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.

ESPERA

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 and COVID-19

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.

Guatemala

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.

Honduras

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.

Panama

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

What is the Northern Triangle?
If one ever wondered, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is a region comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This particular region experiences growing migration due to chronic violence, government corruption and economic setbacks. Approximately 265,000 people have migrated annually in recent years, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and estimates determined that this number would double in 2019. The Northern Triangle is one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere, with Honduras’, El Salvador’s and Guatemala’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita ranking at the bottom among Latin American countries. One can see these economic hardships as a direct consequence of decades of war and violence. Transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18) plague the Northern Triangle with criminal activity and corruption. In addition to these factors, agriculture setbacks due to unpredictable weather contribute to this large migration.

The Northern Triangle’s Plans

With increasing migration from the area, the Northern Triangle is cracking down on existing issues. To address economic instability, the region implemented the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity which increased production and ensured public safety. Even though El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras mostly fund the plan, the Northern Triangle has experienced limited economic growth since its implementation in 2014.

When considering the question, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is impossible not to mention corruption. To address growing corruption, each nation took a different route depending on what each one required. Officials addressed corruption quickly due to its setbacks on the economy. El Salvador caught and charged three previous presidents for embezzlement. Officials also created a plan to implement an international anti-corruption panel. In contrast, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing a group dedicated to prosecuting criminal groups. Together, they established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) which has lowered Guatemala’s homicide rate immensely. Meanwhile, Honduras set up a corruption-fighting committee and implemented various sweeping reforms in 2016.

The Future of the Northern Triangle

Since many migrants are seeking asylum in the United States, recent U.S. administrations have varied widely as far as how to approach this challenge. Under the current Trump presidency, the administration decided to increase border security. President Trump cut down on America’s foreign for Central America and is holding back on funding until the Northern Triangle fully addresses this migration issue. The number of refugees and migrants will continue to increase until governments implement policies that reduce corruption and insecurity. Without intervention and aid, the Northern Triangle will make little progress in solving the root cause of violence, fraud and poverty within its countries.

Srihita Adabala
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8 Facts About Migrant Caravans from Central America
Over a year has passed since the migrant caravans from Central America arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. The migrant situation is complex and continues to have great effects on the economy, U.S. international affairs and the lives of thousands of people. The issue is far from resolving and continues to require attention, so here are eight facts about Central American migrant caravans.

