala, more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line. Families of four or more live in small one or two-room huts — if a shelter is available at all. On average, a child is abandoned every four days because families do not have the means to take care of another child. Homelessness in Guatemala often forces people to sleep under benches or in the dirt.

Street Children

Among the homeless individuals in Guatemala, 7,000 of them are children and adolescents left to survive on their own. Many street children turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, which adds to the cycle of homelessness in Guatemala. Violence directed towards street children is not uncommon. The Guatemalan police’s use of deadly violence toward these children remained unchecked until the early 2000s, but the threat of physical harm has not been yet been completely abolished.

Homelessness in Guatemala is a ripple effect that has cyclical consequences for the children of the impoverished. It is often necessary to work instead of going to school. The little income they make working often does not stretch far.

More than a quarter of the population of children in Guatemala are actively involved in child labor out of necessity. One in four children under the age of 15 is illiterate. Chronic malnutrition and hunger are a consistent part of life. Without access to proper education or nutrition, the children of the impoverished do not have the ability to move forward.

Inadequate Housing Plagues Families

Traditionally, Guatemalan culture revolves around family. Tight-knit communities are hindered by a lack of funds, nutritional food and educational opportunities. Those with shelter often live in small huts with a tin roof and dirt floors. Children, parents and grandparents often live together without running water or electricity. Diseases plague newborns and small children due to an inability to keep housing sanitary, leading to high infant death rates. Medical care is frequently nonexistent.

Cooking is done over an open fire kept inside the home, leaving the women and children breathing in smoke for hours at a time with no ventilation. Some houses are made from straw or wood, both of which are extremely flammable and pose an additional risk to families inside while food is being prepared. As a result, respiratory illness affects a large portion of the poor population and the idling soot becomes toxic for the entire family. Without running water, there is no way to properly clean the soot and, without electricity, there is no other option for families to cook food.

The Plight of the Indigenous Woman

Half of the homeless in Guatemala are indigenous women. Indigenous impoverished women not only suffer the fallout of poverty but face racism and gender-based violence.

Compared to the rest of the country, including non-indigenous Guatemalan women, indigenous women have a higher chance of having multiple unplanned children, living in poverty and being illiterate. The birth mortality rate for women of native heritage is double that of non-indigenous women, who also have a life expectancy of 13 more years compared to that of indigenous women. These women are malnourished and underpaid. The inequality trickles down to their children who face food insecurity, a lack of education and, if they are young girls, the same fear of violence and racism their mothers have endured.

Housing Aid in Guatemala

Basic human necessities are not available for many in Guatemala and haven’t been for generations. However, The Guatemala Housing Alliance is focused on providing proper shelter to families and works in tandem with other groups aiming to help education, food insecurity and sexual education for the impoverished in Guatemala.

The Guatemala Housing Alliance built 47 homes with wood-conserving stoves that eliminate the danger of open-fire cooking. It installed flooring in 138 homes that previously had dirt floors. The foundation also offers to counsel young children and has hosted workshops for women to speak openly and learn about sanitation, nutrition and their legal rights.

Even amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Guatemala Housing Alliance is still hard at work. It provided 1,340 parcels of food, and each parcel supports a family of four for two weeks. With the organization’s many goals, individuals who are homeless in Guatemala are slowly but surely being given access to a plethora of resources that can help improve their quality of life.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine Clinics in GuatemalaNew telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are providing vital resources to women and children living in remote areas with limited access to healthcare specialists. This advancement in healthcare technology increases Guatemala’s healthcare accessibility and follows a trend of a worldwide increase in telemedicine services.

Guatemala’s New Telemedicine Clinics

Guatemala’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization, launched four new telemedicine clinics in Guatemala in December 2020.

The clinics were designed to improve accessibility to doctors and specialists for citizens living in rural areas, where unstable or lengthy travel can deter patients from getting the care they need. Lack of staff is another barrier telemedicine hopes to overcome. Special attention will be given to issues of child malnutrition and maternal health.

The funding of the program was made possible through financial assistance from the Government of Sweden and the European Union. aimed at increasing healthcare access in rural areas across the world.

Guatemala’s State of Healthcare

Roughly 80% of Guatemala’s doctors are located within metropolitan areas, leaving scarce availability for those living in rural areas. Issues of nutrition and maternal healthcare are special targets for the new program due to the high rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s child malnutrition rates are some of the highest in all of Central America and disproportionately affect its indigenous communities. Throughout the country, 46.5% of children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.

