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Central American Refugee Crisis
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, commonly referred to as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), have seen drastic increases in the numbers of migrants fleeing to nearby nations, creating the present Central American refugee crisis. Since 2012, pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico have reached 109,800.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), large-scale violence, poverty and unemployment motivate men, women and children to flee. Classifying the increase as a ‘protection crisis,’ the UNHCR recently stated that it is “particularly concerned about the rising numbers of unaccompanied children and women on the run who face forced recruitment into criminal gangs, sexual- and gender-based violence and murder.”

In a study conducted by the UNHCR, 64 percent of the women interviewed included direct threats and attacks by members of criminal armed groups as a primary reason for their flight. These attacks corresponded with increased violence against women and minimal police protection.

In an attempt to escape the violence, Central American refugees and asylum seekers most often flee to the north. Mexico experienced a 164 percent increase in asylum seekers between 2013 and 2015. Currently, the majority of Mexico’s 3,448 refugees arrived from Central America.

Mexico accepts less than one percent of NTCA child refugees, despite their escape from violence. In 2015 alone, Mexico apprehended more than 35,000 Central American migrant children, a 55 percent increase from the year before.

The Human Rights Watch determined that authorities in Mexico often complicate processes of seeking asylum, forcing thousands of children to return home.

To further complicate the NTCA refugee’s plight, women who flee often face heightened risks. High smuggling fees, rape and extortion threaten women throughout their journey, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Despite these obstacles, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing NTCA countries reached the U.S. in 2014. An additional 66,000 NTCA families entered the U.S. in the same year.

Data from 2015 shows the U.S. continuing to be the main country receiving asylum applications from Central America, registering almost twice the number in 2014.

In response to the Central American refugee crisis, the UNHCR has been working with governments and civil society partners in the region to develop heightened refugee screening capacities. They are also aiming to build stronger assistance programs for asylum seekers, including greater reception capacity in neighboring countries.

Asylum Access, an international organization that works with local governments and the UN, helps refugees assert their rights in first countries of refuge. Asylum Access has operated in Ecuador since 2007 and expanded to Panama and Mexico in 2015.

Asylum Access provides Latin American refugees with legal assistance, community legal empowerment and advocates against deportation and arrest. Through establishing the Hospitality Route initiative, Asylum Access Mexico helps refugees from Central America avoid detention, deportation and arrest by providing access to safety and rights.

The UNHCR and Asylum Access are leaders in Central American refugee assistance and resource provision. With programs and policies that provide desperately needed and powerful aid, the Central American refugee crisis and its dangers will hopefully lessen.

Anna O’Toole

Photo: UNHCR

Sex Education in Guatemala
Guatemala has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America. By age 20, 54 to 68 percent of indigenous or uneducated women have married or become pregnant.

This number is raised by a high rate of sexual abuse that boys and girls suffer: 10,000 cases are reported every year. One of the many reasons these statistics are so alarmingly high is a lack of comprehensive sex education in Guatemala. In 2012, only two percent of schools had effective programs; but fortunately, many advocates have worked to counteract these dismal statistics over the past few years.

Comprehensive sex education is incredibly beneficial to children of all genders. The National Survey of Family Growth discovered that pregnancy rates for 15 to 19 year olds are 50 percent lower for teens who receive comprehensive sex education than for teenagers who received less education.

Guatemalan children need to be taught about contraceptives, STIs, HIV, pregnancy and especially consent. Programs should emphasize the goals of improved gender equality as well as increasing male involvement in family planning. These alterations would allow teenagers to have more control over their reproductive health as well as counteract the dangerous culture of violence and rape.

Fortunately, new legislation has paved the way for improvement. The 2010 Preventing through Education Act calls for comprehensive sex education in Guatemala and increases teenage access to sexual health services.

Sex educator Ana Lucía Ramazzini insists that “sex education cannot be successful in Guatemala without being taught from a feminist viewpoint that addresses consent, assault and the power dynamics and social inequalities between men and women.” Two other laws have been similarly positive — hospitals are now required to report pregnancies for girls under 14, and the marrying age with parental consent has been raised from 14 to 16.

Three years after the Prevention through Education Act, a program with gender equality views was incorporated into nine regions. After the 2010 law passed in Guatemala, the rate of teen pregnancy decreased from 90 births per 1000 women ages 15-19 to 81 births in 2014. While the statistic is not overtly dramatic, the steady decline does indeed bode well for the future.