8 Facts About Central American Migrant Caravans

  1. Central American Migrants: The first of the eight facts about Central American migrant caravans is that the migrants are mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle, which consists of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The caravans began in Honduras and most of the migrants are Honduran but their Central American neighbors have joined them because they face similar issues of violence and poverty. These people traveled through Central America and Mexico until they reached the U.S.-Mexico border.
  2. The Largest Caravan: The biggest caravan, migrating in late 2018 and drawing international attention, started as a small grassroots social media movement in Honduras. One hundred and sixty Hondurans gathered at a bus terminal in San Pedro Sula on October 12, 2018. More and more people joined them along the route; the U.N. estimates that the group was as large as 7,000 people by the time it arrived in Tijuana.
  3. Reasons for Migration: Those who joined the caravans are migrating for a better future which they hope is waiting for them in the United States. Gang violence and persecution threatens them in their home countries; the murder rate in Honduras is 800 times higher than in the U.S. The migrants are leaving in an attempt to save their lives. In addition, there is widespread poverty in the Northern Triangle and the migrants are hoping for higher salaries and better lives for their children in the United States.
  4. Challenges on the Road: There are many hardships and health risks that the migrants face when traveling on foot, by bus or hitchhiking. The journey is arduous and results in road injuries and fatalities such as when a young Honduran man fell off a truck during the journey and passed away. Sunburn, dehydration and a continuous lack of access to clean water and sanitation are threats as well. The migrants also faced violence when crossing borders, such as when authorities used teargas. The group was dependent on local aid, such as church and civic groups or local government entities that provided food and water in the towns they passed.
  5. International Law on Asylum: International law on asylum states that anyone who enters U.S. soil or wants to enter U.S. territory to claim asylum must be able to do so and receive a chance to have a court hear their case. Because of this, the United States legally cannot ban asylum seekers according to their countries of origin or force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives are in danger. However, President Trump labeled the caravans an invasion and the U.S. responded with a zero-tolerance policy and threats to close the border. The U.S. passed the Migrant Protection Protocol in January 2019 which forces asylum seekers to wait for their court date in Mexico. Between January and December 2019 only 11 migrants out of 10,000 cases at the border received asylum, a rate of about 0.1 percent in the whole year.
  6. Changes in Caravan Numbers: There was a swell of caravans until late 2018, but patterns in migration are changing. The caravans, while safer in numbers during the journey, were not successful at gaining asylum at the border. Current migrants have been traveling in smaller groups which are harder for others to track. Those who were in original caravans are now spread out, some suffering deportation back to their original countries, others opting to stay in Mexico or waiting in Mexico for a chance to apply for asylum or for their court date in the U.S. A small subset is even living in the U.S. undocumented or after gaining asylum.
  7. Doctors Without Borders: Health issues are a pressing concern for members of the migrant caravan especially as they are living in temporary camps near the border. Many migrants suffer from injuries and illnesses that they sustained through their long journey and exposure to the element along with violence they may have encountered on the way. Aside from physical issues, the migrant community is also suffering from many mental health issues including anxiety and depression, a result of the prolonged stress of their journey and precariousness of their position. Doctors Without Borders has sent an emergency team to provide aid and treatment, collaborating with the Mexican Ministry of Health to attend to the needs of the migrants.
  8. Border Kindness: Migrant caravan members at the border are not always able to meet basic needs. However, organizations such as Border Kindness have stepped in to provide immediate needs including shelter, food, water, clothing, medication and legal aid to a population with low resources. Its work is ongoing and pivotal in protecting and providing for the especially vulnerable including women, children and the elderly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

With so much happening globally all the time, people can sometimes push important issues aside as agendas shift. These eight facts about Central American migrant caravans are a brief overview of the basic situation and the changes occurring over time. The realities of the migrant crisis at the border continue to be relevant and pressing.

– Treya Parikh
Photo: United Nations

Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

Slow fashion and traditional Guatemalan textile production
Global interest in slow fashion and Guatemalan textile production often leads to exploitation of the designs and the profits. The weavers themselves often do not receive a fair wage for their work, which is incredibly time and labor-consuming. Fortunately, recent efforts are pushing for collaborations to protect these traditions and the indigenous weavers while still sharing their extraordinary work with the world.

The Guatemalan Textile Production Tradition

Mayan mothers and grandmothers teach women in Guatemala how to work with cotton from a very young age. They learn to use a loom and to create traditional natural dyes from ingredients such as avocado, banana, lemon and cochineal, a local insect. The hand-spun cotton and loom that the indigenous women use represents the very essence of their cultural practices. The result of this process is beautiful and colorful garments, bags and accessories that tourists have long purchased as souvenirs. People often purchase the goods and mark them up for resale, leaving the artisan behind.

An awareness of concerns about exploitation and cultural appropriation, along with movements of slow fashion has led to efforts to protect, preserve and appropriately collaborate and share traditional Guatemalan textile weaving.

Slow Fashion and Traditional Guatemalan Textile Production

A short documentary called “Artisans Guatemaya” sheds light on the complexities of the relationship between the 1 million Guatemalan artisans who need to have their opportunities and rights protected as well as the perspective of fashion industry leaders.  Mutual goals may include a vision of sustainability, collaboration, preservation of culture, knowledge-sharing and a mutually profitable model of cultural tourism which makes tradition and history economically viable today.  In addressing the ethics of this dynamic, it is important to move away from cultural appropriation toward cultural appreciation. The women face poverty and need to make a living. Therefore, people should place attention on these women’s economic and social development.

Small collectives of indigenous women join forces to protect their rights. Pablo Martinez of Etnica Travel Eco Tours says there are occasions when outsiders offer the women help that is inappropriate and therefore not useful. He emphasizes the necessity of listening carefully to the needs and wishes of local, artisan women and including them in the outcome of the exchanges. Through co-creation efforts, one should not lose sight of the artistry of the women.

