Guatemala is a country rich with ancestral heritage and Indigenous peoples, but the poverty crisis has debilitated many of the citizens. Housing in Guatemala is undergoing a crisis, which has widened the housing gap to well over 1.8 million homes. With 54% of people living under the poverty line, housing access is a rarity. This also affects other major areas like sanitization, food security, finding jobs and accessing education. The main priorities of humanitarian organizations in Guatemala are housing, education and health care.
Bill McGahan is an Atlanta resident and involved community serviceman. McGahan is also the leader of an annual mission trip that takes high school students to create housing in Guatemala. The long-term commitment to building housing has also highlighted other areas of need. On the trips, students work alongside From Houses to Homes. The student volunteers spend their time holistically addressing the needs of Guatemalans, including health and education.
Housing in Guatemala is the essential building block to finding permanence and stability. Many Guatemalans live in inadequate housing, are homeless or depend on makeshift shelters built from gathered materials. Housing lessens the risk of diseases from fecal contamination, improves sanitation, strengthens physical security and provides warmth in winter months. These benefits are imperative to stabilizing external conditions and lessening poverty’s effects.
The mission trips each year incorporate the students from the very start of housing to the finishing touches. Each year the participants first raise the funds for building materials. Then the volunteers construct a house in as little as five days. At the end of the building projects, keys are handed to each family, which reflects a new reality for them. In this way, these students “don’t just build houses, they provide a home.”
A home is so much more than four walls and a roof. It is the place to help grow and nurture individuals, including a safe space for learning. Children in Guatemala face constant challenges to their education. The average Guatemalan education lasts only 3.5 years, 1.8 years for girls. Nine out of 10 schools have no books. Accordingly, the literacy rate in rural Guatemala is around 25%. Education is an investment in breaking a pattern of poverty, which is an opportunity not afforded to many Guatemalan children.
Children pulled out of school work as child laborers in agriculture. This provides short-term benefits to families in terms of income but has a high cost in the future when finding work. Contributions to local schools have long-term paybacks for children and their families. Children can further their education, secure future employment and create stable homes for themselves and future generations.
Housing in Guatemala is relevant to health as well. The goal is to solve homelessness by providing homes, not hospital beds. Access to quality health care is imperative to providing housing stability. Guatemala needs to improve its health services in order to solve its housing issue, especially since they lack effective basic health care.
Clinical care for Guatemalans is often inaccessible, particularly in rural areas with limited technology. With approximately 0.93 physicians per 1,000 people, there are extreme limitations for medical professionals to see patients. Even in getting basic nutrition training or vaccinations, Guatemalans are severely lacking necessary access. Basic health care is a priority that will be a long-term struggle, but each advancement will create higher levels of care and access for the many Guatemalans in need.
Guatemala is readjusting its approach to finding better access to housing, health care and education, all of which are important for a home. Humanitarians, like Bill McGahan, are finding solutions and implementing institutions that will uplift Guatemalans. Increased housing in Guatemala has been encouraging stability, prosperity and new outlooks on life. The country is seeing great progress in eliminating poverty, one home at a time.
– Eva Pound