Ten Guatemalan organizations and a handful of international organizations continue to transform sex education from bill to reality. UNAIDS works to educate people about HIV and decrease the stigma surrounding the condition for the 65,000 people in Guatemala who live with the disease and require treatment. Two Guatemalan organizations in particular, Asociacion Pro-Bienestar de la Familia de Guatemala (APROFAM) and Incide Joven, have done exceptional work in this field.

APROFAM is a family planning organization that serves Guatemala with 27 permanent clinics, five mobile facilities and a large number of community distributors. Their clinics and workshops provide education for both men and women about the effectiveness of contraceptives and family planning services. Using media from comic strips and television shows, they educate the public on both sexual health as well as issues of consent and abuse.

Incide Joven is a similar organization, but its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is entirely youth run. Like APROFAM, Incide Joven is dedicated to making sex education available for teenagers. Their advocacy was very successful in creating the valuable Gender and Cultural Diversity office as part of the Ministry of Education to oversee new sex education. APROFAM and Incide Joben share sex educator Ana Ramazzini’s ideology by encouraging both genders to take an active role in family planning.

With such high rates of abuse and teenage pregnancy, sex education in Guatemala is a tough job; fortunately though, children are growing more aware of their rights and the risks of young sex. A 10-year-old listing off information about HIV at a UNAIDS event said that, “[children] are very young for sex. Ah! And that our body is only ours and no one can touch it.”

The emphasis on consent in sex education in Guatemala not only builds a better informed public, it also is a large step in the right direction for female empowerment and youth rights.

Jeanette Burke

Photo: Bustle

 TEDx Talk Challenges Perceptions About Aid

In April, Anna Hagemann Rise gave a global poverty TEDx talk at the Stockholm School of Economics (TEDxSSE) entitled “Why we need a rethink in the fight against global poverty.” Her lecture focused on “trade versus aid” and the complexity of sustainably solving global poverty.

Rise begins her talk by posing a simple question about global poverty relief: “Who’s not in favor?” No hands go up. Of course no one is going to say they are against helping the impoverished. However, this speaker has a unique challenge for her audience.

Rise has a diverse academic background in international politics, communication and peace and conflict resolution. She has worked for the UN in various positions both in the U. S. and in Denmark, her home country. Her recent work has included communications, media, marketing and field work with the Swedish fruit smoothie company Froosh. She is currently its Group Communication & Public Affairs Director.

Rise admitted in her talk that her thinking about aid was initially “institutionalized” by her education. She perceived that trading with developing countries was exploitation, and that giving aid was always a helpful poverty solution.

As she traveled with Froosh and worked on the farms in developing countries where the company buys its produce, Rise saw the value in supporting farmers through trade. She realized that buying from developing countries was a sustainable way to fight poverty. In fact, she believes that this is the best way to fight global poverty.

In her global poverty TEDx talk, Rise passionately recounted how influential the fruit farms that she visits are in their own communities. For example, Guatemalan fruit farms invest in schools, local businesses and even housing in order to give back to their communities. Rise saw the value in the long-term investments that these farms were making to develop their communities.

Rise believes that the key to solving poverty is this type of long-term thinking that creates more sustainable solutions. According to her, the private and public sectors must work together to accomplish this. As she expressed in her talk and an interview, sustainable solutions require involvement and cooperation from both sectors.

Unfortunately, a vast number of trade barriers and bureaucratic procedures still exist that impair developing countries from trading with the rest of the world. The media can also negatively impact trade in developing countries since popular sentiments are not always open to some of these nations.

As Rise put it in her talk, “We need to be open and honest about how the conditions and how the reality is for these people.” For example, aid can sometimes harm developing nations despite good intentions. Leaders can misuse aid money and NGOs sometimes fail to provide long-term solutions for developing communities.

For this reason, Rise encouraged her audience to think critically about where aid money goes and how it works in developing communities. Educated consumerism is a “trendy” way to support good causes. But in her opinion, labels are simply advertising techniques for corporations to connect with conscious consumers.

So although buying from developing countries is good, it is important to keep questioning and challenging the system. “All aid is not bad. Of course. All trade is not good. No, of course not. All labels are not bad, either.”

Since global poverty is not a cut-and-dry issue, Rise’s advice to challenge the simple answers proves valuable for everyone concerned with helping to solve world poverty. “The world is not black and white. It’s actually very colorful.”

Rise’s global poverty TEDx talk encourages people to use the knowledge and inquisitiveness of this colorful world to improve conditions for all humans everywhere.

“Who’s not in favor?”

–Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr

Social Entrepreneur CorpsFounded by Greg Van Kirk, the Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) diagnoses needs and implements innovations that help marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable families build a better life for themselves.

The volunteers and employees of the SEC play an important role in creating impactful social innovation. They can “gain the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become the high impact leaders and social entrepreneurs of the future.” In addition, the SEC has been “leading innovative and dynamic impact immersion programs for 10 years and over 1,000 participants have joined [their] diverse programs.”

The organization utilizes well-structured programs where participants are mentored by field leaders, who are experienced development professionals.

One of the SEC’s initiatives includes a needs and feasibility analysis, in which participants perform research through observations, surveys and informal conversations in order to analyze needs of impoverished communities.

Another is an innovative-design initiative, in which participants use their research to develop and give consultations to local community members on ways to improve their state of poverty.

As one SEC participant states, “from giving presentations in Spanish to local organizations to going on campaigns in rural regions, every activity gave me the chance and the courage to step out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries as far as I could.”

Communities in Latin America, for example, are reaping the benefits. The Jutiapa region in Guatemala had a successful village campaign which benefited women entrepreneurs in the region. In one day, participants “served over 150 people and helped the women to sell 69 pairs of glasses, 35 eye drops, 30 packets of vegetable seeds, 8 solar lamps/cell phone chargers and one water purification bucket.”

The female entrepreneurs earned nearly $240 in net profits, which is the equivalent of over two months’ wages for the average rural Guatemalan.

The Social Entrepreneur Corps has played an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty in Latin American countries. The organization’s efforts continue to inspire families and communities.

Vanessa Awanyo

Guatemala Street ChildrenIt is estimated that there are between 1,500 and 5,000 street children in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Approximately 65 percent of these children are between the ages of 10 and 17 — and around 30 percent are girls.

Street children are those for whom the street has become their real home — a situation in which there is no protection, supervision or direction from responsible adults. Consequently, most of these children live and sleep on the street, with some taking refuge in parks or under stairs.

Children living on the streets migrate from rural areas of Guatemala or from Honduras or El Salvador. This migration is caused by the extreme poverty in Guatemala, which is both widespread and severe. According to the World Bank, “approximately 75 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line, which is defined as an income that is insufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods and services.”

The main sources of income for these children are usually activities such as robbery, begging and prostitution. Specialist Irving Epstein indicated that “many children inhale the fumes of shoe glue or paint thinner, often their only avenue to escape hunger, pain and hopelessness.”

Due to the lack of access to any educational institution, these children are more likely to choose violent pathways and tend to join street gangs. In 2005, approximately 10,000 Guatemalan children were members of street gangs.

Unfortunately, joining these street gangs comes at a price. According to Epstein, “violence between street gangs is common and is often used as an excuse by the national police and private security guards to harass and beat street children.”

Additionally, condom use is irregular and the pregnancy rate among the girls is high. This is unfortunate for many reasons, but largely because these girls hardly have what they need to take care of themselves and do not have the capacity to raise a child.

The social panorama in which street children find themselves living reflects the widespread poverty and severe inequality existing in Guatemala. Yet the plight of street children is hardly uncommon amongst developing countries.

However, several governmental and nongovernmental organizations have become active in Guatemala City since 2003. With his wife, former president Alvaro Arzu opened a center that provides both traditional humanitarian aid, such as food, shelter and clothing, and long-term sustainable aid, such as health services and education, to the homeless.

Casa Alianza is another agency working in Guatemala City that has provided several services for street children. It promotes residential and outreach programs, legal aid, drug rehabilitation and other vital services.

Children living in the streets of Guatemala are the most vulnerable to major social issues. Nonetheless, these initiatives are fighting to ensure a better life for these children, and hopefully in the coming years, Guatemala may see fewer children living alone and in destitution.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: World Bank, Google Books
Photo: Hansen Photo

dollar bill
Could you live on a single dollar or less a day? That is what four college students set out to test for two months in rural Guatemala in 2010.

As part of their venture, they filmed their time in Guatemala and then released a documentary entitled “Living On One Dollar” that depicts their struggle living in poverty. The project was pioneered by Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci and co-produced by Ryan Christoffersen and Sean Leonard.

The film won Best Documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival and received endorsements from Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and the Director of the Hunger Games, Gary Ross.

In the documentary, the four allotted $1 a day per person and combined their entire budget into a single pool. Then they divided the total into smaller amounts ranging from zero to nine that would then be randomly selected as the amount of money they would receive each day.