A New Protected Artisanal Market in Guatemala

Slow fashion and traditional Guatemalan textile production also led to a specialized and protected artisanal market in Guatemala. Ethical Fashion Guatemala protects the rights of artisans and prevents high markup resale of goods purchased and then resold. James Dillon and Kara Goebel, both from the U.S., founded Ethical Fashion Guatemala. They bring the technology platform to provide a global market to local artisans. The pair also led the battle against 64,000 Etsy sellers for copyright infringement of Guatemalan patterns. This legal action was highly effective in curbing the blatant stealing of designs.

Ethical Fashion Guatemala claims transparency. It states that Guatemalan artisans receive 80 percent of the money that people spend on textile goods on its site and that all other sites that make such claims are imitations. Customers can purchase traditionally woven goods and can also arrange to have a tourism experience and connect with the local weavers. Many local artisans create very high-quality and high-fashion handmade goods. People especially know them for purses and bags.

The Consequences of Fast Fashion in Guatemala

One side effect of fast fashion that threatens traditional practices is the occurrence of pacas. Pacas are small, second-hand clothing shops that some indigenous women run as a small business. Indigenous women chose to run these as opposed to weaving as a matter of convenience. Weaving traditional textiles is time and labor-intensive, often with a small payout. It can take weeks or a full month to weave a traditional garment.  Resale of used clothes arriving from the U.S., on the other hand, is quick and easy. There is a concern that this model could be a threat to traditional practices as fewer women will pass on the ways of dying and weaving to their daughters. Pacas are one of the primary reasons that indigenous women have stopped wearing their traditional clothing. Guatemalan factories still churn mass-produced textiles (fast fashion), known as maquilas. This type of industry is highly competitive with China and continues to boom, despite a movement for more sustainable products. Ten to 20 years ago, the spotlight revealed the labor violations in these maquilas. There are still some labor violations, but paople have been paying much less attention to these factories in recent years.

In summary of slow fashion and traditional Guatemalan textile production issues, artisans can protect their heritage and legacy, and craft in collaboration with each other and with concerned and interested outside partners. There will always remain the vulnerability of exploitation, but awareness, legal action and strong relationships can minimize these challenges.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Guatemala's Coffee Industry
Many coffee consumers do not recognize what goes into making their morning cup of joe. Coffee is one of the major crops that child workers cultivate across the globe, including Guatemala, where major U.S. companies such as Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Kirkland source their coffee beans. Guatemala is working to reverse the damage the decades-long civil war (1960 to 1996) inflicted upon its children, indigenous population and industries, but the country still needs to do a lot. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Guatemala’s Coffee Industry

