Encountering Beauty and Poverty in Guatemala

Near the end of June I traveled to Guatemala with a small group of people on an immersion trip under the co-direction of the Archdiocese of Seattle Missions Office and the Maryknoll missionaries. Our purpose was not to change the situation in Guatemala but rather to change ourselves by being with the people living and serving there, meeting, listening, observing, beginning relationships. The experience was heart-stretching and mind-expanding for me.
Guatemala is a jewel of natural beauty and one of the facets of that beauty is found in the faces of the people, especially in the countryside. Their smiles speak loudly of welcome and hospitality. The beauty of the fabrics which they produce and wear is another facet adding brilliant color to the jewel of Guatemala.
At first, only the tin-sided and roofed houses on the steep city hillsides suggest the poverty which pervades the country. I learned that Guatemala’s unemployment rate is 47%. Imagine! Many, many families lack food security so parents do not know if they can provide their children with enough nutrients for them to be able to grow and learn normally. Overall chronic malnutrition for children under the age of 5 is 49.8%—and 69.5% in indigenous areas. In the public schools many children leave after 3rd grade for a number of reasons including the need to help their families earn money.
In Guatemala I learned that it is not the poverty which you can see which tells the story. The things one has are not the measure of poverty. In my mind now I understand poverty to be defined more by the absence of: opportunity for employment which enables one to support a family;  food security, knowing where the next meal is coming from and that it will contain enough nutrition for a healthy life and growth; access to affordable, quality healthcare; the opportunity for affordable, quality education;
and the empowerment to take charge of one’s life with the opportunity to reach for and work for goals and dreams beyond barest survival.
Last night I watched the documentary film, found on Netflix, called “Living on One”. It tells about 4 US college students who spent 2 months in Guatemala living on $1 a day, each. I recommend it.
Now that I am home I am trying to figure out what I need to do. I can see the great value in supporting programs which empower people to do for themselves. I realize that my service may need to be closer to home, but the Guatemala experience has encouraged me to notice more carefully the poverty we have here in the USA. Still I also want to do something to support the programs which we visited in Guatemala. One way is to make them known to others, so here goes: