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