Maternal death rates are high among women in Guatemala but the country has seen a slow and steady decline in maternal mortality over the last two decades. The most recently reported maternal death rate is 95 per 100,000 births.

Guatemala does have a promising antenatal care rate, with 86% of women receiving at least four antenatal care visits during their pregnancies. By increasing the access to doctors through telemedicine clinics, doctors can better diagnose issues arising during pregnancy and prepare for possible birth difficulties that could result in maternal death.

Guatemala’s COVID-19 rates have also impacted the ability of patients to seek healthcare. The threat of the virus makes it difficult for those traveling to seek medical treatment due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Trends in Worldwide Telemedicine

The world has seen a rise of telemedicine clinics as the pandemic creates safety concerns regarding in-person visits with doctors. Doctors are now reaching rural communities that previously had little opportunity to access specialized medicine. Telemedicine is an important advancement toward accessible healthcare in rural areas. While the telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are limited in numbers, they set an important example of how technology can be utilized to adapt during a health crisis and reach patients in inaccessible areas.

June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

SDG 1 in Guatemala
The United Nations put the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in motion in September 2015. World leaders put the SDGs into place to reach worldwide financial equality while protecting the world’s environment. To reach this globally beneficial achievement, the United Nations created 17 goals for every country, poor and rich, to focus on transforming the world into a healthier, safer and prosperous place. Guatemala has joined its fellow countries in the United Nations to try and meet the requirements for goals one to 17. Here is some information on what Sustainable Development Goal 1 is along with updates on SDG 1 in Guatemala.

About SDG 1

SDG 1 is for no poverty and to end poverty by 2030. While this may seem like an outrageous goal with limited hope of success, past records show that it is very possible. In fact, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty in 1990, but 25 years later in 2015, that number was less than half of what it had been. In the span of 25 years, more than a billion people are not living in extreme poverty anymore.

The outline to meet SDG 1 comprises seven targets. Some of these targets include equal rights to land, access to basic services, appropriate new technology and the implementation of programs and policies to end poverty. The point of the targets is that each one helps move countries toward no poverty through new resources, programs and equal rights.

Poverty in Guatemala

Approximately 60% of Guatemalan people live in poverty and that number is even higher for indigenous people. Additionally, more than half of Guatemala’s population living in poverty and 95% of employed people are unable to make enough money to meet their family’s basic needs.

Much of Guatemala’s poor economy is due to a civil war that left its people divided. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was in a brutal civil war involving the government’s military forces and a rebel group of indigenous Mayans. About 200,000 people lost their lives and 83% of those killed in the war were Mayan. The country eventually signed a peace accord in 1996 but the war left its people distressed. Even before the war, Mayans made up most of the rural poor and by 1996, they were in worse conditions than before.

Mayan Families

Mayan Families is an organization located in Guatemala that helps families advance through Economic Development programs. It provides opportunities like trade schools and artisan programs. The trade schools teach youth and adults new skills they can use to get jobs to have a reliable income for their families. Meanwhile, the artisan program helps women who were unable to attend school learn how to create a budget and make money from selling products involving beadwork, weaving, sewing and embroidery, playing a crucial role in reaching SDG 1 in Guatemala. In 2019, Mayan Families provided 1,500 students access to education and nutrition. Meanwhile, about 250 adults were able to gain skills and an income through the trade schools and the artisan program that Mayan Families started.

The World Bank and COVID-19

Guatemala still has significant challenges to overcome, but the U.N.’s index shows moderate progress in reaching SDG 1 of no poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to achieve SDG 1 in Guatemala because the country has been directing money towards preventing an outbreak instead. However, thanks to institutions like the World Bank, Guatemala and countries alike are receiving the financial support they need to deal with the worldwide pandemic.

The World Bank has loaned Guatemala $20 million, “to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness in the Republic of Guatemala.” Guatemala’s government has had a challenging time dealing with the pandemic due to its poor economy. This project includes indicators to show the progress in achieving this objective.

 Some of the indicator targets include 16 laboratories with COVID-19 equipment, 10 health care facilities with isolation capacity, 5,000 health staff trained in infection prevention and 22 hospitals that received equipment for COVID-19 response services. With this loan from the World Bank helping Guatemala control the coronavirus pandemic, Guatemala should be able to return its focus to the SDGs.

