In 2013, tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children crossed the U.S. border. Most come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and are fleeing their home countries because of poverty and violence. The rising numbers of child immigrants are bringing the issue to the forefront of Washington’s political debate.

“I am personally appalled by the staggering numbers of minors — sometimes 5 and 6-year-olds — who are left with no other choice but to cross the desert by themselves,” says Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ted Menendez (D-NJ).

There is a growing movement of minors crossing the Mexico-U.S. border in Texas, and allowing themselves to be arrested. In 2013, the Office of Refugee Resettlement took in 24,668 unaccompanied minor immigrants, up from the average of 7,000 a year in the early 2000s. This sharp increase in numbers is explained by critical lawmakers as children taking advantage of U.S. policy on child immigrants from Central American countries. The policy allows such children to live with an adult in the U.S. from the time of their arrest until their court date.

Many more than the 24,668 taken in by the Office of Refugee Resettlement cross the border without notice by authorities. Still thousands more never make it to the border. As of June 2014, Mexico has deported 4,500 U.S. bound child immigrants from Honduras alone.

Poverty and violence are the two main factors driving people out of Honduras. Mario Aquino Vasquez is a security guard in Las Brisas, a neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, one of Honduras’ most violent cities. He describes the constant gang raids in the neighborhood: “If you were held at gunpoint and you didn’t give up everything you owned, they would kill you.” The dirt roads and shack-like houses of Las Brisas represent the 60 percent of Hondurans living below the poverty line.

James Nealon, nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, addresses the issue of unaccompanied minors fleeing a poverty stricken country. The issue stems from a complex system of narcotics trafficking and organized crime. In order to address the corruption, Nealon explains, the U.S. must assist Honduras in establishing democratic intuitions, in fostering respect for the rule of law and in the successful prosecution of criminals.

He confirms that it is in the U.S. interest to promote stability in Honduras. A stable Honduras means a stronger trading partner for the U.S. and fewer drugs making their way to the U.S. All of this will indirectly result in less unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey across the U.S. border. Learn more about poverty in Honduras.

— Julianne O’Connor

Sources: USA Today, World Bank, CNN, U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations 1, U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations 2
Photo: America Aljazeera

According to Vice, the “basurero”, Guatemala City’s garbage dump, is considered an official neighborhood within the city despite the humanitarian crisis it creates.

Benjamin Reeves, the author of the article, said roughly 7,000 people, including poor families, visit the site every day to look for sellable items that can potentially earn them a few extra bucks.

“Many families have been driven to the basurero by poverty brought on by the global economic crisis coupled with mismanagement on the part of the Guatemalan government,” said Reeves.

The people who live in or near the basurero are called “guajeros”. The work environment of the guajeros is often hazardous. Accidents occur frequently and the air quality makes it difficult for residents to breathe.

The most recent fire broke out in January 2014. Reeves said that the local fire department hardly put any effort in extinguishing “the inferno” that was “fueled by the chemical waste and toxic refuse” below the trash.

“Residents of the basurero complain of chronic congestion, constant headaches, and high rates of asthma and respiratory problems,” Reeves explained.

Although the basurero itself is problematic, the situation for the guajeros is not any better across the street from the mountain of trash.

The “maras”, Guatemala City’s most infamous street gangs, wield more power than NGOs within the neighborhood.

“On a good day, a guajero earns around 40 Quetzales ($5). However, the street gangs regularly extort the workers for about half of their daily earnings, often leaving them with as little as $2.50 for an entire day of back-breaking labor,” said Reeves.

Crimes such as rape, homicide, theft and child abuse are common in the basurero despite the police’s presence. Most of the time they would look the other way or hardly make any effort to maintain order and protect the residents.

While these crimes and fires continue to occur, Reeves argues that the Guatemalan media fails to report the issues related to the basurero.

Why do people live in impoverished conditions in or near Guatemala City in the first place?

According to Gretchen Kroth, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the extreme poverty and economic inequality affecting the city are due to a civil war, which started in 1960 and ended in 1996.

The conflict fought between the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) and Guatemalan government in rural locations “forced the migration of many families from the highlands of Guatemala to urban centers, including the neighborhoods adjacent to the landfill,” explained Kroth in a Counterpunch article regarding the education system of the basurero.

Kroth argues that the Guatemalan government today does little to support the poorly structured educational system around the country.

“As public schools are sparsely equipped due to limited government funding a corrupt management, private schools have been established to provide educational services in their place for those who can afford the fee”, she said. But the families of the children who live in the basurero cannot afford paying $20 to $60 a month for education expenses.

