Guatemala: Hungry for Education


Adam McLane, The Youth Cartel

This week I’m working with our international short-term missions partner in a small Guatemalan village perched on the side of a volcano.

On Friday, I spent the morning with a local tour guide in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua, a place that was once the capital of much of Ce tral America before an earthquake forced a resettlement to present day Guatemala City in the 18th century.

On the tour I learned that Antigua is a tourist bubble from “the real Guatemala.” Within the 10 blocks in every direction of the city’s park is relative affluence. To me, Antigua feels like the Central American version of some Western European cities. There are nice places to eat, fancy hotels, galleries, and an endless supply of small shop/outdoor markets to explore.

Within this bubble the unemployment level is low, the literacy rate is high, kids stay in school, and relatively few children experience malnourishment. If you only visited Antigua you’d get the idea that Guatemala has few problems.

You’d be wrong.

Guatemala is just behind Haiti in some measurements of poverty in Western Hemisphere. What about food security? 1.8 million of Guatemala’s 15 million people are food insecure. “Guatemala has the highest national level of chronic malnutrition (48.9 percent) in the Western Hemisphere and one of the highest in the world.” Source

How does this happen? (This is my lament!) Like poverty anywhere, the situation is full of complexities. But here’s some generalized information I’ve gleaned. First of all, there was a 36 year civil war that ended in 1996. Source So, there is an entire generation of adults who grew up amid conflict, where survival was more important than things like education or building a small business. “National data from 2004 show that less than 60% of the population aged 15 to 24 has completed at least six years of basic education, the lowest average among other eighteen Latin American countries.” Source That contributes to an inability to get a good paying job. And since a lot of impoverished people don’t have access to their own land to farm, they end up working partial seasons on other people’s farms as migrant workers for wages below the nations minimum wage of $450 per month. To make matters worse, the school year is built around old cash crop seasons, not the new ones— sugar cane and coffee. Consequently, the cycle of poverty continues on to the next generation when parents have to take their children out of school for three months to pick coffee. As one theory ascribes, “we see across all developing countries over time a strong inverse relationship between fertility and per capita income, and fertility and life expectancy.” Source

I told you this was complex. And I’ve only just scratched the surface.

So what can we do?

I believe you and I, youth workers, are part of a significant solution for long-term change in places like Guatemala.

I’m here this week helping to connect American churches to Guatemalan churches. I don’t pretend that one church is better than the other, I’m just convinced that both of our churches are stronger when we stand in partnership with one another, building the Kingdom together.

Next, things like the 30 Hour Famine provide a dual purpose. First, the Famine raises money that makes a significant difference in the lives of families in Guatemala. World Vision doesn’t just help with food security issues… They address the whole problem, helping to end the cycle of poverty and build infrastructure for things like education and agricultural development. Second, the Famine changes students perspective. It builds a connection with global issues like food security that’ll impact them for life.

Let’s get involved together. These are big, complex problems. But we serve a Great, Big God who isn’t intimidated by complexities.