  1. Guatemala is the ninth biggest coffee exporter in the world. Sharing 2.7 percent of the world’s coffee market, Guatemala is one of the largest coffee exporters in the world. Coffee, along with bananas, sugar and spices, accounts for 40 percent of all agricultural export revenue for the country. Major U.S. companies such as Starbucks, Kirkland and Dunkin Donuts source their coffee beans from Guatemala.
  2. The minimum employment age is 14. Guatemalan law prohibits children under the age of 14 from employment unless they are in extreme circumstances; however, the Guatemalan government has failed to enforce this labor law. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s human rights report in 2018, approximately 1 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are working in Guatemala. Child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry is more prevalent in rural areas where extreme poverty is more common.
  3. Children as young as 5 years old are working in hazardous conditions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s report on Guatemala’s labor condition in 2018, child coffee workers were using machetes and other tools that can pose a physical danger. Furthermore, the investigators found that child workers were also mixing and applying pesticides during their work. This is a violation of the International Labor Union’s (ILO) conventions on child labor, as it clearly puts under-aged children in work conditions that can harm their health and development.
  4. Guatemala’s child labor is linked to migrant coffee workers. Coffee harvest in Guatemala depends on a seasonal influx of migrant workers. These migrant workers come from the Guatemalan Highlands. Many migrant workers bring their wives and their children to a coffee farm. In order to increase the family income, children as young as 7 or 8 years old participate in coffee picking. Since these workers are not permanent workers, they usually do not demand year-round wages and benefits. This drives the wage down for coffee harvesters, which can limit access to food, health care, housing and education for their children.        
  5. Many coffee workers are internal migrants. The native population of Guatemala, most of whom are of Mayan descent, make up around 40 percent of the total population of the country. Many are migrant workers and they do not always speak Spanish, leaving them in a vulnerable position when negotiating labor conditions with their employers. Oftentimes, they do not receive payment for their labor, but rather buy food from the plantation owner on credit. As a result, many of these internal migrant families find themselves trapped by debt. Some plantation owners also withhold these families’ identification papers, making it extremely hard for them to leave their employers.
  6. Fluctuating coffee prices have major impacts on the poor coffee farmers and children of Guatemala. While demand for Guatemala’s coffee is increasing, many coffee farmers in Guatemala find themselves in poverty. The World Bank, in its 2019 article about Guatemala’s economy, stated that 48.8 percent of Guatemala’s population lives in poverty. When coffee prices rise, poor coffee worker families will withdraw their children from school to have them work as an extra field hand, causing an increase in child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry. When coffee prices fall, however, these families’ income decreases, which can also prevent their children from attending school.
  7. Children work under the watch of armed guards. Danwatch’s 2016 exposé documented migrant workers and their children picking coffee under the watch of armed guards. Under these kinds of conditions, it is not surprising that organizing a labor union is a major challenge for these workers. Labor union representatives of Guatemala can sometimes become the target of violence, armed attacks and even assassination. According to data from the International Trade Union Confederation, people murdered more than 53 union representatives between 2007 and 2013. 
  8. Major companies, such as Starbucks, are working with multiple certification organizations to produce ethically sourced coffee. Since 2004, Starbucks has complied with C.A.F.E (Coffee And Farmer Equity) Practices by working with organizations such as the Fair Trade U.S.A., Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and Utz. According to Conservation International’s (CI) 2018 report on the Starbucks C.A.F.E Practices from 2011 to 2015, 100 percent of the participating farms did not use children in their labor force. Furthermore, 100 percent of the participating farms ensured that children on the farm would have access to school education.
  9. The Guatemalan government has aid programs to alleviate child labor. According to the report on child labor and forced labor that the U.S. Department of Labor published in 2018, the Guatemalan government is sponsoring multiple programs that will alleviate child labor. One of these programs is the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education and Health Program (Mi Bono Seguro), which provides financial assistance to families with children as long as their children’s attendance to school is satisfactory. 
  10. Many nongovernment organizations are working to alleviate poverty for Guatemalan coffee workers. One organization, Pueblo a Pueblo, provides tools, training and support to the impoverished coffee farmers in Guatemala. One of the ways Pueblo a Pueblo does this is by teaching beekeeping to Guatemalan coffee farmers during the non-harvesting season of the year. The organization also assists Guatemalan coffee farmers impacted by the recent coffee rust epidemic. Watch this documentary for more information on Pueblo a Pueblo’s work. 

It can be easy for one to forget that a common food item, such as coffee, has a human cost in producing it. Stemming from the country’s civil war, child labor deeply links to the instability in Guatemala’s economy and government. When coffee farmers struggle to make ends meet, the danger of exploitation and violence increases for many poor coffee pickers and their children. These 10 facts about child labor in Guatemala’s coffee industry show, however, that there are many people and organizations that are working to assist children and coffee workers in Guatemala. Through financial assistance, education and training in other agricultural disciplines, a better future awaits the children of Guatemala.  

 – YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Where is the Northern Triangle?
With a long history of political and economic instability, the Northern Triangle has provided little reason for citizens to stay. Where is the Northern Triangle? This emigration haven lies in Central America and comprises of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Causes of Emigration

In short, the main emigration drivers in the NTCA involve political corruption (due to past wars and ongoing greed), economic instability (due to droughts and poor trade practices), gang violence (related to lack of educational and rehabilitation programs) and family matters (attributed to desired remittance and reunification with distant family).