This meant that some days they could earn $6 to spend on food, investing or saving, but it also meant some days they would be left with nothing. Throughout the movie, the four experienced intense hunger and parasites, but also found a connection with their Guatemalan neighbors.

The project has been inspirational to others. Live Below the Line is an annual fundraiser where people spend only $1.50 on food and drink for a day. In 2015, it raised close to $480,000 for poverty alleviation programs in Peña Blanca and the surrounding villages.

In total, this year Live Below the Line has raised nearly $3 million for anti-poverty projects across the world, according to the group’s website.

Living On One, a non-profit directly linked to the film, accepts donations to help raise awareness about extreme poverty through distribution of the documentary.

In addition, the organization created a new video series and curriculum resources about issues of global poverty and to build an online platform to allow people to participate in the fight against extreme poverty through partner organizations.

Still the question remains, what does it mean for people to live consistently on a dollar a day? While $1 in America buys much less than the same amount in Guatemala, due to relative buying power and costs of living, a dollar a day is not nearly enough in Guatemala to acquire an adequate standard of living.

For example, even though the first six years of public schooling in Guatemala are free and mandatory, many families cannot afford the cost of supplies and transportation required for children to attend school.

Even if they could, many families need their children to stay home to work to provide an income. As a result, only three in ten children actually make it through the sixth grade.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: IMDB, Global Education Fund, Global Envision, Living On One, Huffington Post
Photo: DORIGAMIFLOWER

Guatemalan Drought Creates Food Emergency
Over the last three years, Guatemala has experienced a drought that has taken a hungry nation and made conditions even more severe.

Before the drought, the nation experienced some of the highest levels of “inequality, poverty, chronic malnutrition and mother child mortality in the region.” Almost 50 percent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic undernutrition; that is the highest number in their region and fourth highest in the world.

The drought has now taken what little bit of food supply the region can supply on their own and caused the crops to be stunted or not grow. Also, any food reserves have been depleted. Nearly one million hungry people are growing even hungrier with the drought.

The food emergency was an issue last year as well. On August 26, 2014, a state of emergency was declared in Guatemala after a particularly brutal drought was affecting the nation. The state of emergency was issued in 16 of the 22 provinces and at that time was affecting 236,000 families.

Currently, much of the nation’s population is relying on the government and U.N. handouts to feed their families.

Part of the reason that the drought is so devastating is the lack of improvements to the water infrastructure. The inefficiencies in collecting, storing and then irrigating the rainwater that does come expounds the problems that are associated with the drought.

Organizations are working to help those suffering most from the ravaging drought. The World Food Programme has created programs “geared towards reducing food insecurity, improving the nutritional status of mothers and children under 5 and living conditions of vulnerable groups by increasing agricultural productivity and farmer’s marketing practices.”

They cite two main programs they are conducting in Guatemala:

  1. Country Programme: 45,500 people will be given supplementary food in order to combat the chronic undernutrition, 12,000 subsistence farmers will be assisted and the program will help 3,000 farmers gain access to markets.
  2. Purchase for Progress: This program is working to link a much broader base of farmers and markets together. Also, guidance on best farming practices will be given to help grain quantity and quality.

While these programs may not directly stop the widespread hunger, it is putting food in the mouths of many who need it and creating an infrastructure to ensure that severe food shortages do not happen in the future.

They are also not the only programs that the World Food Programme is working on in Guatemala. There are long-term plans to help the country through future droughts and streamline food voucher distribution to help those hungry right now.

Guatemala has a long way to go. During this drought so many people are suffering from worsening hunger. Unfortunately, this is not a new revelation or situation. The first area that has been addressed is the immediate need to feed the hungry.

But long-term action needs to be enacted. Thankfully, the Guatemalan government understands this and the World Food Programme has programs in place. Hopefully in the future, a drought will not cause such widespread hunger again.

Megan Ivy

Sources: Guatemala: WFP Country Brief, NBC, Trust, WFP
Photo: Flickr

Guatemala-Trying-to-Decrease-Child-Marriage
Guatemala has one of the highest rates of child marriages, with over 30 percent of girls getting married by age 18 and 7 percent of girls getting married by age 15. It is also one of the only countries in which the rate of childbirths to girls under the age of 15 rose from 1990 to 2011.

In Guatemala, it is legal for girls to marry at age 14 as long as they have parental consent. However, many girls younger than 14 are forced to marry, resulting in early childbirth. In the village of Almolonga, a 13 year old’s childbirth caused a national scandal because her wedding—which took place when she was only 12—had been officiated by the mayor of the village.

