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An indigenous community´s cultural celebration and famous horse race in Todos Santos, Huehuetenango

About Rural Guatemala

Guatemala is a beautiful, naturally and culturally diverse developing country. It is home to 23 different indigenous groups, each with its own beliefs, customs, traditions, language, and struggles.

Present social conditions in Guatemala are the result of a violent and oppressive history that has created great social and economic disparity among its various population groups. Current estimates place nearly 75% of the population below the poverty level and 55% below the level of extreme poverty; of these impoverished peoples, some 90% are indigenous.

Still within recent history, Guatemala has been recovering from the 36-year Internal Conflict that ended only in 1996. The people of rural Guatemala, the indigenous Mayans, remain victim to prejudice, loss of culture, and social and economic isolation.

A view of the villages from the access road on the far side of the mountain; at front, Miman Moq’lil, at back, Yalix Moq’lil, unseen to the left behind the Miman Moq’lil ridge, Nuq’witz

The Villages

The three villages in which we live and work, Miman Moq'lil (pronounced Mee-mahn Mok-leel), Yalix Moq'lil (Yah-leeshMok-leel), and Nuq'witz (Nook-weets), are Q'anjob'al (Kahn-hoe-ball) Mayan communities situated amidst the awe-inspiring beauty of the Cuchumatanes mountain range in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala.

These villages are located three hours on foot from the nearest town, Santa Eulalia. Electricity is not available here, and this distance also limits their access to education, health services, and the weekly market, which is the social and economic center of the culture. They are often disregarded by the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based on distance alone.

Our presence as Peace Corps volunteers is the first constant and reliable connection to a development organization. The villages are self-governed by elected leaders and hold frequent community meetings to discuss decisions and reach consensus.

The People

The Q'anjob'al people are family and community oriented. For generations they have lived in these mountains together and will for generations to come. The people here are self-motivated, resourceful, and hard working. They built and constantly maintain their own dirt roads, find and secure water, and build houses for their neighbors who cannot construct their own.

The communities petitioned their local health clinic for our presence, in the hope that we would be a resource for their progress. They have the desire and motivation to improve the quality of life for themselves, their community, and their children.

School children perform a traditional dance at the village's Independence Day celebration as community members watch on

The Lifestyle

Community members in the villages rely on subsistence farming for their food, firewood for cooking, and livestock tending for small dietary and monetary income. The only other source of significant income is from the seasonal migration of older family members to work the coffee harvest. Still, these are some of the poorest people in the region, and they struggle to meet the monetary demands of everyday life.

This time- and work-intensive lifestyle devalues education. The majority of children complete only third grade; many girls complete only first. At as early as seven years of age, children are expected to have the same amount of chores and responsibilities as adults. Young girls tend and care for younger siblings, cook, clean, shepherd, and carry firewood. Young boys tend to livestock, collect and carry firewood, and farm their family's land.

A typical family scene; a woman sits outside of her house with several of her 13 children

Health Issues

The lack of health services and, even more so, the extreme poverty directly affect the poor health situation of the communities. In all of Guatemala, some 80% of children suffer malnutrition; in the villages of rural Guatemala, this rate is even higher. Still more, the municipality of Santa Eulalia has the highest rate of child malnutrition in the entire country.

Another significant issue facing the members of our communities is that of maternal and infant mortality. Lack of access to health services and education, along with chronic malnutrition and many other health problems, make the rates of maternal and infant mortality in Santa Eulalia again some of the highest in the country.

The principal causes of mortality in all of Guatemala, however, are acute respiratory infection, followed by diarrheal illnesses. The origins of these mostly preventable sicknesses are poor living conditions, especially indoor air contamination from open cook fires and dirt floors, combined with a lack of healthy hygiene habits and contaminated water.

Interested school children take a break to peek and check in on Katharine and Nicholas

Why Support?

In these rural Guatemalan villages, every family is stuck in an extreme poverty trap worsened by a rapidly growing population. They lead strenuous daily lives that are further complicated by numerous health issues.

Our program focuses on capacity building that directly addresses the concerns and interests of the community. The planned projects for the communities are relatively low cost for Americans, but prohibitively expensive for these families.

The people in these three communities are humble, generous, good-humored, perseverant, and sincere. With your support, some burdens can be lessened, sicknesses prevented, and lives greatly improved.

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