The poverty of the people of Guatemala is pervasive, deep, and debilitating. More than half of the country lives below the poverty line, and 25% of the country lives below the extreme poverty line, which means they earn and live on less than 2 dollars a day.
This poverty particularly affects indigenous groups and rural Guatemalans. Over 75% of rural residents live in poverty, while 80% of indigenous peoples live in poverty and 40% of these indigenous peoples live in what is considered extreme poverty. Their profound poverty leads to issues like chronic malnutrition, unsanitary living conditions, lack of access to schooling, and high rates of infant mortality.
Guatemala is also one of the most unequal countries in terms of wealth distribution. Some estimates suggest that the top 5% owns or controls 85% of the wealth in Guatemala, and Guatemala is ranked 13th in the world for income inequality.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need—openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped, and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or half-hearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so.”
— Pope St. John Paul II
While neighboring Latin American countries have illiteracy rates of around 7%, almost 20% of the population in Guatemala is completely illiterate. 50% of the population has received no more than a primary education, and has difficulty composing short sentences or doing multiplication problems. The rates of illiteracy or little schooling are even higher for indigenous Guatemalans, rural Guatemalans, and women.
Conditions in the schools that do exist are very primitive. Less than 15% of classrooms nationwide meet the minimum standards for sanitation, water access, classroom materials, and furniture, and in rural areas, 0% of classrooms meet the minimum standards. Because most families live below the poverty line, there is little money to cover any costs associated with schooling, and dropout rates are high as boys and girls leave school in order to help their families make a living.
The people of Guatemala, particularly the poor and marginalized, desperately need the opportunity that learning and education can bring.
Basic education is the primary object of any plan of development. Indeed hunger for education is no less debasing than hunger for food: an illiterate is a person with an undernourished mind. To be able to read and write, to acquire a professional formation, means to recover confidence in oneself and to discover that one can progress along with the others.”
— Pope St. Paul VI
Guatemala is racked by conflict and violence. In 2017, Guatemala ranked as the country with the 5th highest homicide rate in the world, with nearly 100 murders committed in this small country every month. Over 45% of all homicides are related to drug trafficking activity, and 60% of all Guatemalans own a firearm of some kind. Much of this violence is related to the organized criminal activities of dominant gangs that control large sections of the country.
This gang activity, usually centered around drug trafficking, but encompassing other activities like extortion, kidnapping, and money laundering, rips apart communities and preys on the weak and vulnerable. Warring gangs roam the streets of Guatemala and threaten the safety of all. Children are recruited young off the streets and brought up in the way of violence, rape, and extortion.
Imagine a very large number of babies, crying weakly and perpetually because they are hungry. 1 in 2 Guatemalan children under 5 years of age is suffering from chronic malnutrition. This means 50% of children in Guatemala are facing long-term physical consequences because they don’t have access to enough food and/or to food with the right nutrients. These consequences include:
In some parts of the country, malnutrition affects up to 90%
The mothers of Guatemala desperately need resources and education to feed their children better, especially in the precious first two years of the child’s life. In fact, in the US, the infant mortality rate (IMR) is currently 6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Contrast that number with Guatemala’s IMR of 27.8, and you begin to see why our missionaries in Guatemala, especially Fr. Maxi Charitable Derisseau, are working tirelessly on the Bethany Maternal Child Center of San Benito Lachúa.
Our team is working tirelessly to help provide support for various projects in Guatemala from providing meals to the poor, education to children, and shelter to families. At this very moment, our missionaries are helping those suffering from issues of poverty, violence, malnutrition, and many more.
Even through times of hardship and despair, our brothers and sisters in Guatemala find opportunity, happiness, and motivation to make the best out of every situation. We ask that you consider joining us in providing support and care for our brothers and sisters in Guatemala this Easter!
The influx of drug trafficking in Guatemala in recent years has surged through a country already struggling with poverty and crime and made it doubly dangerous and wretched. Not only does the drug trade account for more than 40% of homicides, it has created large groups of drug users, addicts who often start using drugs in their teens.
Each year, nearly 400 tons of cocaine is moved through Guatemala on its way to the United States. This is about 75% of the total cocaine supply that comes to the United States. As it moves through the country, dealers pay their middle men, runners, and hitmen with cocaine, fueling the problem of addiction. Drugs are sold freely on the street, and treatment centers in Guatemala City for addicted teenagers are packed tightly with patients.
Guatemala’s many sufferings are due in large part to corruption and weakness of her leaders, political, security, and military. The government has historically served more as the instrument of private citizens than as the impartial and just caretaker of the common good. The rise of organized crime and drug trafficking is due to the reluctance of the government to undertake the needed criminal reforms, and because many government officials are complicit in the work of the drug traffickers, taking bribes and gifts from their tainted money.
This corruption is widespread, at every level of governance. Guatemala’s judicial system is weak and lacks resources to enforce prosecution, her police force is made up of poorly trained and isolated officers who are often compromised by the gangs, and government and security leaders often leave positions of official power and join gangs or start their own crime syndicates.
With corruption and graft on every hand, Guatemalan citizens have no defense against the violence of the gangs and no recourse for their material needs.
“Democracy in Guatemala must be built-up as soon as possible. It is necessary that Human Rights agreements be fully complied with, i.e. an end to racism; guaranteed freedom to organize and to move within all sectors of the country. In short, it is imperative to open all fields to the multi-ethnic civil society with all its rights, to demilitarize the country and establish the basis for its development, so that it can be pulled out of today’s underdevelopment and poverty.”
— Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992
The struggle to find water dominates the lives of many Guatemalan women. Walking for hours each day to locate water, these women still end up carrying home jars of contaminated water from unprotected sources which can cause terrible illnesses, like Hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and bacterial diarrhea. According to the World Health Organization, diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people worldwide than all types of violence or war. Children are especially vulnerable to these diseases.
Only 5% of wastewater in Guatemala is treated, and sewage flows into surface water and rivers, contaminating the water sources that rural Guatemalans rely on for drinking water. More than 40% of rural Guatemalans do not have access to water in their homes.
In addition to the struggle to find clean water, many Guatemalans are affected by terrible air pollution in the urban areas and by the necessity of cooking over open air fires in the huts of the poor in rural areas—in the cities, air pollution comes from unregulated vehicles and in rural areas, smoke from cooking fires. The leading cause of premature death in Guatemala is respiratory infections or illnesses.
In a nation filled with extreme poverty, homelessness is a perennial challenge. Gang violence and destitution drive many, especially women and children, from their homes and force them to make their way on the streets.
This problem particularly affects children. Just in Guatemala City, between 1,500 and 5,000 children roam the streets alone without a home, adult protection or supervision, and without schooling. Many of these children turn to lives of crime out of desperation, or inhale the fumes of shoe glue and paint thinner to escape their pangs of hunger and hopelessness.
“The case of the displaced and of refugees in Guatemala is heartbreaking; some of them are condemned to live in exile in other countries, but the great majority live in exile in their own country. They are forced to wander from place to place, to live in ravines and inhospitable places, some not recognized as Guatemalan citizens, but all of them are condemned to poverty and hunger.”
— Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992
UNICEF estimates that there are 370,000 orphaned children in Guatemala. These precious little ones have either lost their families due to violence or sickness, or in many cases, they have been abandoned because of the difficulty of providing for another mouth in times of extreme poverty.
Some estimates suggest that one child is abandoned in Guatemala City every 4 days. Utterly vulnerable, these orphans are either left on the streets, picked up by one of the private, charitable orphanages, or sent to one of the crowded public orphanages. These public orphanages are disgracefully neglected, and staff routinely physically and sexually abuse their charges.
One infamous orphanage, the Virgen de la Asunción, became international news after 40 girls died in a fire. The orphanage was built to house 400 children, but was being used for more than 750 children.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
— Nelson Mandala
Fr. Charitable Derisseu is one of our missionaries and currently the parochial vicar for El Calvario parish in Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. He primarily ministers to the Q’eqchi-Mayan people in his region. In his words: “They lack access to health clinics, schools, electricity, and even water. Despite this, I discover happiness and joy on the faces of the people we encounter.”
He visits the different villages of the territory, more than 120 small communities, and his efforts are often supported mostly by local women:
Often [mothers and wives] go before us on our visits to the villages, and they evangelize and witness to young and old through their way of living. They are steadfast, wise troubadours of the Good News: the feminine face of God transmitting tenderness and love.”
In urban areas ravaged not just by poverty but constant violence and disease, many of our missionaries, like Father Charitable Derisseu, evangelize by walking alongside the poorest of the poor in every conceivable way, sharing the real dangers of their daily life and alleviating material burdens as much as we can.
Missionhurst is actively working in Guatemala to help support those affected by poverty, poor health care, gain violence, lack of education, and much more. With many neighborhoods suffering from poverty, hunger, marginalization, and violence, our missionaries remain actively present among the marginalized people to evangelize and be evangelized by the poorest of society.
Currently our missionaries are working hard to provide meals to those living in extreme poverty, education to the many children who need it, proper medical services to the women and infants, and labor and supplies for improvements to the main Bethany Center in Cobán. Fr. Maxi, Fr. Thomás, Fr. Felipe, and their teams are working very hard to spread love and the word of God to those we are serving in this region.
During this season of Easter, Missionhurst asks that you consider joining us in providing prayer and support for our brothers and sisters in Guatemala who are facing devastating obstacles one day at a time. Fr. Maxi, Fr. Thomás, Fr. Felipe, and their teams need our helping hands and voice in order to accomplish the following this Easter:
Prayer is the most powerful tool that any of us has because it calls forth divine aid from the Ultimate Helper. When you unite yourself with your brothers and sisters in Guatemala through fervent prayer, you ease their burdens and bring them to Christ who shows infinite compassion to the poor and oppressed.
Fasting helps us build solidarity with others who are suffering and teaches us the value of what we give up. It also helps us to pray more deeply and fervently. Unite yourself with the poor in Guatemala by experiencing the same hunger and weakness that they endure regularly. Try offering up a meal for a displaced family, or substitute a simple meal of rice and beans once a week.
Prayerfully consider making a donation to support Missionhurst’s efforts in Guatemala. Your financial support, even the smallest amount, can make a real difference in the life of a child, a mother, a family, or even a whole community in Guatemala. Your prayers, your advocacy, and your donations are all needed and appreciated.
By choosing to join in supporting our brothers and sisters in Guatemala, you can help in a variety of ways! Your donation can make a huge difference, feeding those in poverty, helping provide supplies for completion of Bethany Center construction, or providing medical services to the women and children who are in desperate need of proper care.
This will enable our missionary priests in the parishes and chapels where we work in Guatemala to provide meals to the extremely poor individuals who may not have food otherwise.
This will help cover the cost of materials and labor for our team to continue with much-needed improvements to the main Bethany Center in Cobán.
This will allow us to help with medical staff and services at the Bethany Center for Mothers and Infants in the village of San Benito Lachua, about 84 miles from Cobán.
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