As Reeves explained, the guajeros can make up to $5 on a good day. Thus, how can people living in the basurero pay for an education when the money for it does not exist?

To alleviate poverty, more needs to be done in Guatemala apart from receiving the attention of the world, such as the government taking the goal of eliminating poverty seriously and learning how to manage the economy in an honest and transparent fashion.

Each day the government refuses to aid what Reeves calls “a humanitarian crisis”, the lives of the guajeros will continue to be threatened by the conditions in the basurero.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch, Vice
Photo: Taringa

According to a report by the journal Science, drug smuggling is linked to a rising rate of deforestation in Central America.

To ease the process of illegal drug transportation in Honduras and Guatemala, landing strips are built in remote forests. As a result, the report argues that there is a correlation between the recent increase in drug activity and the deforestation rate in these locations.

“In Honduras, the level of large-scale deforestation per year more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2011, at the same time as cocaine movements in the country also showed a significant rise,” states the BBC while covering the report published in Science.

In many cases the governments of Guatemala and Honduras have less control over the forests and people of the countries than drug dealers. Now that Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, people within the indigenous communities are too intimidated to report any activity involving drugs.

The researchers assert that declaring a “war on drugs” causes traffickers to expand their activities into rural areas, which ultimately harms indigenous communities and ecologically important forests.

“Once you start fighting them, you scatter them into more remote locales and greater areas become impacted, more people get involved and you raise their profits as they put a risk premium on their products,” said Dr. Kendra Mcsweeney, the lead author of the study.

As strange as it may sound, building illegal landing strips for drug-transporting planes in remote areas is actually a common practice. According to an InSight Crime article, the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense revealed, “92 landing strips had been decommissioned during the first six months of Enrique Pena Nieto’s presidency.”

Unlike Honduras and Guatemala, the Mexican government is more successful in shutting down illegal landing strips. However, the demand of drugs from the United States is too strong for the drug cartels to discontinue their operations. It was not long until the cartels began coming up with new ways to transport their product into the U.S.

“Planes have been modified to be able to take off on very short runways, or land on rocky terrain. Meanwhile, ultralight aircraft, which are hard to detect and can use runways less than 100 feet long, are now being increasing used for very short flights across the U.S.-Mexico border,” the article states.

Deforestation is a problem not only for Guatemala and Honduras, but also for the rest of the world because it contributes to global climate change.

Juan Campos

Sources: BBC, InSight Crime
Photo: UWW

The population of Guatemala is 14.7 million and is ranked at 131 out of 187 in the United Nations Human Development Index. Also, the Gross National Income per capita in Guatemala is $2,740 and the Gini Index of Guatemala is 53.7, making this country one of the most unequal in the entire world.

There are 36 countries in the world that account for 90 percent of growth stunting and Guatemala is one of them.  This is because the chronic undernourishment rate for Guatemalan children is 49.8 percent (about 2.5 million children,) the fourth highest in the world and the highest in the region.

Chronic undernourishment in the indigenous areas is at 69.5 percent; 53 percent of the population lives in poverty with 13 percent being in extreme poverty.  Indigenous boys, girls, and women that live in the highlands are the most vulnerable groups to impoverished living conditions.  The illiteracy rate in Guatemala is 31.1 percent in women that are 15 years of age and older, but that reaches as high as 59 percent among older indigenous women.

In the last few decades of the 20th century, Guatemala had multiple civilian and military governments which led to guerilla war.  In 1998, its government signed a peace agreement that ended the conflict with nearly one million refugees and 200,000 deceased.  Guatemala was able to get a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council in January 2012.  The country’s being in an extended drought is now met with the food insecurity and economic crisis.

The government’s unemployment and budget deficit has been increasing because of the global economic crisis reducing exports, revenue from tourism and foreign investment.  Impoverished and food-insecure families are already struggling, but the combination of all these issues together restricts these families even more.

Unfortunately, the regularly occurring natural disasters in Guatemala do not make matters better for those living in poverty.  They are prone to earthquakes, landslides, droughts, hurricanes and floods, which can severely damage the indigenous population, since they are almost completely unprotected.

Guatemala is full of social conflict right now, with NGOs and indigenous groups protesting to get equality.  They are currently trying to block off the very mines that the government sees as essential to the country’s development because the indigenous see them as a threat to their safety since there have been massacres of hundreds of natives just to get certain resources from their land.

Also, people are trying to nationalize the electricity system, since poor households are unable to pay to keep their electricity due to the rising prices employed by private companies.  Children are even being forced to assemble fireworks without any safety equipment because they cannot find any other way of making money.  The Guatemalan people are pleading with the government to raise minimum wage by 47 percent simply so they can get enough money to cover the quickly rising prices of basic goods.