The NTCA’s past, current and potential (up-for-office) political officials consistently squander the countries’ limited funds for personal advancement at the cost of its people. These authoritarian countries recently switched to democratic rule, but its leaders lack the experience and morale necessary to implement a well-running democracy. Low tax rates and lack of direction prevent subsidization of social, civil, health-related and educational programs and protection agencies vital to the NTCA’s transition to a safe, thriving region.

Since 2014, the U.S.A.’s Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has collaborated with the NTCA to fund over $315 million of specialized programs improving tax administration, youth workforce and public-private markets across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Efforts from the MCC help the 25 percent of youth who do not work or attend school in these countries. As of 2017, nearly 60 percent of youth who do work do so informally or unregulated by the government.

Crime Management, Informal Work and Gangs

Beyond educational and vocational pitfalls, these countries possess poor crime management. NTCA homicide rates have decreased since 2014, but they remain higher than the global average. The Atlantic Council reports 75 percent of NTCA citizens as doubting their judicial systems’ ability to protect them. This primarily stems from the nearly active gang violence and 95 percent of homicides that go unsolved in these countries. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, six children flee to the U.S. per every 10 homicides in the Northern Triangle. This leads to the separation of families and greater difficulty in establishing long-lasting labor practices in these countries.

Informal work is another causal factor of emigration as people search for better financial opportunities. The U.S. is such a major destination for these emigrants, it is no wonder many U.S. Americans might ask “Where is the Northern Triangle?” In fact, in the first five months of FY2019, authorities apprehended about 26,937 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) and 136,150 families at the U.S.-Mexican border, with nearly 47 percent of UACs and 49 percent of families, 25 percent of UACs and 38 percent of families and 11.5 percent of UACs and 9 percent of families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. These emigrants inadvertently create financial burdens, safety threats and attention deficits in the U.S.

UACs pose a huge threat to U.S. borders because of their use by gang members. U.S. immigration legislation, like Obama’s catch-and-release policy and the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), allow gangs to get around policies involving UACs. Gangs make about $1,500 per smuggled child in border regions that they control and oftentimes convert UACs into gang members once they settle in U.S. territory. In return, alien-driven crime and the U.S. opioid epidemic continue to implode. Furthermore, transnational government corruption with cartel commerce continues.

According to U.S. Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA), the State Department gave Congress an incomplete watch-list of criminal Northern Triangle government officials as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 required. Thus, skepticism surrounds U.S. and NTCA political ties in criminal activity. Overall, government corruption and U.S. immigration policy loopholes remain pressing obstacles to boosting the workforce and prosperity of the Northern Triangle.

US Humanitarian Efforts

Fortunately, many U.S. humanitarian efforts positively impact life in the Northern Triangle. Notably, in the Plan Columbia (PC) of 1999, the U.S. gave Columbia $10 billion for economic and anti-narcoterrorist efforts. In return, Columbia acts as a key trader with the U.S. and a facilitator of progression tactics in NTCA. Similarly, the U.S. derived the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) of 2006 that supports Northern Triangle involvement in commerce and exposure to retail chains.

The U.S. also works with the Inter-American Development Bank to fund a billion-dollar improvement strategy written by the NTCA presidents. Within this strategy, called the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, the three presidents provide strategic pillars and action plans to put outside funds to effective use. Additionally, the U.S. works with Mexican and Northern Triangle governments through the U.S.-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act to improve security at the NTCA-Mexico border.

Outside of government action, several international organizations aid in Central American projects that chip away at NTCA poverty and political issues. Action Aid largely focuses on anti-poverty efforts in the NTCA. Care International, CHF International and Center for International Private Enterprise assist the NTCA with crime reduction and community support, youth education and empowerment and educated civilian political involvement, respectively.

Assistance from humanitarian groups and relationships with American countries help NTCA leaders impose more effective government policies and citizen-focused programs. With expertise and financial aid from more developed countries, the new democratic leaders can grow with the young workforce to build a long-lasting, more-trusting culture in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In return, a reduction in emigration, the ongoing gang turmoil and behind-the-scenes narco relations can help lead to a more sustainable Northern Triangle. Increased focus on the source of NTCA emigration and continued assistance might alleviate the inquisitive question, “Where is the Northern Triangle?”

– Caroline Bell
Photo: Flickr