Fighting Poverty in Guatamala with Nutrition and Education

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Fighting Poverty in Guatamala with Nutrition and EducationSafe Homes for Children is a non-profit charity dedicated to improving the safety and quality of life for children in their own homes.

We are currently working among the Mayan Indians of Guatemala who are some of the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. The income of many families is below a dollar a day. Single parent and grandparent headed-families are common in which there is virtually no income. International health groups estimate that between 50% and 70% of these indigenous people survive on less than the minimum nutritional standards. These people cannot meet their own basic needs for survival and qualify under what is considered extreme poverty: They are chronically hungry; they are unable to access health care; they do not have safe drinking water; and are unable to afford education for their children.

Jobs are normally scarce and now worse with the recession. Many men work a small plot of land on a subsistence basis. There is no social safety net for the poor in Guatemala. For most of us in the United States it’s hard to imagine a subsistence existence where you have to grow everything you eat. A bad growing season will mean hunger for you and your children, and it’s surprising how many children live on one meal a day or less - often that meal consists of only a tortilla or two. Poor nutrition is as endemic as the poverty; the two go hand-in-hand.

The educational level of the parents in these rural communities averages around one or two years of school. Most adults cannot read or write and many cannot speak Spanish. There are local primary schools in most pueblos and thanks to NGOs imitating pioneers such as Greg Mortenson (author of Three Cups of Tea) and John Wood with Room to Read, there is new construction and improvements to old buildings. But the education crisis in rural Guatemala is more complicated than a need for new buildings and that’s the focus of our programs.

As with most third-world countries, our task is multi-generational. We are initiating developmental programs aimed at improving the opportunities for these at-risk children through an orphan prevention program we can “orphans at home.” While these problems have existed for centuries and will not be alleviated in a year or two, there is a critical need for nutritional and educational intervention during the formative years of these young children. We provide meals, nutritional supplements, education classes, tutoring and student scholarships with the aim of opening doors for this next generation. We would like to move this up-and-coming generation out of the poverty trap and into the middle class.

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