Marriage at such a young age results in many complications because the girls’ bodies are not ready for childbirth. As the Council on Foreign Relations states, one of the most common problems girls face is an obstetric fistula, which can lead to chronic incontinence. Maternal mortality is also extremely prevalent, and childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 to 19 in low to middle income countries. In addition, babies born to younger mothers are more likely to die at a young age because they tend to have higher risks of malnutrition and weaker immune systems.

Child marriage is also problematic because many girls are forced to rely on their spouses economically. Therefore, even if they are trapped in an abusive relationship, many girls are not able to leave their husbands. Also, many of those who enter into child marriages drop out of school once they are married, and therefore do not have the education to get a job, which would allow them to support themselves.

Child marriage has been prevalent for a long time, and in Guatemala it is rooted in indigenous cultures and a patriarchal idea that states that women are normally confined to housekeeping and childbirth. However, this idea is slowly changing. At Wings, a nonprofit that works for family planning and reporductive health in Guatemala, director Shilpa Kothari states that ‘at the local level, parents, teachers, and even young women are saying that 14 is a bit too young to become pregnant’.

There is also a societal movement for child marriages to be counted and no longer regarded as normal. Organizations like The Reproductive Health Observatory in Guatemala (OSAR) have helped to enforce that the government trains state employees to identify child mothers. In 2014, there were 5,119 documented cases of mothers under the age of 15.

This identification of child mothers has led to more criminal complaints being filed, since child mothers are rape victims in the eyes of the law. In 2013, 608 formal criminal complaints were filed, and in 2014, 921 were filed.

There is still a stigma surrounding rape, which has led to few of these criminal complaints resulting in convictions. Moreover, many girls are scared to testify because they rely on their husbands for economic dependence.

The Guatemalan congress is sitting on a bill that will change the legal marriage age to 16, but whether this bill will pass is debatable.

Guatemala is making strides regarding child marriage, but it still has a ways to go. Luckily, there is work being done through the UN that will help Guatemala reduce its rate of child marriage. In 2013, the HRC adopted its first resolution on child, early and forced marriage, recognizing them as human rights violations. This resolution was co-sponsored by over 100 countries, including Guatemala, and aims to help define the development agenda for after 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals expire.

There are steps being taken to help reduce child marriages—changing patriarchal ideas on the local level, helping to encourage the reporting of childbirths and enforcing that child, early and forced marriages are human rights violations—but there is still room for improvement. As Dr. Montenegro of OSAR states, even if the law changes regarding child marriages, this change in law has to be accompanied by public policies that will empower girls and help them have a plan for their lives.

There are many organizations one can donate to which work to empower girls and reduce child marriages. Some of the organizations that work directly with residents of Guatemala are the Population Council, which works to connect girls with mentors and support, and the Fundación Nueva Esperanza, which gives girls scholarships to attend school.

— Ashrita Rau

Sources: The New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations, Girls Not Brides, Girls Not Brides, MSN, UN Popluation Fund,
PBS
Photo: Girls Not Brides

child-malnutrition
Guatemala has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth highest in the world. Half of all children under five are considered severely malnourished. Malnutrition is highest among the indigenous population and nearly two-thirds of indigenous children do not get enough to eat. In some of the poorest villages that number rises to 90 percent.

This is significantly higher than nearby Honduras and Nicaragua, both of which are significantly poorer than Guatemala. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the average Guatemalan earns four times more than the average Haitian, but Guatemala’s childhood malnutrition rates are twice as high as Haiti’s.

The reason child malnutrition rates are so high is largely the result of high levels of income inequality, some of the greatest in the world. Another primary factor is  neglect toward indigenous communities on the part of the central government.

In recent years the situation has become worse due to a prolonged drought in many parts of the country resulting in lower crop outputs. This has led to food shortages and higher prices for those who are already too poor to put enough food on their tables.

Child malnutrition is both the result of and a primary cause of extreme poverty, it creates a sort of poverty trap. When children grow up malnourished, their education suffers and they are more likely to drop out of school and have trouble finding employment. They are also more likely to suffer from psychological and physical health defects.

Studies show that high levels of child malnutrition have stunted the growth of Guatemala’s indigenous population. Indigenous Guatemalans are on average several inches shorter than indigenous people in southern Mexico who belong to the same indigenous group and share similar physical and genetic features. The difference is that Mexico has much lower levels of malnutrition.

Due to low rates of tax collection and entrenched corruption, it has been difficult for the Guatemalan government to come up with the resources to tackle the problem. But it has begun to address it and work towards a solution.