All of this injustice the Guatemalan government and private corporations are committing against their own people is leading to a lot of civil unrest.  If someone wants to be safe in Guatemala, they must pay to be safe, and the only ones that can pay are the rich.  It is clearly observable in most of the tourist destinations of Guatemala that there are uniformed guards in stores, hotels, and plazas to protect the outsiders/rich insiders; that is never a good sign.

There are actually seven private security officers for every public police officer.  The non-rich Guatemalan people are unhappy and cannot protect themselves from those that are hurting them, so action needs to be taken to achieve social justice.

Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: World Food Programme, CIA, The Guardian, IOL News
Photo: The Guardian

Working through the World Health Organization (WHO), a team of scientists and programmers have created a new software that is capable of analyzing a person’s diet and determining what in their geographic area can be used to supplement nutritional deficits cheaply. The software is currently undergoing USAID-approved trials in Guatemala, with promising results.

According to the Food and Nutritional Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), malnourished children in the two studied Highlands communities of Huehuetenango and Quiche can be adequately fed for 25-50¢ US each day. The study consists of randomly selected children in the two communities between the ages of 9 and 11 months, and suggests that in addition to breastmilk, potatoes, beans, eggs, tortillas, and fortified cereal, a local powder called Chispitas would complete the children’s diet. Currently, Chispitas is only available to some communities in Guatemala.

With the average Guatemalan woman giving birth to three children, and the average Highlands household earning US$3.15 per day, even Optifood’s findings will require effort to become reality. Most families simply cannot spend 8-15 percent of their income feeding a single baby. And despite the fact that the ingredients in Chispitas can be found locally, the finished product is most available in urban areas where poverty is more severe than in the Highlands.

Whatever the practical limitations, Optifood takes a great step forward by simply identifying, in almost real time, what the nutritional problems are and the optimal, if ultimately impossible, solutions. With workshops being offered in Guatemala and a handful of other countries, to educate local aid workers in the use of the software, hard data can begin to emerge from poor areas and provide international agencies like the WHO the information it needs to assess priorities. It also gives national programs, such as Guatemala’s Zero Hunger Initiative, with a clear set of objectives to accomplish.

As one of the major criticisms of aid organizations is the uncertainty about what funding can actually accomplish, Optifood is able to provide a nutritional “before and after” comparison, elucidating the problem and demonstrating the effects of policy changes or investments.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: USAID Blog, Google Translate, CIA, INCAP, FANTA Project
Photo: Hunger and Undernutrition Blog

When people ask how to help the poor, child sponsorship often is suggested. Indeed, for a small amount of money each month, organizations allow individuals to sponsor a child and help to provide education, food, and clothing for them. In return, the sponsors get a picture of the child and quarterly or annual updates from the organization regarding their child.  It has long seemed like an easy way to make an impact. The question many people ask, however, is does it really work? One development economist decided he was going to find out.

It seemed no one had ever been interested in finding the answer despite the fact that 9 million children are sponsored worldwide and more than $5 billion dollars per year is invested in child sponsorship programs. For organizations, obviously the stakes were high. If they allowed researchers to study the effectiveness of their programs, what would they do if they came back ineffective? After several years, one organization decided to allow themselves to be studied under one condition: anonymity.

The study initially looked at individuals in Uganda, studying 809 individuals including 188 who were sponsored as children. The results from the first study were any economist’s dream. The data clearly showed large and statistically significant impacts on the educational outcomes of sponsored children. It appeared the program was actually working! To solidify the results, the study was conducted in six other countries: Uganda, Guatemala, the Philippines, India, Kenya and Bolivia. Data was obtained on 10,144 individuals and the results were consistent with the first study. 27 to 40% more sponsored children complete secondary school and 50 to 80% more complete a college education. In addition to effects on education, the study found that sponsored children were also more likely to gain meaningful employment.

As a result of the study, the sponsorship organization removed the anonymity clause. Compassion International was the organization that allowed its program to be scrutinized; the results were clear that child sponsorship works. It helps lift kids and families out of poverty and provides them with hope. For more information about child sponsorship, visit Compassion International at

– Amanda Kloeppel
Sources: Christianity Today, Compassion International


For Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, students at Claremont McKenna College studying economics and international development, the daily struggle that over a billion people living on one dollar per day face is more personal than it is for the average westerner. After a visit to Guatemala with a microfinance group, Temple began to lay the foundation for what some might call a radical experiment. Along with two filmmakers, Temple and Ingrasci set out to shine a light on global poverty in a bold way: by living it themselves.

