By Anne Edgerton
Disaster Management Team Leader
Guatemala is a cool, mountainous country with one of the largest — if not the largest capital cities in Central America. Yet, as I traveled to one of the rural areas where ChildFund has worked for many years, it is more than anything else a trip back in time. Once you leave behind the Pan-American Highway, there are fewer vehicles as you reach these higher mountainous destinations.
Despite our steep ascent into Huehuetenango, a municipality where ChildFund has worked for many years, we actually still looked up to a peak known locally as “El Mirador,” the highest point in Guatemala. The climate in these areas is gentle, even at such high altitudes, but eking out an existence from farming is tough work. The sparse rains over the past few years have not helped matters, and crops tend to be mostly subsistence — beans and high-altitude corn.
Many of the children lucky enough to go to school must walk huge distances, sometimes all downhill one way, all uphill on the return. Government health clinics make the rounds to a central village only one day per month. We are currently working with ChildFund Guatemala staff, local partner Nueva Esperanza, international partner International Medical Corps and children and youth themselves to discover the issues they are most concerned about.
Initial learnings from both adults and youth reveal that the lack of activities and opportunities weighs most on their minds. These factors, combined with violence in their homes and hopelessness, seem to be some of the influences driving youth into gang activity. Focus group and interview work with these children has revealed that younger teenagers have many unaddressed problems that are likely direct contributors to their engagement in violence and conflict in their teen years and beyond.
ChildFund is working with its partners and the children to address these issues through programming requested by the children themselves. We are attempting to address some of the violence issues through the formation of groups, activities and places to play.
Children are suggesting to our researchers that they would like to see and contribute to the education of their parents on how to raise children. They also want more talking groups. Our interviews were the first time for many to talk with adults about these issues, and they expressed a strong desire for more sharing opportunities, combined with education, counseling and advice-giving. Girls in particular asked for girl-only talking groups, where they could share experiences and give each other advice.
We are working now to create more opportunities for expression among Guatemala’s children.
For more information about our work in Guatemala, click here.
More on Guatemala
Population: 12.7 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: Nearly 250,000 children and families
Did You Know?: More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. The peace accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages.
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