Partnering with foreign donors, the Guatemalan government has instituted a program aimed at providing food supplements to some of the country’s poorest villages. The EU has provided 186 million euros (about $200 million) in development aid to Guatemala. Progress is being made and several villages are benefitting, but corruption is hampering the program. Many Guatemalans accuse the government of embezzling much of the money for personal use.

USAID is funding farming cooperatives aimed at boosting income and food security. Several villages that have benefitted from the programs report better crop yields, higher levels of income and reduced levels of malnutrition.

But despite these important victories, there is still a long way to go. Most villages continue to struggle and have yet to benefit from any assistance. But progress is being made and things are moving in the right direction.

Matt Lesso

Sources: DW, The Economist, USAID
Photo: Flickr

poverty in guatemala
In the rural areas of Guatemala, poverty is both widespread and deeply entrenched. A recent study by The World Bank found that 58 percent of the Guatemalan population live on incomes below the extreme poverty line, which is defined as the amount needed to purchase a basic basket of food.

A new solution to address poverty in Guatemala has emerged in the form of bracelets and necklaces. Entrepreneur Maria Pacheco is providing a sustained source of income to over 2,000 Guatemalans with these simple fashion accessories.

Growing up in Guatemala City, Pacheco was exposed to the poverty, devastation and desperation in her native country. Pacheco yearned to improve the quality of life in her homeland through organic and native farming, which “protects and gives life and is a sustainable way to produce food.” In Guatemala, agriculture accounts for a fifth of GDP and employs about 40 percent of the country’s total labor force.

But when Pacheco set out with her biological agriculture degree to help her native people, she found that the farmers’ parched and sloping hillsides were inarable and, more importantly, not profitable. This lack of income is not uncommon in rural areas of the country, as Guatemala’s income distribution is the most unequal in the world. While the wealthiest 10 percent of the population owns nearly 50 percent of the national wealth, the poorest 10 percent owns less than 1 percent.

“Poverty is a cycle that starts with an unequal distribution of income generated between the rural and urban areas of underdeveloped countries,” said Pacheco. In these weak rural economies, education is unattainable and people cannot provide even the basic necessities for their families.

Pacheco realized that the only way to break this poverty cycle was to bring commerce to the remote Guatemalans. With this in mind, Pacheco pioneered a commerce-driven program that primarily focuses on economically empowering the women residing in rural areas of Guatemala.

“Women are a very powerful force of change, if given the opportunities,” Pacheco said, adding that “most women will typically invest 80 to 90 percent of their income in improving their children’s nutrition, health and education.” Guatemala has one of the biggest gender gaps in the world and women have limited access to jobs and schooling.

The road to prosperity begins with training through Pacheco’s sister organization, Communities of the Earth, a business incubator that targets women throughout Guatemala and teaches them how to make bracelets and necklaces. These women collaborate in small groups called “value chains” which are comprised of more than 300 individuals to craft products. The products are then sent to Kiej de Los Bosques, Pacheco’s social company which bridges the gap between local weavers and artisans in rural communities and urban markets. The women receive a monthly stipend based upon the amount they produce per order, which provides a sustained income.

“With Queta Rodriquez, my business partner, we realized it was hard to sell products to just Guatemalan communities. So we decided to start an umbrella brand that would sell an assortment of handicraft products in international markets,” said Pacheco.

This “lifestyle” brand is known as Wakami and it is currently exporting to 20 countries, being produced in 17 villages, and generating income for 450 people. According to Pacheco, the fashion accessories of the Wakami brand are meant to inspire people to “be their dream,” enjoy life and share positivity with those around them.

Wakami also partners with other social businesses or NGOs that allow women to invest in services and products that will improve the lives of themselves and their families. These include water filters, improved stoves, latrines and organic gardens.

Pacheco has observed positive changes in the rural villages thus far. “Women are now valued in their families and contribute more to decisions and investments. Also, the average weight of children has improved from eight to 30 percent and high school attendance is more than double the national rate at 92 percent,” said Pacheco.

While much progress has been made, Pacheco feels as though “this is just the beginning.” She plans to begin selling other products through the Wakami brand such as bags and scarves, and also wants to include people in rural villages from other areas of the world in the value chains.

When asked what she would ultimately like to achieve through her efforts to generate economic change, Pacheco simply said “transformation.” And, in many rural villages of Guatemala, the first steps toward transformation have already been taken.

Abby Bauer

Sources: Wakami, Kiej de Los Bosques, Encyclopedia of the Nations, Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank
Photo: ComeTogetherTrading