For 56 days in the rural village of Pena Blanca, each of the four young men vowed to live on just one dollar per day. Because many people who live in such poverty must take work as it is given, the quartet paid itself random dollar amounts (often $0) each day to make the experience more realistic. The film even takes a pragmatic turn as the students investigate the powerful impact of microloans on the lives of people in the region. They do all of this while battling chronic hunger and parasitic infections.

Although the documentary, which was available on Hulu for a limited time, began as a small project with only four crew members, it eventually drew the attention of big names such as Jeff Klein, the former general manager for the L.A. Times, David Doss, the former executive producer of Anderson Cooper 360, and Mike Lange, who was the former CEO of Miremax.

Currently, the filmmakers are travelling to promote the film. Those interested in watching the film can find a screening in their area or even host one themselves via the organization’s website.

– Samantha Mauney

Source: Huffington Post
Photo: My Northwest

The U.S. Department of State recently hosted a number of government officials in a conference on nutrition and hunger in Guatemala. Attendees included representatives from USAID, the Guatemalan Health Minister, officials of the Government of Guatemala, a panel of nutrition experts, and private sector leaders.

As part of the larger Zero Hunger Pact, started by the President of Guatemala in 2012, Guatemala’s goal is to lower chronic malnutrition in children throughout the country by 10 percent by 2015.

In addition to representatives from the United States and Guatemala, members from the World Bank, the World Food Program, and other high-profile organizations appeared at the event. Participants of the event gathered to discuss and strategize on Guatemala’s implementation of the Zero Hunger Pact, which included planning the necessary next steps for the country to take to reduce malnourishment.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world as nearly half of all children in the country under five years of age suffer from chronic malnourishment; the issue is particularly bad in the Western highlands of Guatemala. U.S. government officials praised the Guatemalan government’s efforts to tackle child nutrition at the conference and also praised their efforts for sustainable results in fighting hunger.

In addition to the Zero Hunger Pact, Guatemala is also a focus area for the United State’s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future.

Christina Kindlon

Source: State Department

Earlier this week, Acting Special Representative for Global Food Security Jonathan Shrier along with the Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau for Food Security and USAID representatives met with Guatemala’s Minister of Health to discuss possible plans for fighting child malnutrition in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan president has made it a national goal to decrease the country’s rate of child malnutrition by ten percent before 2015. Other organizations that are also working to address the issue are the 1,000 Days partnership, The World Bank, The World Food Program, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Guatemala’s government has set up a Zero hunger campaign through which they hope to fight malnutrition by not only increasing food production and food security but also providing access to foods with the necessary nutrients.

Guatemala suffers from the Western Hemisphere’s most frightening rate of child malnutrition. This is an especially serious problem for a country with a population as young as Guatemala’s, nearly 37% of Guatemalans today are 14 years old or younger. USAID is also working through their own Feed The Future project to help fight malnutrition in the Guatemalan highlands. Learn more about the Feed The Future program.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: U.S. Deparment of State, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Hunger Into Health

Teenager Helps Residents of a Garbage DumpWhile most teenage girls her age are reluctant to take out the trash, Courtney Quigley is begging her parents to return to Guatemala City to help the poverty-stricken residents of a garbage dump there. In the past, Courtney has worked with Potter House, a nonprofit which helps the 11,000 people living in the garbage dump. Out of that population, 6,500 are children.

According to the Lake Zurich Patch, Courtney first fell in love with Guatemala when she was nine and her family took a trip to build playgrounds with Kids Around the World, an organization whose primary goal is to provide safe play equipment for children who find it difficult to be “just a kid.” Courtney describes the garbage dump as being 40 acres filled with trash and yet the children somehow manage to stay positive and in high spirits.

While her family has been on other mission trips, Courtney has fallen in love with Guatemala. She was able to return in 2011, meeting a family of seven who lived in a 9 x 10 shack. One of the children, a 15-year-old girl, was pregnant and Courtney decided that something needed to be done to help improve their living condition.

To help, Courtney and her friends are hosting a “Hope’s in Style” fashion show fundraiser on February 24 at the Garlands Center in Barrington, Illinois.

Although she is now living in the United States, the memory of the children in Guatemala still remains vivid in her mind.

“There is nothing here that is hopeful, but when you shake hands, hug, and talk to people, they are so full of hope, so full of faith,” Courtney said. Their determination to make the best of their situation is what inspires her to keep moving forward.

 – Pete Grapentien

Source: Lake Zurich Patch