With a population of almost 15 million people, more than half of whom live in poverty, Guatemala faces many challenges. The effects of poverty can be felt across Guatemala, but according to the World Bank, families in rural communities in the north, northwest, and southwest endure particularly difficult conditions. Lack of access to health care, food scarcity and diminished educational opportunities are serious problems, and people belonging to indigenous ethnic groups are at significantly higher risk of living in poverty. Approximately 90 percent of indigenous people in rural Guatemala live below the poverty line.
In addition to food scarcity and a lack of access to health care, millions of families are unable to send their children to school. Financial pressures often force children to work instead of attending school, and overall literacy standards are poor. Primary school enrollment rates are at around 77 percent, and are substantially lower at higher grade levels, meaning millions of children are missing out on vital educational opportunities.
Lack of access to education and health care are not the only problems facing millions of Guatemalan families. Luis, an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy, told us that he was concerned about environmental disasters and the growing threat of crime.
"If I was president of Guatemala, I would give children support and protect them from the violence that exists in my country," Luis says. "The biggest problem within my community is the trash, and, therefore, if I could do one thing to help it would be to clean up all the trash and the rivers to make for a cleaner and safer life for my community."
Millions of children are also affected by food scarcity. According to the United Nations' World Food Programme, Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in children under the age of 5 in the world, as almost 50 percent of children in the country suffer from mild to severe malnutrition. The situation is so serious, Guatemala is one of 36 countries around the world that account for 90 percent of growth stunting worldwide, and rates of serious undernutrition stand at almost 70 percent in areas with large indigenous populations.
Although Guatemala faces many serious challenges, there is hope. ChildFund has worked in Guatemala since 1964 and remains committed to improving the lives of children in need across the country. Our initiatives focus on empowering communities through educational programs, with particular emphasis placed on children's rights. Parents, teachers and community leaders work with us to promote access to health care and education, particularly for children from indigenous communities and girls, who are often at a greater disadvantage.
Much progress has been made, but there are still many families who need our help. Sponsoring a child in Guatemala is an excellent way to make a difference in a child's life, and for about $1 a day, you can invest in the future of a vulnerable child and provide him or her with the chance of a brighter future.