Last month we set up a writing competition for children between the ages of 11 and 14 from two public schools; Las Barrancas and Chanshenel situated in the West of Guatemala. We offered incentives to the winners of the competition as well as the schools that participated. However, the main objective was to give the readers a better understanding of what life is like for many young people in Guatemala.
There is a stark reality to the lives these children lead which is common all over Guatemala. Issues such as malnutrition, lack of resources, violence and corruption hinder their development and ultimately robs them of the opportunity to leave their situation.
Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world with 49.8% of children between the ages of 0 – 5 suffering from this. The most vulnerable are from indigenous rural areas such as Las Barrancas and Chanshenel. In the case of Las Barrancas the only products grown are coffee and various herbs therefore limiting the people’s ability to lead a self-sufficient life. Added to this, the next closest town is San Juan Ostuncalco which is over 2 hours away on a windy and treacherous road that only pickups or minibusses can use. Therefore, lack of economic resources and restricted access to food and job opportunities means that the people of the town are going to suffer from malnutrition amongst other things.
For a child the first few years are the most important in their development. If a child suffers from malnutrition this could lead to short and long term problems in their growth, health and brain development. With 49.8% of children up to the ages of 5 suffering from chronic malnutrition, means the implications are very severe in Guatemala.
Those that live in poverty in Guatemala are usually entrenched into the society they are born to. Due to lack of economic resources it is very unlikely that most of the children from the two schools will receive further education after the age of 14. From a young age they know that they will be working on the farms or selling bags of fruits or other jobs similar. They are essentially born into a cycle of poverty where any jobs they might have will exploit them and prevent them from getting out of their situation.
In 2012 there was an earthquake that destroyed the school in Las Barrancas. Luckily no one was injured or killed but it meant the children did not have a place to study. The local government took back the land the school was on and said they would not do anything until after the next elections in 2015. In one decision they prevented the children from receiving any education and sentenced them to a perpetual state of poverty and exploitation.
The situation in Las Barrancas and Chanshenel are just a few examples of what many people and communities live through in Guatemala. Recent corruption scandals where the government and main institutions have been revealed to have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars make the people’s plight even worse. Many of the children are therefore born into a vicious cycle where issues such as corruption and lack of resources prevent them from leading a more dignified life.
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