Last week we travelled to a small village in the mountains of Huehuetenango called, Huixoc. (wee-chock) to meet Ellen Coburn, who has established a middle school there. (see Ellen’s website for more info – Driving the Guatemalan highways reminded me of racing video games of my youth – curvy mountain roads, lots of passing and very risky at times. The difference from a video game is on the Guate roads there is no reset button if you crash – only a roadside shrine with wilted flowers.
Nevertheless we arrived safe and sound and checked into our simple hotel for $7 a night. I realized immediately we were definitely not in Antigua anymore and the life here was very basic and rural. The next day we traveled to the village along a winding 7km dusty road with a lot of large and small trucks picking up people and the coffee harvest along the way.
Much of the population of Guatemala (pop. 14 million) live in very sketchy conditions that most of the readers, who have not visited the developing world, would find unlivable. More than half of the population here lives in poverty. The village of Huixoc has only two sources of water for a population of 500 and this water is undrinkable. It has no sanitation infrastructure and the landscape is steep and rugged, making the agrarian life very hard.
For the Maya, it is a struggle to make ends meet and opportunities for development are very hard to find or create. Migrant coffee pickers (non-fair trade) live in terrible conditions and receive about $6 for a 10-12 hour work day, from which their living expenses are taken. Government education ends at grade six, so offering further education is one of those engineered opportunities. Some of the students at the wonderful school Ellen sponsors have to walk two hours to arrive. They are all very grateful for their continuing education (grade 7-9) and all hope to go on to become professionals; such as teachers, doctors and agronomists.
The indigenous Mayans were forced out of their traditional lands over 150 years ago and now live high in the mountains above the most fertile and productive farmlands. This is quite a contrast from the cushy life in Antigua with high-end restaurants, hotels and cappuccino cafes. The socio-economic discrepancy would give most people a whiplash of conscience. I am grateful to good-hearted people like Ellen who offer their time, expertise and resources to make a difference in the lives of rural Guatemalans. Assistance like this will enable the hard working people of Guatemala to stay in their beautiful country and not migrate to the North to try and support their family. (the translation of the photo is -Travel to the United States. We Finance. Trips Every 15 Days. Information Here, every Sunday)
Project Somos is working to join the ranks of NGOs who leverage their developed-world privilege into a healthy life for those who need a hand to help themselves.