Guatemala is still currently off-track to reach SDG 1 according to the World Poverty Clock. However, with the loan from the World Bank and organizations like Mayan Families, Guatemala is receiving the help it needs to grow its economy and make it possible to reach SDG 1 of no poverty.

Joshua Botkin
Photo: Flickr

poverty in guatemalaThe Central American country of Guatemala, home to more than 17 million people, has an indigenous population of around 44%, primarily from the Maya ethnic group. Poverty in Guatemala tends to affect the indigenous population disproportionately. USAID estimates that 40% of indigenous people survive on less than $1.90 per day, compared to 24% of the overall population. While social and environmental problems disproportionately threaten indigenous communities, water sources are perhaps the most vitally important area under threat. Guatemala’s second-largest lake, Atitlán, sustains 15 villages. However, for many years, Lake Atitlán’s watershed has been in danger. In 2009, the Global Nature Fund named it “Threatened Lake of the Year” due to a sharp increase in pollution. Thankfully, recent advances in artificial intelligence may be able to help bring Central America’s deepest lake back from the brink. In doing so, they would also help reduce indigenous poverty in Guatemala.

Toxic Algae in Lake Atitlán

Toxic algae “blooms” have become relatively frequent in the Lake Atitlán watershed in the past decade. In 2009, Atitlán residents noticed that algal blooms had appeared in the lake. At one point it caused a shocking carpet of algae to appear over 75% of the lake’s surface.

According to the WASH Rotary Action Group, a nonprofit organization that helps indigenous lake communities access clean water and sanitation, more than 400,000 Tz’utujil, Quiche, and Kaqchikel Maya people live near Lake Atitlán. Despite the contaminants they face, they use the lake out of necessity. The algae blooms are caused by the presence of pollutants like phosphorus and E.coli from agricultural runoff and sewage. It changes the water to a green, brown or red color. More importantly, they can cause serious health problems. Fishermen and boatmen who work on the lake have reported skin rashes, while more serious long-term side effects of the bacteria include liver, kidney and brain disease. The indigenous community, whose people work overwhelmingly in the informal sector, may not be able to address these illnesses. They suffer from limited access to health care compared to non-indigenous people, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

How AI Can Save Lake Atitlán

In 2018, Africa Flores, a research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was chosen to receive the prestigious AI for Earth Grant, sponsored by Microsoft and National Geographic. This grant awards its “changemakers” $45,000 to $200,000 to help fund their pursuit of AI solutions for the environment. Prior to winning this award, Flores had been working for nearly 10 years to help environmental authorities and NGOs save Lake Atitlán. Flores’ latest endeavor will complement these efforts by developing an AI program to allow for better prediction of toxic algae.

Although artificial intelligence that predicts toxic blooms already exists, is is not available in Guatemala, according to Flores. Although the naked eye can detect algae blooms, AI makes it simpler to understand crucial data about these ecological events. Similar technology in the U.S. provides local authorities with an advanced warning about imminent events, which allows them to pinpoint when and where blooms will occur. This helps prevent contamination of the food supply and allows scientists to learn more about how to prevent harmful algae from forming in the first place. Speaking of efforts to save Lake Atitlán, Flores said, “When we identify key variables that [lead] to algae bloom formation, there is a starting point to take action.”

A Team Effort

Other nonprofit organizations, like Amigos de Atitlán and Vivamos Mejor, have been working to save Lake Atitlán for decades. La Autoridad para el Manejo Sustentable de la Cuenca del Lago de Atitlán y su Entorno (AMSCLAE) is a governmental organization responsible for lake conservation efforts. They provided Flores’ team with valuable data. This new AI project will complement governmental and NGO efforts to help the lake and its communities survive and thrive. Widespread adherence to government plans to implement wastewater treatment is necessary to preserve the watershed. These plans will also stop it from further contributing to poverty in Guatemala.

Hope for the Future

Though the AI application and its informational website are still in development, Flores said that she and her team are working hard to develop accurate prediction models that are accessible to the public. And while many see Lake Atitlán as a lost cause, it is also a well-loved jewel of southeast Guatemala. In 2012, Dr. Sativo, M.C.H.e. and Tzutu Baktun Kan wrote a song called “Lago Negro” (“Black Lake”), written in Spanish and the Maya language Tz’utujiln. The song laments Atitlán’s compromised biodiversity, but also praises the region’s beauty. It also encourages more accountability for organizations guilty of pollution. The song, like Flores, is ultimately optimistic that the lake can recover. It ends with the mantra “Ya se va a sanar”: It will be healed.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr